Should You Choose Contingency, Retainer, or Engagement Fees When Working with a Legal Recruiter?

Posted February 2nd, 2024 by Urban Legal Recruitment.

There’s a saying, “Your employees are your greatest asset.” While the people who work for you have a big impact on the performance of your company, the real key to success is getting the right people on your team.  

When you’re looking for a new hire for your law firm, it can be helpful to enlist the services of a recruitment agency. While general recruiting agencies source candidates for a variety of industries, you’ll likely get better results when you hire an agency that specializes in the legal field. 


Recruiters offer their services through various fee structures, including: 

  • Contingent
  • Exclusive contingent
  • Retainer
  • Engagement fees 

In this post, we discuss the benefits of each type of agreement so you can be sure to get the best service for your hiring needs.  

Contingency Agreement

With a contingency agreement, there is no upfront recruiting fee, and the recruiter only receives payment when a candidate is hired for the position. Because there are no upfront costs, you can engage multiple recruiters to fill a position, as they are essentially working at no charge. 

What Are the Disadvantages of a Contingency Search?

While a contingency agreement seems good on paper, there are definitely drawbacks to this approach. 

High Competition Between Recruiters

When recruiting firms are hired on a contingency basis, they know the competition is high, and they need to work fast to secure candidates. This pressure can affect the quality of candidates they deliver as there is limited time to screen applicants thoroughly. 

More Laborious Recruitment Process

Rather than receiving a carefully curated list, you’ll likely end up with a long list of candidates that you’ll have to screen yourself. Multiply that by the several recruiters you’ve enlisted, and the process will eat up valuable time from your day. 

Exclusive Contingency Agreement

With an exclusive contingency search, you retain the services of only one recruiter and work collaboratively for a specified period of time. The exclusive contingency contract requires that you pay an upfront deposit that will be credited towards the full fee if you hire their candidate or returned to you if you don’t. 

Benefits of an Exclusive Contingency Search

When you pay a deposit upfront, the recruiter has a greater incentive to invest the time required to vet the applicants for a great match. 

Retained Search Agreement

With a retainer agreement, your recruiter takes a hands-on approach, sourcing, vetting, and interviewing candidates to ensure their competency for the job. As a committed partner in the hiring process, your recruitment specialist can offer advice and support as you conduct your own interviews, helping you to identify the best candidate for the role.  


The Benefits of a Retainer Agreement

There are many benefits of a retainer search that will improve the quality of your job candidates. Here are a few: 

  • Recruiters take the time to understand your company culture, your business needs, and the role being filled.  
  • They perform a dedicated search for the right candidate and won’t bombard you with a huge list of candidates that you’ll have to vet yourself.
  • Recruiters conduct their own research and interviews to assess the quality of each potential hire.
  • Professional recruiters have extensive experience and will ensure each candidate is a good fit for your team. 
  • You can draw on their expertise and knowledge of the market to attract talented legal professionals.

A retainer agreement requires a firm monetary commitment. It’s ideal if you’d prefer to take a hands-off approach to recruiting but still want to ensure you end up with only the top talent on your team. Fees are agreed upon at the outset but paid at set stages during the recruitment process. 

Engagement Fee Agreement

If you’re working with a new recruiter but are not sure whether they will be a good fit, consider an engagement fee agreement. This approach provides you with all the benefits of a retainer agreement while only paying a set portion of the overall fee upfront and the balance when the job is accepted by their candidate. 

Which Recruitment Approach Works Best? 

There are several factors that will influence your approach to hiring. Before you choose your strategy, you’ll want to consider the following: 

  • What is your timeline for hiring?  
  • How difficult is it to find quality candidates?
  • How important is the role to the company?
  • What is the time commitment you are able to make? 
  • What is the expertise of your internal hiring team? 

For high-level positions that require a thorough search to identify quality candidates or when top talent is scarce, it’s best to take a retained approach and work collaboratively with a recruiter. However, if you have ample time on your hands and are willing to take on the majority of the work, a contingency agreement may work well. 

Meet Your Professional Legal Recruitment Team in Calgary

At Urban Legal Recruitment, we have two decades of experience in the legal recruitment field and look forward to working collaboratively with you to build your talented team. Connect with us, and let’s build up your team today!