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).
Legal 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.