Associate Advice, Headhunters / Recruiters, Job Searches, Small Law Firms

Size Matters: Why Some Small Firms And Small-Firm Lawyers Need Matchmakers

There is a neighborhood in Chicago that smells like chocolate. The reason is due to Blommer Chocolate Company’s Chicago factory. I have never been inside, but according to a documentary I once saw regarding chocolate factories, inside there is a chocolate river, Oompa Loompas, and an eccentric chocolatier.

Much to my surprise, there was an opening at Blommer for over a year. Among other qualifications, the position required the applicant to be able to taste and consume chocolate and other products. Who would not jump at the chance to work there? Admittedly, there were a few negatives to the position (see here), but overall it sounded much better than a typical job wherein one does not get to taste and consume chocolate (at least not as an integral part of the daily routine).

If only there was some professional whose job it was to match open positions like this with qualified applicants….

Blommer is not the only business that could stand to benefit from the use of a recruiter. Small firms (and aspiring small-firm lawyers) can too.

Earlier this week I had a conversation with legal recruiter extraordinaire and blogger Amanda Ellis, about which small firms and small-firm lawyers should consider using a recruiter in their search. Going into the interview I was rather dubious, since I had a negative experience using a headhunter to transition from Biglaw to a small firm. Also, given the large talent pool in the current economy, many small firms have stopped using recruiters (in order to avoid paying the placement fees). Ellis changed my view and explained how headhunters can be useful for certain candidates and small firms.

What small firms should consider using a headhunter?

• A high-end boutique in a non-metro area seeking to hire credentialed lawyers; or
• Small firms looking for a very specific candidate.

Some small firms may be reluctant to pay the placement fee (which, per Ellis, is usually around 25% of the base salary of the attorney placed at the firm). Yet Ellis explained that many recruiters can structure the fee so that it is attractive to the small firms. And Ellis has worked with more small firms than Biglaw in the past two years, so clearly many of these firms are aware of the benefits of using a recruiter.

What small-firm lawyers (or aspiring small-firm lawyers) should consider using a headhunter?

• A candidate who is relocating;
• A candidate who did not go to law school in the area he/she is looking to work and does not know about the small firms in the area;
• A candidate who wishes to work at a certain small firm that has an exclusive relationship with a recruiter; or
• A Biglaw associate who does not know about the small firms in the area.

These lawyers benefit from the use of a headhunter because the headhunter knows which firms are reputable, which firms are collegial, which firms are sweatshops, etc. According to Ellis, however, it is important for the applicant to do her research as well.

Ellis advises applicants to first use any connections before relying on a headhunter. Also, if there are certain firms that an applicant is interested in, he should check with the recruiter to see if the firm works with recruiters, and if not he should apply on his own.

Unfortunately, if you are currently unemployed, you will likely not be able to work with a recruiter. According to Ellis, many firms, including small firms, will not accept résumés from unemployed attorneys through recruiters.

Of course, using a headhunter is only one way to find a job at a small firm (see here for another), but it can be useful and should not be overlooked if you are among those identified above.

Please let me know if you are either a small firm or a small-firm attorney who has worked with a headhunter and whether the experience was helpful or not.

And today is your last chance to take the compensation survey, so please click here if you haven’t done so yet.

When not writing about small law firms for Above the Law, Valerie Katz (not her real name) works at a small firm in Chicago. You can reach her by email at and follow her on Twitter at @ValerieLKatz.

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