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Ryder Smith Legal Search

published August 12, 2013

By Follow Me on
( 99 votes, average: 4.5 out of 5)
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Personal Life

Ryder Smith Legal Search
Lee Kuhn owns and runs Ryder Smith Legal Search, LLC, a legal placement agency based in San Francisco and Los Angeles, CA. Ryder Smith Legal Search specializes in the permanent placement of exceptional attorneys as well as attorney groups with client law firms and companies. Although Ryder Smith Legal Search places attorneys primarily in the Golden State, they have made both national and international placements. Prior to founding her company, Lee practiced employment law at two large international firms in California, Paul Hastings and Baker & McKenzie, LLP. She then headed up the San Francisco office of Swan Legal Search before establishing her own search firm in 2009.

Lee was born in Washington D.C., and raised in Sandy Spring, MD. She graduated with a B.A. cum laude and with honors in Psychology from Dartmouth College. Lee earned her J.D. from Duke University School of Law, where she was an editor for the Duke Journal of Comparative and International Law and was awarded a merit scholarship. She also attended a semester of law school at Buenos Aires' Universidad Austral. Lee has lived and worked overseas in Singapore, Argentina, France, and Spain. She speaks Spanish and "rusty" French. When asked about her most influential traveling experience, Lee replied, "My favorite city is Barcelona. It is such a vibrant and fun city to live in. There is always something to do at any hour."

When the legal recruiter isn't working, she loves spending time with her husband and two daughters. She enjoys learning languages, traveling, and working as a volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocate (SFCASA) for a child in the foster care system. Lee is also a director of a non-profit dog rescue called Copper's Dream Rescue.

When Lee takes clients out, she loves to eat at San Francisco's E&O Asian Kitchen. Her favorite books are some of the classics she read in school, like J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye and F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. However, she admits that her favorite vacation books fall in more of the mystery and suspense genres.

Lee's Successful Career Path and Tips for Legal Recruiters

What does it take to become a successful legal recruiter? Lee said recruiters must have a passion for guiding candidates on the right career path, and helping firms find the best candidates to help grow their practice. She explained, "My goal is to place my candidates in a better position than they are currently in." Lee pointed out that successful recruiters must hold themselves to a high ethical standard and they should possess excellent communication skills. "You also need to be diligent, without being pushy," she explained.

What motivated Lee to become a recruiter? Although she loved practicing labor & employment litigation, Lee admitted that she isn't an adversarial person by nature. "Being a recruiter allows me to work towards a common goal." Lee enjoys finding the perfect candidates for her clients and derives a great sense of satisfaction and accomplishment when both client and candidate are happy.

The businesswoman discussed what she is known for professionally. Lee said that she is often seen as a career counselor for her candidates. She said, "In order to really help candidates, you need to understand where they are coming from and where they want their career to go. I try to listen to my candidates and give them an honest assessment of where their career path lies, and if that isn't as a practicing attorney, I try to suggest some other ideas outside of a firm or company's legal department."

So what is Lee's advice to new recruiters? "Don't get discouraged when you first start out as a recruiter. It's hard to make a placement right off the bat. You need to devote time to building a network of candidates and clients, and you have to be diligent at following up and keeping in touch with them. When you start recruiting, you have to do lots of 'cold' outreach, learning how and when to reach out to potential candidates takes some time to master."

Considering her years of experience in the legal recruiting industry, many readers may want to know where Lee sees the legal recruiting field in the next five years. She said she has seen cyclical ups and downs in the past five years, and that certain practice areas fare better in a good economy, and others are stronger in a poor economy. "Recruiters will play an important role like they have in the past, and the legal recruiting industry will be strong. Transactional practices tend to be strong in a great economy. Litigation-side practices - especially management defense employment litigation-tend to stay busier than transactional practices during a downturn. And generally, there are more partner placements than associate placements to be made in a poor economy."

What does Lee look for to find the right fit? What makes a great candidate? She explained that a candidate's academic record, experience, and work history must suit her client's needs. However, Lee asserted that finding the right fit isn't just about academics. Her candidates' personalities significantly influence whether they will succeed in a specific position.

In regards to what makes a great candidate, Lee stated, "A great candidate has to be really passionate about his or her practice area. Also, a candidate must be articulate about past substantive experience and future goals during an interview."

