Interview with Eva Wisnik
How did you begin you career in law firms?
I started as a temp legal recruiting assistant at Paul, Weiss in 1987. While there, I fell in love with recruiting. When the temp position ended, I got another job working at Lehman Brothers in their MBA hiring division, but I soon realized that I belonged in a law firm. I returned to legal recruiting as a coordinator for Schulte. After five years, I left Schulte as the Director of Recruitment in 1994, having received my MBA in Marketing from Fordham University. I then joined Cadwalader where I headed up their recruiting and attorney training departments. I especially loved the combination of these two areas.
When did you launch Wisnik Career Enterprises and why?
Although I was well established in a prominent position at Cadwalader, I felt compelled to start my own business, one that would assist law firms in training their attorneys and hiring the right talent. After spending several years in the recruiting industry, I knew I had the ability to find the right talent for the right positions. Even so, I still look back and wonder how I had the courage to walk away from my secure position to form my own business, especially with my husband starting his own law practice and an 18 month-old baby at home. Yet I had an incredible vision of what my business could achieve at that moment, and I felt strongly that I had more to lose if I stayed where I was.
I think that my entrepreneurial courage came from a deep belief that success is attainable if your business is focused on what your clients need, and I knew I had an intimate understanding of what those needs were. I developed an extensive line-up of training programs to offer law firms, and, fortuitously, the state of New York made CLE mandatory a little over a year after Wisnik Career Enterprises was launched. In addition, the Internet boom brought about a rapid growth to the law firm industry, which in turn created a great need for recruitment talent and assistance to balance this growth. All of these changes made Wisnik Career Enterprises an early success, and we continue to cater to the trends and needs of the ever-changing legal industry.
How has your business changed over the past 14+ years?
The original focus of Wisnik was to offer attorney training programs and place recruitment professionals and professional development talent at law firms across the country. Over the past nearly 15 years we have succeeded in placing almost 600 professionals into law firms nationwide and have conducted training programs at more than 70 AmLaw firms. In 2004, we expanded with a new division dedicated to placing marketing professionals. This was done in response to the growing need for these positions at major law firms. My background in attorney training and business development coupled with my MBA in marketing put me in a perfect position to help law firms hire the most successful marketing talent. Over the past 6 years, we have placed 140 marketing professionals at law firms nationwide, and this division is currently the fastest growing area of our business.
What are law firms looking for today in their hires?
When I get a call from an Executive Director, Managing Partner, or Head of Human Resources who’s looking for a new CMO, Director of Recruitment, Director of Practice Management, or Chief of Attorney Development, the qualifications they most often mention are: strategic thinker who is solution-oriented; strong project management skills; solid understanding of the firm’s business and culture; skilled at managing and motivating team members and ability to inspire the confidence of the firm leaders. These traits are mentioned for all top administrative positions regardless of the exact title, size of firm or location.
What makes a really attractive candidate stand out from the rest?
Whatever the candidates’ level or job focus, the best candidate demonstrates professionalism and dedication throughout the interview process, reflecting the candidate’s talents and inspiring confidence in potential employers. When applying, the candidate needs to be prepared and to do his or her “homework” on the firm, interviewers, and position. A candidate can demonstrate this by asking insightful questions that pertain specifically to the firm and position he or she is interviewing for. The best candidates are responsive and behave in a way that shows respect for the process and interviewers’ time. For example, he or she should be flexible when it comes to scheduling and arrive at the interview on time. This might seem like a little thing, but the best candidates, and I believe most talented candidates, behave in a way that says, “Every detail is a reflection of my professionalism.” They make sure there are zero errors on their resumes, thank you notes, and all other materials required during the interview process. Every aspect of their presentation echoes that they care about how they are being perceived.
Additionally, because law firms are different places to work than other professional service organizations, the best candidates understand that they will be a service provider inside of a client service organization. What this means is that you have to be able to “check your ego” at the door and focus on your internal and external clients every day. No matter how smart and talented you are, if you need to be leading from the front-line, as opposed to influencing from behind, you will not be happy in a law firm administrative role.
What are you most proud of achieving?
I cannot believe that this March will be 15 years since I started Wisnik! I am most proud of the relationships I have developed with my clients. There are many people I have worked with for 14+ years. Building relationships in which I truly partner with my clients is the best reward of all. For me, the ultimate achievement is hearing a client say, “you really listened to what we wanted, helped us figure out what we needed, and got us the right person.” I am also thrilled when a candidate says, “I love my job and the fit could not be better.” I always say “I would rather not make the placement, than to have it not work out.”
I am also very proud of Wisnik for surviving 2009. That was an exceptionally hard year for the legal industry: law firms virtually halted any new hires and stopped investing in training programs. I was emotionally frustrated at work, at not being able to do what I love every day. In response, I found new ways to challenge myself and remain active. I took up rock climbing, parasailing, zip lining, even trapeze flying. Conquering these physical challenges helped me grow and develop immensely. I learned there were situations beyond my control and, eventually, I came to see these obstacles as learning opportunities. Looking back, I am proud that I always followed my business gut despite rough moments, and I am happy to report that 2010 was another successful year at Wisnik. I continue to challenge myself physically as well, looking to take up skiing again after a 7 year hiatus!
What do you envision for 2011?
I am very excited about 2011! It definitely feels like firms are hiring again and investing in their attorney training programs. For most of 2010 we have maintained an average of 15 new positions. Although there have been some recruiting and development positions, the focus of most of the new hiring has been on business development and PR. I expect to see continued growth in these areas and increased hiring on the senior level, including more CMO and Director positions. Most recently, I have seen a marked spike in requests by firms for more attorney training proposals. Given this trend, I expect to be doing more attorney training, especially in areas such as Customized Interview Training, Time & Project Management Skills, and Business Development.