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O'Reilly moves into U.S. market

There are currently 1.16 million lawyers in America, with a support staff of at least three times that figure, and recruitment in the sector is itself a multi-million dollar industry. Before the economic downturn the support staff/lawyer ratio was closer to 6 to 1, and while it won't likely bounce back to that level, things are expected to improve considerably. And here is where the two Northern Ireland entrepreneurs see their opportunity.

"You may have survived, but you are more aware of where you can make savings," said the 37-year-old O'Reilly, describing a post-recession mindset. "And for legal firms of all types, the savings can be huge in some areas." The method of hiring is one such area.

O'Reilly, who graduated from the University of Ulster in business studies and hotel management in 1995, quickly became a high flyer working for major firms in the hospitality industry in the UK.

Not long after he moved back to Ireland for family reasons in 1999, he went into a Dublin employment agency looking for work. The agency itself offered him a job. "I ended up buying them out," he said.

He and co-owner Doherty, a 39-year-old from the Bogside in Derry City and a former classmate from the University of Ulster, specialized in legal and accounting employment. The pair branched into other areas, but 12 months ago decided to work fulltime developing their ideas for Recruitlegal.com, having registered the domain name several years before.

"We both stepped back from our other business interests," he said.

For its founders, the concept behind Recruitlegal.com is simplicity itself. It's free for job seekers, while employers pay $5 per day per ad posted. The jobs board is based on the same principle as newspaper advertising -- the job seeker applies directly to the employer -- but with all the added advantages of the digital age.

"It's facilitating information," said O'Reilly, who lives in rural County Carlow with his wife Iwona, a successful visual artist, and their two daughters, Sophie, who is 21 months, and 3-month-old Orla.

O'Reilly and Doherty used the Irish, UK and European models of recruitment in Dublin, but Recruitlegal.com, they believe, represents a considerable advance on them in terms of niche marketing and efficiency.

O'Reilly is also familiar with an alternative recruiting practice that is widely used by law firms in America: he was himself head-hunted during his time in England.

"Headhunting is a skill unto itself," he said. "They provide a very good service within their own realm."

But it can be costly. A headhunter's fee is typically the equivalent of a third of the first year of salary, whether it's a lawyer or other staff member that's being hired.

"Getting the right person is everything, but often you don't have to pay that much," O'Reilly argued. "Employers are fishing in a bigger pond [using a jobs board like Recruitlegal.com], instead of being presented with fish A, fish B and fish C."

The Newry man added that another advantage comes with choosing your employees from among direct applicants: statistics show that they are more likely to stay, something that has all sorts of benefits in terms of customer service and business relationships generally.

O'Reilly and Doherty are themselves operating in a bigger pond. They are launching first in New York and will then move to the other major population areas, and finally on to the less populous states such as Kentucky, which is home to just .675 percent of America's lawyers. In that regard at least, the Blue Grass State is the same size as Ireland.

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