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Dumping Law for Finance, Part 1--Recruiters' View

Vivia Chen

February 22, 2011

Guysw:money We are continuing our series of questions from readers.

It's a sure sign of impending spring and an improving job market that lawyers are salivating about high-powered jobs in finance again. This question comes from a big-firm associate in New York:

Dear Careerist,

I'm a midlevel at a top-ten law firm, focusing on private equity and M&A. I have a strong background in finance (both educational and work experience), and I'm looking to make a move into that industry (private equity, hedge fund, etc.), but have had trouble finding the proper channels to seek opportunities.  Most recruiting calls I get are either law firm to law firm, or for in-house positions, and the recruiters are generally of little help when I discuss my desire to get out of law.

Any advice?

Recruiter Dimitri Mastrocola of Major Lindsey & Africa's New York office replies:

The guy kind of answered his own question. If he wants to move to the business side, working with a legal recruiter will obviously be of little use. If he wants to use a recruiting channel, he needs to try to get on the radar screen of a recruiter who focuses on placing investment or business professionals at hedge funds and private equity firms. The newsletter Hedge Fund Alert has a directory of recruiters. He could also consult The Directory of Executive & Professional Recruiters.

His best bet in my opinion is personal and professional networking, both online (e.g., LinkedIn) and offline (e.g., leveraging client relationships he has developed at his law firm).

 From recruiter Brian Davis, also of Major Lindsey:

Most lawyers who go to the business side make the half step of going in-house first, to gain the corporate/business experience, and then migrate to the business side.

By going in-house, a lawyer is able to get a better understanding of the inner workings of the client and his/her business than he or she ever can from representing the client from inside a law firm. Several years of experience from within the corporate walls, with the opportunity to see up close the various demands, challenges, internal politics, external pressures, etc., gives an attorney invaluable knowledge and perspective and helps smooth the transition to the business side.

Finally, recruiter Alisa Levin of Greene-Levin-Snyder offers a different view: She says legal recruiters can help. What's require, though, are "impeccable Ivy League credentials, demonstrably strong quantitative skills (a joint J.D./MBA or experience as an analyst), and in many cases a willingness to take a step back to learn the ropes," Levin says. "It is not an easy transition, but we can cite many managing directors at banks and other hedge funds who we placed years ago from law firms."

In the next post, we'll hear from a lawyer who actually made the leap into investment banking.

In the meantime, did you find the recruiters' advice helpful? Do you have other suggestions about making the switch?

More readers' questions: When the Stay-Home Parent Wants to Go Back to Work, You've Failed the Bar, and You Want a Job.

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Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? E-mail The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at VChen@alm.com.

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Comments

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I’m going through the same career transition right now. I was a 10-year commercial real estate lawyer, most recently at a large national law firm. I’m now looking to join a real estate investment group on the business side. It’s taken me almost 2 years of soul-searching, researching and networking, networking, networking… lots of learning the path through trial and error. At this point, I have refined my job-search “story,” or elevator pitch, to specifically and concisely tell people I meet through networking channels what I’m looking for and what value I can bring. These are the 2 points you need to get across with your “story.” And it’s not just about your “story” – the process you have to go through to refine your “story” will help you refine your strategy, which guides your search. I’ve talked to a couple of recruiters both in the legal and real estate arenas and came the conclusion that recruiters are not very helpful for candidates who are jumping tracks. A recruiter’s job is not to be creative for their clients – their clients tell them exactly what position they’re hiring for and the recruiter’s only job is to fill it to the client’s specs, period. A recruiter is unlikely to try and sell (or rather, shoe horn) a smart, competent candidate who doesn’t have the specific experience a client wants into a position. Of course, my experience is against the backdrop of our current economy, especially the tenuous trajectory of commercial real estate. Perhaps in a healthier economy with more robust commercial real estate activities, I would have already found a position with an investment group that appreciates an experienced lawyer who can think conceptually and add a lot of new perspectives to their business.

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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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