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Five Lies Recruiters Tell

The Careerist

July 8, 2013

Today's guest blogger is David Parnell, the author of In-House: A Lawyer's Guide to Getting a Corporate Legal Position (ABA Publishing, 2012) and BigLaw DNA: Diagnosing the Symptoms of a Failing Firm (ABA Publishing, 2013).

CellPhone © Arman Zhenikeyev - Fotolia.comLegal recruiting is a lucrative business with a relatively low barrier to entry. Although many recruiters are seasoned veterans, the sector also includes transients taking a spin at the recruiting wheel as they pass through to safer and more predictable employment. Lawyers need to be wary of these inexperienced consultants.

Job seekers also need to keep in mind that there is a dilemma inherent in the traditional recruiting/headhunting model—regardless of how experienced the recruiter is. The headhunter wants exclusivity from the lawyer, and the lawyer wants the freedom to choose among various options. With no outward, objective qualities to stand out from their competition, many recruiters simply cannot command exclusivity; so they hustle quickly, lest their candidate is stolen by another recruiter. For the unscrupulous types, the mission is clear: get as many resumes “tagged” as possible. This is sometimes achieved with misdirection and feints.

While the list below is not comprehensive, it itemizes some of the more popular recruiting lies we’ve heard:

    1. “I have an exclusive position that isn’t on the market.” To this, I say, "No, you don’t." "Exclusives” are given to recruiting firms when a position is incredibly difficult to fill. This excludes the majority of associate-level law firm positions that enter the market. So, if you are a third-year capital markets attorney in New York and a recruiter has “an exclusive” that appears to perfectly match your skills, dig a bit deeper.

    2. “I focus on your (specific) practice area (or geography).” The premise is that by narrowing his scope, the recruiter is deepening his skill and effectiveness when it comes to placing you. The truth is that very few practice areas or geographies are active enough to predictably support such a strategy, and the ones that can support it will draw in significant competition, thereby suffocating the recruiter’s pipeline.

    3.  “I already spoke to the firm about your (anonymous) credentials, and they definitely want to speak with you, if they can just see your resume first.” The usual outcome here is that no interview manifests, “but hey, by the way, why don’t you look at these other firms?” The classic bait-and-switch, this is a technique used to break inertia and create momentum. To nullify this, be very specific and up-front about who is allowed to see your resume.

    4. “I've placed 37 attorneys so far this year . . .” The take-away is twofold: (1) this massive number is indicative of her placement prowess, and 2) you should thank your lucky stars to be on her calendar. Fact is, placement figures that are north of 20 (per year) are quite difficult and rare. Beyond that number, you'll run into bandwidth issues. Typical numbers for a quality recruiter (i.e., one who truly services the associate’s needs) should be in the 8-12 range (per year).

    5. “I have relationships at X and Y firms.” To this, I say, so what? To begin with, the only relationship that is truly consequential in a hiring situation is one with the hiring partner; someone whom, for reasons beyond the scope of this article, very few recruiters would ever approach. And even if they did, do you really believe that a “relationship” will get you an interview, where your credentials would not? If a recruiter is selling you on their “contacts,” it is often because they have little else to offer.

My advice: Seek out consultants who perform (at least) relatively exhaustive efforts to understand your interests and needs. It is one thing to ask what you want; it is another to explore the motivations behind that want, the ideal trajectory of that want, and any other criteria that may be helpful in achieving it.


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Kuddo's to all that commented. My company specializes in diverse attorneys of color for law firms and corporate in house counsel, all the reasons the article stated are circumspect. The seasoned recruiter will be transparent and as a national recruiter with clients and candidates in major cities across the nation, any and all untruths will ultimately be brought to the forefront. Thanks to all of the commentators for refuting many of the points that David makes. I think next time David and Vivian should check with Stuart, Doug, Joe and Linda before he decides to deride the legal search community. In closing Vivian what ever happen to your article on black lawyers in the profession?

I see all who've commented are recruiters who sound like they know what they're talking about!! David Parnell, if one looks at his entry on LinkedIn, has but 113 conections--a definite disqualifier as a search consultant or busy professional in today's marketplace!!

His #2 ignores the fact that there are maybe 20,000 lawyers in DC (probably just as many in NYC, LA, Chicago, etc). Specializing in DC, as I have done for 25 years, has kept me more than busy. I further specialize in practice areas that (but for one) all have at least 1000 lawyers working in that field. Specializing helps you know all the players and employers with whom your candidates might fit.

Maybe Vivia would be interested in a point, counterpoint piece?

As a lawyer recruiter for the past 25 years, I've both focused on a geographic area specialty (Pacific Northwest) and worked on many, many searches exclusive to me. Often I'm working on a retained basis, as well, for both law firms and corporate legal departments. I echo Joe, Doug and Mark. Candidates should certainly do a good due diligence, but these harsh comments are mostly off base.

These are all bush league tactics that are usually performed by those that are not long for the profession, usually junior people. But junior people become seasoned recruiters that know better, so just do your homework. I do dispute #'s 1 & 2 however as they can very well go hand in hand. I frequently get searches from clients that will give me a head start because they have only a handful of headhunters that they like to use. Also, having a focus on a specific practice or geography can set you apart from your competitors by being the subject matter expert in your space. Happens all the time. I suspect this guy had a bad experience with a recruiter somewhere along the line and his opinions are grooved by that experience. There are a ton of very good recruiters out there. Like I said, you just have to do your homework.

This article is written by a novice recruiter. As a recruiter with close to 20 years of legal recruiting experience, I can tell you that most of this article is just horrible advice. I have worked on many retained and exclusive searches for law firm and companies. The reason why firms give out exclusives to certain recruiters is that the recruiter knows their firm and practice well and simply has a history of delivering high quality candidates. The firm also knows that their favored recruiter will not waste their time which is invaluable these days. As a recruiter, I don't pretend to be best friends with every firm, but I do have key relationships with Hiring partners and practice group leaders. I think the author should spend more time in the trenches of actual recruiting rather than writing books and offering career advice. I think recruiters who masquerade as career coaches are the real danger lawyers need to be careful about.


Quite harsh, wouldn't you say? I have been doing legal recruiting for 18 years and have not told these lies. Maybe being a lawyer has stopped me from lying to other lawyers. Ever think of that?

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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