Biglaw, Headhunters / Recruiters, Job Searches, Paralegals, Partner Issues, Secretaries / Administrative Assistants

Anonymous Recruitment Director Answers Your Email Questions (Part 3)

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

In my last column, I offered advice for summer associates. Today I’ll return to the mailbag and answer questions received from readers by email.

Today’s topics: paraprofessionals and legal recruiters. As always, please note that these are simply my personal views on the questions presented.


1. I have almost a decade of support experience as a XX paralegal. I wonder if I should go to law school so I can get the respect and pay of a full-fledged XX attorney. Do you think it would be worth it?

This is a hard question to answer. The decision to go to law school involves tremendous risk. Are you sure that a job will be waiting for you at the end of law school? Will the increase in your pay be worth it after you consider the expense of three years of law school and the lost income from those years? Also, in 2014, I do not think that many junior attorneys feel that they are well-respected.

2. I am a legal assistant at a Biglaw firm in New York. I am amazed that anyone would aspire to work in such a sad, repressed environment. Were all Biglaw attorneys abused as children?

Ouch. The truth is that I know many attorneys who love their jobs. They are inspired by the work, and they thrive in a Biglaw environment. Unfortunately, there are many attorneys who do not love their jobs, and they tend to be very vocal about it. Junior attorneys tend to be overworked and partners pay little attention to them until they have proven their ability and commitment to the firm (think, 4 or 5 years). This can make the first few years of a career in Biglaw very rough.

Legal Recruiters (“Headhunters”)

I use the terms headhunter and headhunting firms below so as to distinguish them from in-house legal recruiters. The terms are widely used and not intended to be disrespectful.

As a general note, the barrier to entry to become a headhunter is low. As such, when you use a headhunter, you must do research about his or her background/track record. There are some amazing headhunters out there who take the time to get to know the firms and their needs as well as the candidates and their needs. Other headhunters will send us any résumé that crosses their desk (which is no more effective than you sending in a résumé directly). Ask your colleagues which headhunters have produced good outcomes for them in the past.

1. In this economy, do big firms still rely on the use of headhunters? Should I use a headhunter or would I be better off approaching the firm directly? If a recruitment firm is engaged, do you look only at the candidates that they present to you, or do you consider direct submissions as well?

Biglaw firms still use recruitment firms. While it is more expensive to hire a candidate presented to the firm through a headhunting firm, the best recruitment firms will do the hard work of culling through stacks of applications in order to find the candidate who is the best fit. As a general rule: if you are a star, use a headhunter. The strength of your credentials will motivate the headhunters to work hard for you. If you are not a star (either due to lack of experience or less than shiny experience), I would approach firms directly. We always consider direct submissions, whether or not a headhunting firm has been engaged for a search.

2. I am currently seeking a new position, and I would like to interview at Biglaw firms. Unfortunately, I cannot get a headhunter interested in me because I am currently unemployed.

I received this inquiry from scores of attorneys. The reality is that headhunting is a business. Headhunters will spend time and effort on those candidates who are most likely to result in a hire and, therefore, a fee. Unfortunately, in this economy, many firms have instructed headhunting firms to not submit candidates who are currently unemployed. If you are currently unemployed, you probably will have to apply for jobs directly (and try to show that you have used the time that you were out of work to develop your legal skills in some manner).

3. As a partner with many years of experience in a secondary legal market, should I use a headhunter if I want to try to break into Biglaw as a partner?

Yes. You will want to use a headhunter who can package you effectively and who will know which firms will be most responsive to your particular experience. When you do your research, be sure that your headhunter has considerable experience in the placement of partner candidates (which is far more involved than placing an associate).

4. I would like to change practice areas from corporate law to litigation. Should I use a headhunter to undertake this search?

I would be surprised if you could find a headhunter to represent you in this search. You will be starting over and, as such, you are in effect looking for a position as a first- or second-year associate. There is not a great deal of money in the placement of very junior associates. Perhaps you could try to find a new recruiter who is a bit hungrier and who would be willing to try to sell you to firms.

Please keep your questions coming!

Earlier: Welcome, 2014 Summer Associates! (Plus The 4 Types Of People Who Get No-Offered)
Anonymous Recruitment Director Answers Your Email Questions (Part 1)
Anonymous Recruitment Director Answers Your Email Questions (Part 2)

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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