We are thrilled to have Mary Schaus, an experienced leader in attorney recruiting and development from Skadden, to share her thoughts on legal recruitment, talent management, and diversity in the workplace. In the interview, Mary shares her insights about Skadden’s recruiting approach, successful workplace environments, lateral hiring integration, and the importance of grit, curiosity and authenticity. A well-recognized leader in the legal talent community, she also gives us a glimpse into her personal accomplishments. Read on for her advice to lawyers and legal recruiting professionals.
KF: Katherine Fan (Managing Director, Hughes-Castell)
Mary: Mary Schaus (Attorney Recruitment & Development Regional Leader, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP)
KF: As a former attorney, why did you decide to move into legal recruitment (initially as an agency recruiter, and then inhouse at Skadden)?
Mary: I used to be a litigator in the U.S., and moved to Hong Kong in 2004. I enjoyed counselling clients (whether individuals or companies) and advocating on their behalf by developing solutions under the law for their challenges. My profession currently (I handle not only recruiting, but the full spectrum of attorney human resources here at Skadden Asia) requires a similar skill set. I work with our partners, our firm management and our lawyers in developing solutions to challenges, whether in staffing, development, training, and other HR concerns. It’s an incredibly rewarding job.
KF: What differentiates Skadden from other firms when recruiting?
Mary: In terms of our recruiting process, we take pride in being the best in the business. We focus on attention to our candidates, responsiveness and ensuring candidates get to meet as many people as possible in order to make an informed decision. Our graduate recruiting programs are thoughtfully crafted and executed – and they are fun!
In terms of Skadden itself, you are going to be working on the most interesting matters in the world today. Skadden is a place (where) clients come when they need something done (that) no one has done before, and they need a trusted advisor to lead them through the process. You won’t be doing run of the mill work, it’s work that will challenge you intellectually. That’s the best way to learn and become better – and that’s one of the many reasons I love working here.
KF: How is Skadden keeping pace with the latest trends in successful workplace environments?
Mary: Skadden is leading the way in many aspects of successful workplace environments, and I’m proud to be a part of the solution. For example, we signed the ABA well-being pledge for legal employers and have a full time well-being expert who drives global strategy and programming based in our New York office. She works with our Asia offices on empowering us to execute the well-being pledge.
One program we recently launched is the Mental Health Champions program in Asia, where volunteers (I’m one of them!) become certified in mental health first aid and are trained to help fellow employees when they need help. It’s really assisted in bringing the issue of mental health to the table and eliminate the taboo in Asia. We also had a full week at the beginning of May focusing on many well-being programs available globally for our lawyers and professional staff.
KF: What traits do you look for when assessing candidates to join the firm?
Mary: Intellectual excellence and curiosity. Especially when you’re assessing junior lawyers who may not have work experience, we have to go by how the person has done in school through their transcripts. They don’t have to be #1 in the class, but that strive for excellence is important at Skadden. In addition to this, we may ask questions during the interview that will assess how curious you are intellectually. This may be through a discussion of current events or a specific legal topic.
Proactive and forward thinking. Lawyers in Skadden think ahead and are proactive. Whether that’s as a junior associate anticipating potential issues and crafting solutions, or as a more senior lawyer advising large clients as a trusted advisor on new challenges.
Authenticity. When we interview candidates, we want to see their true personality, their interests and who they are. Our people are real, they have lives and interests: we want to hire people who feel comfortable being themselves here.
KF: For young lawyers wanting to succeed in big law firms, what are the key skills they should develop?
Mary: Since people who have started in big law firms already have the basics (intellect, work ethic and a great personality), here are some other areas that are critical:
- Grit. Understand that the first few years of your legal career will require you to put in the hours as you will have a steep learning curve. It’s hard to do this, but think long term about how perfecting your craft now through hard work, making mistakes and learning from them will help you become an excellent lawyer.
- Curiosity. The people who are successful in big law firms are constantly learning new things, adjusting to changing environments, learning from their colleagues in different practice areas, as well as learning from their clients. This may mean you take opportunities to sit in conference calls, attend seminars that are in areas not in your practice, and reading legal articles – all of these help you grow.
- Have at least one passion outside of work that you love to do. Whether that’s cooking, photography, exercise, meditation, sewing, playing an instrument – you will need a passion that brings you joy to get through any career and helps bring balance to your work and life. So many students work so hard to get into the big firms but forget to have an outlet that allows you to unplug. It’s so important to have a passion.
KF: For professionals who wish to pursue a career like yours in law firm recruitment, what would you say are the key skills and experience required?
Mary: Know both the legal market and the recruiting market. You need to be able to establish credibility with both your partners and management with your knowledge of legal trends, but you also need to understand how your firm is placed in the market, what the trends in the market are, and how to get ahead of the curve. You can’t really do this if you don’t have a deep understanding of both the legal and recruiting market.
Build relationships internally and externally. I learn so much from our lawyers and colleagues internally and we help each other out in making projects happen. Likewise, my relationships with lateral recruiters help me stay on top of the market news that may not be public yet. It’s vitally important for your career and your own development to keep those relationships fresh because those resources may always help you in the future.
Develop your EQ. In any profession, this is important. Understanding how to read a room, navigate internally, and collaborating with others is critical in being successful in this type of role. It’s something we all have to work on every day, and having self-awareness is the best way to develop your EQ.
KF: How can laterals set themselves apart when integrating into the firm?
Mary: Get involved in your office, region and firm (globally). The best way to do this is to join a group in the office, whether that’s the pro bono committee, an affinity group (we have two in Asia, our women’s group and LGBTQ+ group) or a sports group. This is a wonderful way to let people get to know you, to get to know others, and to feel good about your work environment on a more holistic level.
Identify a sponsor/mentor (even if one hasn’t been assigned to you!). We have a great program at Skadden, but not every law firm does. Even if your firm doesn’t have a program, don’t let that hold you back. Identify someone in your office (or even another office, if you have an integrated global practice group system like Skadden) to discuss things like career path, how to navigate the internal workings of the firm, and to talk out solutions to tricky situations you may be having at work. I’m lucky to have many at Skadden (and some don’t even know they are my mentor!) because our firm is very much an open-door law firm.
Produce great work. This is pretty simple!
KF: Of all your accomplishments, which are you most proud of?
Mary: Professionally, I am proud every day to see people I helped identify and hire progress and grow with our firm. For those who have left the firm and have gone on to successful careers in-house and even at other law firms, it’s great to keep in touch and know their journeys. I love keeping in touch with our alumni at Skadden and I am constantly meeting with and building relationships inside the firm as everyone is a success story in their own way. We have a wonderful community of employees and alumni at Skadden. I feel fortunate every day to be a part of the family.
Personally, I am proud of my two boys and my husband. My two boys (11 and 6 years old) give me hope for our future and I’m inspired by my 11-year-old boy’s constantly curious mind and my 6-year-old’s (who has autism and intellectual differences) work ethic in everything he does. My husband is constantly pushing me (in a good way) and I feel so proud AND fortunate to have these three people in my life.