Biglaw, Headhunters / Recruiters, Job Searches, Law Schools

Anonymous Recruitment Director Answers Your Email Questions (Part 1)

Ed. note: This is the latest post by Anonymous Recruitment Director, who offers an insider’s perspective on the world of law firm hiring.

I have received hundreds of emails over the past few months from job seekers, and today I would like to answer some of these questions.

The Recruitment Team

1. Do you take a sadistic pleasure in rejecting candidates?

I have received emails calling me “smug,” “arrogant,” “fat,” and “in all likelihood unattractive.” I am fat and, on most days, unattractive, so well done on that front. However, I am not smug or arrogant. BigLaw is a particular work environment, and it is an environment that I have observed firsthand for 20 years. I am trying to provide readers with some inside information. Please recall that it is just a singular viewpoint on a huge industry.

Neither I nor my colleagues enjoy denying smart people who have worked hard a chance to work in the setting of their choice. There is nothing gratifying about rejecting a candidate.

2. Does the scan of the applicant’s transcript come before or after you review the résumé?

I scan the résumé before the transcript. If the résumé is not a good match for the firm, I never review the transcript. A good match for my firm is an applicant from a top 15 law school with a position on a journal (preferably the main law review). For lateral candidates, I am looking for experience that supports the candidate’s stated interests.

3. After you wrote your column on recruitment staff pet peeves, did other recruitment professionals chime in with their pet peeves?

Yes. Among others, certain recruitment professionals urged candidates to be careful when using mail merge. It is hard to take an application seriously when it is addressed to a stranger and you profess an interest at working at another firm. Also, one recruiter urged candidates not to name drop in the interview. The fact that you have a contact may have gotten you the interview; however, it is now up to you alone to land the job.

4. In terms of recruitment, what is the most horrifying thing you have seen happen at a law firm?

I have seen on two occasions stunningly beautiful women hired for the summer program, given an absurd amount of attention during the summer from male attorneys, and then, at the end of the summer, these women did not receive offers because they were deemed to lack gravitas. I was horrified because these women had impeccable credentials and (at least from my vantage point) deserved offers.

Also I have witnessed on a few occasions male attorneys get so drunk on the first night of the summer program that they do something outrageous (think: fist fight, inappropriate sexual advance). It can be a long summer thereafter for all of us.

Prospective Law Students

1. I was accepted to two law schools, Michigan and Duke. Do BigLaw firms pay close attention to the law school rankings and, if so, should this affect my decision of where to attend law school?

We do pay attention to law school rankings. However, both Michigan and Duke are outstanding schools. As I will discuss, rankings only truly matter when your choice is between a well-regarded national school and a lesser-known regional school. In this economy, I would advise that you attend the more competitive school if you can afford to do so. Otherwise, you should make your decision based on where you will be happiest for three years.

2. Do you think that it is an impediment to be an older graduate? Does age affect hiring decisions?

It is of course illegal to not hire someone based on his or her age. However, I think the issue is really one of human nature. I think that many associates who are 30 are not comfortable managing more junior associates who are 40 and older. Many firms hire older students into their summer programs, but the older students often do not enjoy the experience as they feel marginalized (some summer associate events have a fraternity-like feel to them). Many older candidates ultimately decide to find a different work setting despite receiving an offer.

Current Law Students / Recent Graduates

1. If my traditional job search has not been fruitful, can you suggest some other nontraditional strategies that might get the attention of a Biglaw firm?

The Biglaw recruitment process is rigid. We usually fill our classes from our on-campus visits. As such, it is hard to land a job outside of this process. If you are seeking employment, I would search the market in which your law school is located, and I would contact alumni in the hope that they can open some doors for you. Over the years, many candidates have tried gimmicks to get the attention of the recruitment staff (gifts, videos, etc.). Please do not go down this road as it is fruitless.

2. I am currently interning at a Biglaw firm. Do you have any advice on how to turn this into a permanent offer?

At my firm, an internship will not turn into an offer for employment (and we tell candidates this before they accept the internship). Please use this experience as a chance to decide if Biglaw is for you. If so, work hard and impress one or two partners. You can then contact those partners when you are applying to the firm at an appropriate time after the internship ends.

3. I have very average grades at a top law school. How do I get prospective employers to look beyond my transcript?

Experience. You can get prospective employers to overlook average grades by having interesting and meaningful experiences on your résumé (not excuses for average grades). In other words, if your résumé is interesting enough, the partners will want to meet you in person. Please see my column on the résumé.

4. I have excellent grades from a top law school. I have received many callback interviews during the interview process; however, these interviews never turn into job offers. Help!

I would imagine the issue here does not have to do with your credentials but, rather, with your interviewing style. You need to work with your career services staff or a close friend in order to receive frank feedback about how you come across to your colleagues. I have found over the years that the fix is often a small one — e.g., a candidate is trying so hard to act professional that he or she fails to smile and remind his or her colleagues of his or her warmth.

5. I graduated from law school one year ago, and I am still unemployed. I am concerned that a whole new crop of graduates will come on the market shortly. Any suggestions?

Unfortunately, your concern has merit. A lawyer who is unemployed for two months is more employable to a prospective employer than a lawyer who has been unemployed for 14 months. While this makes no sense, it is a reality in recruitment. I would suggest that at this time you expand your search in every way — expand your geographic region, the size of the firm, the practice area, etc. You also need to be developing your legal skills at this time in any way that you can.

6. I appreciate that being rude to a recruitment staff member is a problem during the interview day. Do you ever take notice of someone who is particularly polite?

Yes, we notice and appreciate polite candidates. Unfortunately, however, this will not help you land the job. We hope that all candidates can be polite (at least during the interview day).

7. I am currently a law student at a third-tier school. Do you think it is worthwhile for me to try to transfer after my first year to a more prestigious law school?

Yes. Law school has become a big business and many top schools now accept large numbers of transfer students for their 2L year (the law schools need/want the tuition money). Transfer students often do not do well during early interview week (because they have yet to step foot into a classroom at their new school at the time of the interviews in August). However, in this economy, and in a profession that values shiny credentials, the decision to attend a more competitive national school may be a better long-term career strategy.

8. Is it true that Biglaw firms respond well to associates, even if they are from small firms, who they can put to work with little training?

Law firms are no longer able to bill clients to train junior associates (at least not to the extent that they could in the past). These fees are often written off as clients often refuse to pay them. As such, yes, it is an asset to have concrete experience and to seek employment doing the exact same thing that you are doing at your current firm. A private placement looks the same whether it is undertaken by a large firm or small firm.

In future columns, I will address questions from current associates and law clerks, as well as questions about headhunters.

Earlier: Recruitment Staff Pet Peeves
Résumés: The Harsh Reality

Anonymous Recruitment Director is the head of recruitment for a leading international firm and has 20 years of law firm recruitment experience. Anonymous NYC Recruitment Director can be reached at (please note that job applications sent to this email address will be deleted!).

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