Does Lee have a recipe for a perfect match? The recruiter said, "No. There isn't a set recipe. It really depends on the individual and the position. However, after doing this for many years, I know when I meet a candidate whether they have the potential to be the 'perfect match' for a firm."

How does the businesswoman tackle obstacles, mistakes and failures? "There will be obstacles, mistakes, and failures in everybody's career. You have to be willing to learn from mistakes and have a positive attitude, and you have to look at the big picture and work towards accomplishing your long-term goals."

Where does Lee derive her confidence? "I have worked in both attorney recruiting and executive legal recruiting over the course of the past seven years, so have picked up a lot about how to recruit successfully in the legal arena. I like to think I have a knack for assessing if the individual is a good fit for the firm or company. I also used to practice employment litigation and I have a good understanding of the legal market." Of note, for the past several years, Ryder Smith Legal Search has been named the number two, and most recently the number one, legal recruiting agency by readers of The Recorder, which has been a confidence-boost in itself.

Lee's Mentor and Mentoring Others, Non Profit Organizations and Professional Associations

Does Lee have a mentor? Is she a mentor? She said the late Bob Smith, a former Dean of Duke's Career Services and former legal recruiter who made permanent placements, was her mentor. He had been in the legal recruiting industry before and after working at Duke, and he knew the legal market at a national level. Lee is currently mentoring recruiters who work for Ryder Smith Legal Search.

Does the recruiter work with any non-profit organizations? She serves as a volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocate for children in the foster care system. Lee is also a director of a 501(c) (3) non-profit animal organization called Copper's Dream Rescue. This organization rescues dogs from high-kill shelters and provides a temporary home for them until they are adopted.

Does Lee hold a membership with any professional associations? She is a member of the California State Bar and the Bar Association of San Francisco.

Motivation, Favorite Quote, a Rewarding Position and Lee's Goals

What motivates Lee to be a recruiter every day? "I love my job. I always have several deals happening at one time, and I am extremely satisfied when a deal closes and my candidates and clients are in a better position than when they started and therefore happy. I also find my position rewarding since I have meet a lot of great people through work."

Lee's favorite quote is by Winston Churchill: "Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts." She said the quote resonates with her because individuals must have a positive attitude in their life and in their career.

Does the Dartmouth College alumna have goals? She discussed maintaining a balance between spending time with her family, recruiting, and her non-profit work. Lee finds her position extremely fulfilling and she plans to continue to assist recruiters who work for Ryder Smith Legal Search to become better at what they do.

What to Expect When Working with Lee

A labor and employment associate at a San Francisco law firm stated:
"I would highly recommend Lee Kuhn to anyone considering a lateral move. Her unwavering confidence, professionalism, and up-beat attitude helped carry me through a very difficult time. I knew from the start that I could trust her and that she would do everything she could to help me land in a better place--and she did. Lee responded promptly to all questions and concerns and she gave me constant updates on new opportunities. Her personal experience working in several reputable national firms offered valuable insight into potential employers. Many thanks to Lee."
A partner at a Bay Area law firm claimed, "In the time I have worked with Lee, she has worked harder on my behalf than all the other headhunters I have used combined, probably three times that amount. I really do appreciate all that she has done. I would also not hesitate to recommend her to any of my friends or acquaintances."

An associate at the Los Angeles office of national firm acknowledged:
"Samantha Johnston and Lee Kuhn are by far the best recruiters I have ever worked with. Samantha is a tenacious, dedicated advocate who not only took the time to get to know me both personally and professionally, but also gave me honest advice about the factors I should consider in making a productive lateral move. She cared not about finding me a position, but about finding me the right position. She was attentive, always available, and enthusiastic throughout the entire process. I also had the pleasure of working with Lee when Samantha was out of town. I was impressed with the extent to which Lee took the time to become familiar with my candidacy even before we spoke on the phone for the first time. Samantha and Lee are personable, smart, and thorough -- definitely two recruiters you want on your side. I would recommend them without reservation, they are head and shoulders above the rest."
An associate at the Silicon Valley office of national firm asserted, "I was a recent law school graduate without a law firm associate job lined up when I contacted Lee, and she helped me find a first-year associate position at a large AmLaw firm (and with one of the top-ranked IP practices in the state). She guided me throughout the entire process, and really made me feel like I was in good hands. She's the best!"

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