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Is Your Recruiter Calling You Back?

Vivia Chen

February 8, 2011

Today's guest blogger is recruiter Dan Binstock, a partner at Garrison & Sisson, a Washington, D.C., search firm.

IStock_000013732960XSmall If you are an associate at a big firm, you've probably received lots of calls and e-mails from recruiters. Recruiters are everywhere these days, yet it’s quite surprising how many lawyers are unfamiliar with how the process actually works.

A recruiter can help lawyers' careers--but only for certain types of lawyers in certain situations. Most recruiters are hyper-focused on credentials and prestige because of the hiring requirements placed on them by employers.

A basic litmus test if a recruiter can help you is this: Are you the pursuer or the pursued? If you find yourself pursuing recruiters (e.g., applying to lots of job postings by recruiters and calling different recruiters) and are not getting much of a response, this is probably a signal that your experience may not be in demand at that particular time.

Here are some pointers about when it's beneficial (or not) to use a legal recruiter in your job search. 

Recruiting 101

Recruiters serve a dual function: (1) to help employers gain access to lawyers with a particular background, pedigree, and skill set (often at a specific year level) who will fit into the firm’s existing talent pool; and (2) to help “high-demand” associates locate opportunities and navigate the process. 

In this kind of select market, the firm or company pays the recruiter. Candidates do not incur any expense.

What Recruiters/Employers Want:

Selective firms: Legal recruiters tend to work with Am Law 100 firms (in larger cities), Am Law 200 firms (in secondary markets), and/or high-end specialty boutiques or very prestigious smaller firms. These firms engage recruiters to bring them strong lateral associates from competitor firms, based on the belief that like-kind experience and training will be most easily transferred to their client matters.   

Law school credentials or specialty: Recruiters tend to work with associates who graduated from a top 25 law school or, if not a top 25 school, toward the top of the class and with journal experience (particularly for litigators). If you have unique experience in a high-demand practice area, credentials are less important.

Generally, the more specialized your practice area (e.g., ERISA or FDA), the more in-demand you will be.  A recruiter may have more success with an experienced FDA attorney with a 3.2 GPA from a Tier 2 law school than a general litigator with a 3.5 from a Tier 1 law school.  It’s supply and demand.

Experience--but not too much:  For law firms, associates with two to six years of experience (the "sweet spot") are most marketable, although there are certainly exceptions. For in-house positions, the "sweet spot" is four to eight years of experience in an Am Law 200 firm, a well-regarded boutique, or a peer company.

Certain government lawyers: If you are working for the government, you will be more marketable if your experience has a private sector counterpart that that can be immediately utilized by a firm. 

Who Shouldn't Use Recruiters:

Recent Graduates: Employers pay recruiters to identify candidates with at least one year of practice experience. They do not use recruiters for entry-level jobs.

Judicial Clerks: Law firms regard clerks as entry-level hires and recruit clerks directly. (Remember all the cocktail hours for you and your fellow clerks?) That said, there are isolated exceptions in certain geographic locations. Furthermore, those who clerk after spending more than one year in practice are considered laterals, and employers often use recruiters for these candidates.

Government Job Seekers: Federal, state, and local government departments do not use legal recruiters.
The Laid-Off/Unemployed: If you are unemployed, you should use a recruiter only to supplement your individual efforts. If you are a very junior associate who was laid off and has not yet gained substantial experience, you should use your existing network, not a recruiter. 

It's Not Personal:

An honest recruiter will tell you how marketable your skill set is and whether there is enough of a demand at any given time, as opposed to simply sending your information to employers with the hope that “something sticks.” The most ethical recruiters will tell you up front whether they believe you should be working with a recruiter, applying to employers directly, or doing a mixture of both.

But if you don’t hear back from a recruiter, don’t take it personally. Recruiters should respond as a professional courtesy, but some receive well over 100 resumes per week and simply don’t have the available resources to respond to each person. If a recruiter says that she can’t assist you, it’s sort of a “don’t kill the messenger” type of situation. Remember, at the end of the day, employers dictate the terms.

Do you have a question for a recruiter or other career expert? E-mail The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at VChen@alm.com, and we'll try to find you the answer.

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Photo: Karin Hildebrand Lau - Fotolia.com



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Great article.

Just more proof that if you do not attend a top 15 (maybe even top 7) law school, firms look at you as though you obtained your JD by sending away cereal box tops.

All I got out of this post is that my grades and school are screwing me over for jobs. Guess it's more mystery Taco Bell meat for me until I get another PI case: http://lawblog.legalmatch.com/2011/02/03/who-is-harmed-by-taco-bells-alleged-false-advertising/

This is a combination of blatantly obvious advice (if you have great credentials, you will find it easier to get a job!), and flatly wrong advice.
This article fails to mention perhaps the key two facts regarding recruiters:
1. They make an obscene amount of money when they place associates, so they are likely to tell you anything that will get you to accept the job. Think: a real estate broker, but one that doesn't even need to be licensed

2. Firms that receive two similar applicants, one of which is from a recruiter, will take THE OTHER ONE, because there is no reason for them to pay the tens of thousands of dollars to a recruiter if they dont have to.

The bottom line: use a recruiter if you are looking for a specialty position that you have no way of identifying or applying to yourself, or are trying to move to region you know nothing about. Otherwise- just apply yourself. It's more work, but you'll probably get better results.

Hi Merle, good point - you're exactly right and I should have mentioned that as well. Thanks for pointing it out.

This is all good advise. However, a "good recruiter" will also talk to recent grads. Moreover, recent grads should develop a relationship with a recruiter just like all other attorneys. A recruiter can offer invaluable information to a recent grad to help them make good choices early in their career so that when they are in the "sweet spot" they have good options. I am an attorney and legal recruiter who gives advise to recent grads whenever possible. Waiting until you are in the sweet spot may be too late.

If you’ve been unemployed for a while, you probably know how mind-numbing unemployment can be. Instead of just waiting around for the “perfect” job opportunity, you should just take a job that will get you by. A flexible part-time job means that you have the opportunity to check out new full-time jobs as they come up, but it also means you have something to stay busy and pay the bills. Delivering pizzas, mowing lawns, or walking dogs – none of these is beneath you. As long as you’re working to put food on the table and a roof overhead, you can be proud of your accomplishments.

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Another column that offers no helpful advice for the lost classes of 2009 and 2010.

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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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