As a founding partner of SeltzerFontaine, a legal search firm based in Los Angeles, and former practicing lawyer, Valerie Fontaine has assisted hundreds of attorneys with their career transitions and partnered with our employer-clients in achieving strategic growth. She places attorneys with law firms, corporate law departments, governmental entities and nonprofits, and consults on career and practice development, and law office management and expansion.
Get to know Valerie in this Women Who Wow profile.
Why did you choose your profession?
Actually, my legal recruiting career chose me! During high school, I thought about my strengths and weaknesses. As a champion debater, I figured law school was the way to go, and set my sights on a legal career when I was only 15.
I’m proud of how I worked to pay my way through undergraduate and law school but, after all that hard work, I was not happy when I found myself toiling away in the litigation department of a major law firm.
When legal recruiters called with other law firm opportunities, I asked for “something different.”
After hearing me speak before a women’s group about skills for reentering the job market, a legal recruiter in the audience, apparently impressed with my orating skills, suggested I try the legal search profession. I figured, “Why not give it a try?” I was hoping to find the perfect spot to place myself at some point. Instead, I discovered that I really enjoyed recruiting have been successfully matching lawyers and legal employers for almost 40 years now.
What do you love most about what you do?
I like hearing people’s stories—about their career histories, hopes and dreams—and helping them progress towards their goals.
At the same time, I help law firms, corporate legal departments, governmental entities and non-profits find the lawyers they need for strategic growth. I like to think that I make people’s lives better. I’ve even had former candidates’ family members thank me for making a positive change in all their lives.
What do you wish you could tell your younger self?
Don’t take rejection personally. Almost always there is a reason that has nothing to do with you.
How do you achieve work/life balance?
My business partner and I spun off from a larger recruiting firm to start our boutique legal search firm when I had two very young children. A year later, I got divorced, with one daughter in preschool and the other in first grade. For all those years as a single parent, I just didn’t sleep as much as I wanted. I didn’t have a nanny because I wanted to raise my own children. I prioritized, and sometimes things didn’t get done quite as beautifully as I’d wished.
Sometimes, when things got tough at work, I would look at my daughters’ photos on my desk and say to myself, “This is why I need to keep going.” Now, as the mother of two successful young adult daughters who also are my terrific friends, I know it all was worth it. My precious daughters always were my number one priority in life, and I’m thrilled about becoming a first-time grandmother this April.
What do you think is the key for success in a role like yours?
Perhaps the most vital traits of a successful recruiter are being a good listener and understanding people—what makes them happy and what makes them unhappy. You also must be self-motivated and organized. If you want activity, you must create it. You need to pick up the phone and make calls if you want your phone to ring. It won’t happen on its own.
What advice would you give to women in your field?
Get out there and be actively engaged in the legal community. Recruiters need to be nimble and watch the trends. You must be in front of the curves because your work is impacted by changes in the marketplace. Even in the face of increasing online job search apps, recruiters never will be out of business. The human touch always will be necessary in high-level recruiting. You just have to constantly adapt to the market.
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