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Career Center: Tips for Selecting a Legal Recruiter

The lateral hiring market has improved substantially over the past year. With that improvement, associates are receiving a greater number of cold-calls from recruiters. For many junior associates, these calls are a new phenomenon. Your choice of a recruiter — and the way you manage the process — will have a profound impact on your short-term and long-term opportunities.

There are many good recruiters and many benefits to using a good one. However, not all recruiters are created equal. Jordan Abshire, legal recruiter and Managing Director at Lateral Link, offers some great pointers on handling the cold-calls and selecting a good recruiter, as well as some background information on the recruiting process….

1) Play Hard to Get
Do not readily give out your résumé. Most law firms will give a recruiter credit for a résumé submission for six to twelve months from the date the recruiter sent in the résumé. Some recruiters will blast your résumé to the entire Am Law 100 to lock-in their right to a fee. This does not help your job search. If there is no matching opening, you may get labeled in a law firm’s recruiting database with an “X” or “No” next to your name. Whenever a relevant position comes open months later and you apply, a busy recruiting manager may discover the “X” next to your name, and not dig any further. Worse yet, if there is no matching practice in that office, or no office in the city that interests you, the firm will question your judgment for “engaging” a sloppy recruiter to work on your behalf.

2) Interview the Recruiter
Don’t be shy; ask the recruiter questions. Many “recruiters” are jumping into the market for the first time. Some have no recruiting experience, no legal experience, no experience in your geographic market of interest, and/or no relationship with or knowledge of the firm they want to send your résumé to. Ask the recruiter questions before you send over your résumé. How many placements have they or their firm made? How many interviews have they secured? Have they or their colleagues met with the firm they want to send you into?

3) Do Recruiter Due Diligence
Use the World Wide Web and research the heck out of a prospective recruiter. Take a look at the recruiter’s website. Review their bio. Where are they located? Have they practiced? Have they practiced in the type of firm you’d like to join? In that practice area? If not, can they at least speak intelligently about firm life, the market in your area, or your practice? Do they say that they have “National” coverage, which is virtually impossible for an individual to do with any level of proficiency? Do they recruit in other areas beside law? The connections of recruiters are important, but if they have no insight of the legal profession, they will not know what to ask, or understand what you are looking for in a new position.

4) Ride the Grapevine
Talk to friends/colleagues about the recruiter. Ask for references. Nowadays, people are seeking references, doing security checks, and heightening the vetting process in their search for a prospective dog walker. Look up the recruiter on LinkedIn; reach out to any connections you have in common.

5) Let Your Limitations Be Known
Do not give the recruiter a blank check to send your résumé to whichever firm they see fit. A firm will want to know that you have actually considered applying to them. If the recruiter cannot represent to the firm that they have discussed the opening with you and that you are specifically interested because of X,Y, and Z, then your application will not have as much credibility with the firm. What is the point of hiring a recruiter if he or she simply blasts your résumé to every single job opening available?

6) Avoid the Bait and Switch
Beware of the phantom opening. Some recruiters post phantom openings on their websites, just to get your résumé. Likewise, some recruiters call about the “unadvertised opening with Cravath,” which may not actually exist. You offer your résumé in response, and two weeks later the recruiter tells you that the position closed or that the firm “rejected” you. In the meantime, the recruiter has sent you to the Am Law 100.

7) Be Wary of Claims of an “Exclusive” on an Opening
Some recruiters will claim to have an “exclusive.” If the opening is on the firm’s website, then there is likely no exclusive. Firms do reach out to select recruiters with unadvertised positions; a recruiter may have an exclusive or semi-exclusive on such a position. Do your diligence on the recruiter, so that you do not fall victim to the phantom opening trick above.

A good recruiter can assist your search in many ways: sharing general market knowledge; sharing law firm and practice group-specific information; preparing your résumé and cover letter; assuring your résumé gets noticed in the pile; prepping you for interviews; following-up on your behalf; offering guidance in evaluating and/or negotiating offers; offering advice on giving notice, etc. However, the many good recruiters out there cannot help you with a particular firm, if you have already applied.

To fully maximize the benefit of using a recruiter, make sure you select one who is talented, reputable, informed, and connected. For more career tips, check out the Associate Resources section of the Career Center.