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Straight From The Source: An Interview with Meredith Cohen from Momentum Search Group (Part 1 of 2)

Recruiters are the unsung heroes of a JD’s career.  Vastly underrated and underappreciated if you ask me.  My current and prior jobs were both obtained through recruiters.  I would go so far as to say that if you are not in touch with recruiters, then you are not in touch with your career.  Who else can give you the immediate scoop on the marketplace, your relative position in it, your earnings potential, what roles are out there for you, etc. … for free?  With a glance at your resume and a five minute chat about your work history, a recruiter can give you a thorough evaluation of where you stand in the marketplace and where you can go.  Not too shabby!   

But don’t take my word for it.  Here to add credibility to my musings is Meredith Cohen, Managing Director at Momentum Search Group (and fellow Brooklyn Law School alumna).  This month I am giving you all a head start by probing Meredith for answers to some burning questions on the marketplace for my JD Preferred readers.

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The agency you work for, Momentum Search Group, is really unique in that every recruiter working there is a former attorney.  What was the thinking behind that business model?

We have found that being a former attorney is very helpful in this job. It gives us credibility with our candidates. They know that we have been in their shoes and that we can relate to them regarding issues they may be having at their current job. In addition, it allows us to understand the work that they are doing and to know how to guide them in their job search.

What are you seeing in the market for candidates with a JD? Are law firm jobs regaining their ubiquity or has The Great Recession changed the marketplace? 

Law firm jobs are definitely the types of jobs we see the most.  Law firms remain extremely busy, and there is always turnover at firms (it’s part of the model), leading to more job openings.  At Momentum, we also work on a significant number of in-house roles as well, in areas including technology, media, insurance, financial institutions and more.

The theme of this column is “JD Preferred”, focusing on opportunities for law school graduates in jobs where a JD is preferred but not required for the role.  What is your experience with these kinds of opportunities?

Momentum is unique in that, while we are legal recruiters, we have worked on roles where a JD is preferred but the role is not for a practicing lawyer.  For example, we have placed candidates into project management and business roles at startups in NYC.  I will say that those opportunities are not as common, but they do exist.

In my February blog post, I also wrote about this concept of “JD Hybrid” jobs where one can practice law as a part of their job function while also handling non-legal responsibilities such as business, accounting, compliance, etc.  Have you encountered many of these and where do you think these types of jobs are in today’s marketplace?

These types of jobs are usually at companies or funds. We often work on opportunities for business and legal affairs roles, which involve working on the legal side and the business side.  Also, many of the roles we work on that are for in-house lawyers are those where the legal departments are small and the attorney has the opportunity to work very closely with the business team, so the attorneys get exposure to the business side.  Last year we placed an associate at an entertainment and events company, and part of her role includes business strategy and development.

You help firm attorneys move into the jobs of their dreams.  How often do you come across candidates who want to deliberately move out of traditional legal practice?  What kind of jobs do you see them end up going for? I noticed that your website singled out ‘financial and entertainment’ jobs specifically. 

I see this a fair amount. Most attorneys that I speak to want to leave the law firm world, particularly BigLaw.  Where they like to go can vary, from jobs in entertainment and tech, to private equity and financial institutions.  A small number of candidates decide that they want to leave the practice of law altogether.  I have seen candidates go to business school, move into recruiting at an agency, move into recruiting or business development roles at law firms, or move to a non-legal role within a company.

What skills do lawyers possess that helps them succeed in areas outside of law firms, and outside the law entirely?

Lawyers are diligent, pay attention to detail, and know how to work hard.  In addition, the people who are most successful outside of law firms and outside of the law are entrepreneurial, creative thinkers, and are not risk-averse.  Personality matters a lot when you are in a smaller environment, and those who are afraid to take the risk of leaving the security of BigLaw often are not the right fit for unique in-house opportunities.

Getting inside the minds of your clients, what do you think draws them to hire attorneys over other experienced professionals for a non-legal job opening?

Clients have different reasons for hiring attorneys for non-legal roles. One of our clients creates products in the legal technology space, so having an attorney is helpful because they have used the product in their work.  We also have clients who want to hire attorneys for employee relations or HR roles because they have subject matter experience (having practiced in a Labor & Employment group at a law firm).  In addition, I think clients are impressed by the work ethic and analytical thought process of attorneys.

Any advice for our readers thinking about shedding their legal job in favor of pursuing a JD Preferred type of opportunity?

My first piece of advice is to start early.  These types of searches can take a while, and life in BigLaw can sometimes be overwhelming. You never want to leave your current job before you have something else lined up.  Tap into your entrepreneurial spirit – reach out to connections, talk to recruiters and learn about the space you are interested in.  Sitting at your desk and waiting passively for an opportunity to come to you generally does not result in success in this area.  It can also be helpful to talk to someone who has made a similar type of move to find out how they did it.

Do you have any fun stories to share on this topic? 

My own!  I followed a pretty traditional path early on.  College, a year off to work/travel, law school, then BigLaw (I was a Corporate Associate at Skadden).  I never imagined myself as a recruiter.  However, when I realized that I no longer wanted to be an attorney but did not want my legal education or years of practicing to go to waste, recruiting seemed like a perfect fit.  I think it’s a great opportunity for someone who still wants to keep a connection to the legal world, is entrepreneurial, motivated, social and still wants to make a lot of money.

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And on that note: Stay tuned because next month we continue the conversation with Meredith to find out more about her personal experience as a lawyer turned recruiter.  

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