Practice Pointers - Working with a Legal Recruiter

Inevitably, at some point in your legal career, you’ll be contacted by a recruiter. Maybe it’s a phone call. Maybe it’s an email or LinkedIn message. One way or another, you’ll hear from one.

As a litigator turned recruiter, I’ve been on the receiving end of recruiter calls and now I’m the one reaching out to candidates. And I’ve learned that many young lawyers aren’t really sure how recruiting works, who’s legit, and whether chatting with a recruiter is worth their time.

So let’s remove the proverbial veil and get acquainted with legal recruiting.

A quick note to start – As much as they’d love to, legal recruiters generally aren’t able to place fresh out of law school grads. Recruiters typically get paid a commission when they place a candidate, and the reality is their clients (law firms and corporate legal departments) won’t pay a commission for new grads they know they can hire without any outside recruitment help.

That said, it’s still smart to establish a relationship with a trusted legal recruiter early on in your career because you never know what amazing “I didn’t know this existed” opportunity they might send your way down the road. And most lawyers will end up making at least one transition (if not more) over the course of their careers.

How to Choose a Legal Recruiter

  • Find someone you get a good vibe from. Your relationship with a recruiter should be based on mutual trust and openness. If you feel something is off when you speak to a recruiter, trust your Spidey sense. (For instance, if you feel like a recruiter is being pushy and/or insisting on something you’re not comfortable applying to, that’s a red flag. The good ones genuinely want to help facilitate a long-lasting match that makes sense for both the client and candidate.)
  • Ask friends or trusted colleagues for recruiter recommendations or check out the National Association of Legal Search Consultants’ search directory. NALSC member recruiters adhere to strict ethical standards, so you can rest assured they’ll keep your conversations confidential and will not send your resume or other materials to any firm or corporate legal department without your express approval.
  • If you’re interested in in-house roles, ask if the recruiter places candidates both in-house and with law firms. Some do both and some do one or the other. Likewise, some recruiters place candidates in full-time, permanent positions and others place them in temporary, contract positions. Still others place candidates in long-term engagements (think several month specialized positions, like a secondment).
  • Make sure the recruiter you’re chatting with places candidates in the geographic markets you’re interested in. Many will have a specific market focus but might work with a group of recruiters that collectively cover the major US markets. If the recruiter or their team doesn’t cover a market you’re interested in, they should tell you so upfront and hopefully be able to provide a recommendation for someone else you can connect with.
  • See if the recruiter is a lawyer who previously practiced or has been in the legal recruiting world long enough to have a strong sense of the market and different practice environments.

Best Practices for Working with a Legal Recruiter

  • Even if you’re not looking, take the call or read the email/LinkedIn message from a recruiter just in case it’s a role that could be a good fit for you. I cannot tell you how many times my colleagues and I have heard candidates say they weren’t in the market for a new opportunity, but the perfect one happened to come across their desk thanks to a recruiter.
  • Work with one recruiter you can really get to know and who can get to know you. Working with more than one recruiter might seem like a good idea at first, but it's just too easy to get overwhelmed and confused about who submitted you where and when. (The last thing you want is to be submitted twice to an employer - it makes you look disorganized or worse still, desperate. I know that sounds harsh, but candidates have gotten dinged by employers they otherwise would've been a good fit for because they submitted twice through different recruiters.)
  • Critical info to share with your recruiter:
    • Your practice area(s) of expertise and any practice area interests
    • Reasons for any career transitions (i.e., why you moved from one role to another)
    • Examples of the type of matters you’ve handled (the better the picture you paint as to your experience, the better the recruiter will be able to determine if an opportunity would be a good match for you)
    • Type of culture you want/would thrive in
    • Geographic markets you’re interested in (generally it’s better to focus on 1-2 markets) and any ties you have to those markets (e.g., family and friends there, went to school/interned there, etc.)
    • Where you’ve applied in the past 6 months to 1 year (Unfortunately, recruiters won’t be able to submit you to firms and in-house legal departments you applied to in the past 6 months to a 1 year. The timing will depend on the agreement the recruiter has with a specific client.) If you haven't already, put together a running list of when and where you applied. 
    • Any firms or companies you've been eyeing. Chances are your recruiter or their team has relationships with those employers. Established legal recruiters have long-standing relationships with top employers and can get you in front of critical decisionmakers faster than applying online. 
  • What to ask your recruiter:
    • Any market-related questions (e.g. who’s hiring, what’s the market like for XYZ associates, etc.)
    • If they have any other roles that might suit your experience and, if not, to keep you in mind for future opportunities
    • If they have any high-level feedback on your resume. If they’re submitting you for a role, they’ll likely provide more detailed feedback to help you tailor your resume for that particular job. Likewise, they’ll help you prepare for the interview and share any inside knowledge they’re privy to that will help you crush your interview.
    • When you can expect to hear back after being submitted for a role. Keep in mind that recruiters must wait on their clients to get back to them about a candidate’s status, and some clients are more responsive than others. But it’s helpful to get a sense of when you can expect to hear from your recruiter, whether that’s in a few days or a week or two. Asking sure beats biting your nails wondering why it’s been a whole 28 hours since you last heard from them about a job you applied for wink  (Hi, it’s me. Former anxious lawyer and candidate.)

There’s so much more I could write on recruiting, but hopefully this blog post gives you a better idea of what to expect when working with a recruiter. Feel free to shoot me a message on LinkedIn if you have any questions!

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