Ed. note: This is the latest post by Anonymous Recruitment Director, who offers an insider’s perspective on the world of law firm hiring.
Today I continue to address some of the questions that I have received from you by email. Once again, I note that these are simply my personal views on the questions presented.
1. How do law firms assess job moves on a résumé, particularly when the moves were dictated by life circumstances (such as the need to follow a spouse into a secondary legal market)?
There is an unspoken belief amongst many recruitment professionals that a candidate who has moved around too often is a problematic candidate. Whether this is true or not, recruitment professionals view a fifth-year candidate who has already been at three firms as easily discontented. The thought then becomes — why would this candidate be happy at our firm? How are we any different than his or her previous employers? While candidates are often able to explain their moves (e.g., personal circumstances), recruiters then question the depth of experience that a candidate has had to date. Is a candidate who has stayed at one firm for five years more experienced that a fifth-year associate who has moved firms three times? In my experience, employers always favor the former candidate. Partners like loyalty and depth of experience, be it actual or perceived.
2. How long after graduation should an associate remain at a less than ideal job in a secondary market before submitting a résumé to a Biglaw firm in a more desirable location, such as New York or Chicago?
I would remain at the firm for at least two years. During this time, you can develop some portable skills that you can then try to sell to a new employer. Also, from a practical standpoint, big firms have little need for first-year candidates (since the first-year class is made up of former summer associates). If you wait two years, the firm may need to do some hiring at the junior levels due to attrition.
3. I wish to work as a litigator in a Biglaw firm. Do you think I would have an easier time finding employment at such a firm if I first worked as a government litigator (as opposed to just applying from my small, local firm)?
I would try to make your desired move first before undertaking an interim move simply to bolster your résumé. If you are not successful after the initial search, you can consider other options, such as a government position.
4. If a partner/senior associate reviews all of the legal writing that I have done, am I allowed to submit a revised document as a writing sample and claim it as my own?
Yes, you can submit the writing sample if the research is yours and if you feel that you could now produce a memo of the same caliber. Also, as a side note, I have never read a writing sample. Ever.
5. I took a position after graduation in an executive recruitment firm. How will firms respond to this experience when I try to make the switch to a private law firm?
Unfortunately, firms often do not respond well to experience as an executive recruiter. Many attorney view recruitment as a job that anyone can do, and, as such, they feel that you are not developing the “right” skill set as a recruiter. The belief is that you are a now a salesman, not a legal professional.
6. I took a job on Capitol Hill without pay after graduation because I could not find paid work. How do you think firms will respond to this experience when I try to make the switch to a private law firm?
Firms will respond favorably to your decision to gain experience on Capitol Hill. You have used your degree since graduation and kept developing your legal skills in some manner. You have done what was necessary in a tough economy, and I think that some employers will admire that decision/dedication.
I noted in an earlier column that law firms prefer relevant law-firm experience to clerkship experience. Thereafter, I received a letter from a partner from a major NYC firm who expressed the belief that, while this may be a current recruitment trend, the best litigators in his firm have all had the experience of being judicial law clerks. He asserted that junior attorneys should opt to be clerks whenever possible as this is a strong long-term career strategy.
1. I am a clerk in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the X Circuit. I was expecting that firms would come looking for clerks with this type of experience; however, this has not been the case. Have clerkships lost their appeal in the eyes of Biglaw firms?
No, clerkships have not lost their appeal to future employers; however, in a bad economy, few firms feel the need to woo clerks as they had done in the past. This credential will serve you well; however, you will need to approach the firms that are of interest to you. If you are not successful with a broad mailing campaign, use whatever contacts your judge has in his or her circuit.
Please keep your questions coming!
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 NYCRecruitmentDirector@gmail.com (please note that job applications sent to this email address will be deleted!).