Headhunters / Recruiters

‘We’re going to a new firm!’

Even in a world where “Who’ll be the next Dewey?” is a Biglaw parlor game and the general legal job market hits the bottom and keeps digging, there still are a few bright spots for the industry. Some examples: law firm associate classes, though contracted, appear to have stabilized, revenues for the largest law firms grew by the highest rate since 2007, and lateral hiring is back in a big way.

According to NALP, the volume of 2011 lateral hiring was up by nearly 50 percent compared with 2010, with associates accounting for almost three-quarters of the lateral traffic. Obviously, the data is not in for this year, but according to one veteran headhunter we spoke with, the revived lateral attorney market has continued through 2012. Admittedly, this trend is not a bright spot if one believes that a fast-flowing lateral market is a key ingredient in the recipe for more Deweys. But at the very least, we are in a better environment for those looking to make a lateral move.

Unlike much of the labor marketplace, legal recruitment generally has not migrated online. In the large firm context, would-be lateral attorneys continue to require the specialized knowledge and carefully cultivated relationships of the legal recruiter. Today, the ATL Career Center launches its Practicing Lawyers section, which features a Recruiter Directory, a new resource for those of you looking for greener pastures. After the jump, check out the founding members of the Directory….

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Damn, Tony Scott! L.A. does weird things to a person. Each time I am there I am struck by a palpable sense of “difference.” It may well be the fact that I’ve been on the East Coast for so long, but I can’t shake the feel of Los Angeles. It is akin to being at Disneyland. The facades are constructed so realistically, but then you see Winnie the Pooh having a cigarette. Anyway, props to Mr. Scott for giving us some of the best films of my lifetime.

On to the task at hand. I was watching Mary Poppins the other day with my daughter. I swear that I only watch these things because my kids love them; really. As you know Jane and Michael Banks draft a list of qualities that they desire in a new nanny. Soon thereafter, Mary Poppins appears and straightens the entire household, kids and all, spit spot, er, I mean ship shape. And the Banks’ children’s list of got me to thinking about qualities to look for in a recruiter. So, I have compiled my own list of things to seek when considering a recruiter for your job search, if you have chosen to go that route. Some of you who are do it yourselfers can stop reading here. Those of you in the market for a recruiter, read on….

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I had lunch recently with a guy who’s looking for an in-house job. He was complaining about how tough this is: “Recruiters don’t do you any good. They’re focused almost entirely on moving lawyers between law firms; they don’t know about in-house jobs. The recruiters who get retained to do job searches for corporations are working for the corporation, not you. If you don’t match the criteria the corporation laid out, they don’t want to talk to you. How the heck does one land an in-house job?”

Surprisingly, I’d never thought about this issue. (I wasn’t looking for an in-house job — or, indeed, any job at all — when I landed in my current position.) Because I’d never considered how one obtains an in-house job, I had no idea what the answer was. So — always thinking of you (and searching for blog fodder) — I picked the brain of a headhunter-friend.

How, I asked the headhunter, should a lawyer go about looking for an in-house job?

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As we mentioned earlier today, retired partners of Dewey & LeBoeuf received some potentially good news. These former partners, whose unfunded pensions were supposed to be funded out of firm profits, will have a voice in the firm’s bankruptcy proceedings. As reported by the WSJ Law Blog and Am Law Daily, the U.S. trustee’s office has appointed an official committee of former partners (in addition to the standard official committee of unsecured creditors). The four ex-partners on the committee are David Bicks, Cameron MacRae, John Kinzey, and John Campo.

What prompted the move? As legal consultant Edwin Reeser, whose analysis of the Dewey situation recently appeared in these pages, told the WSJ, “The retired partners have uniquely separate interests which warrant consideration as a special class of creditors.”

It’s nice that they have a seat at the table, but will the ex-partners end up with any money at the end of the process? That’s less clear. As Jerome Kowalski, another law firm consultant, told the Journal, “There has never been a law firm bankruptcy that resulted in any payment being made to the equity partners… They’ll have zero sway other than perhaps some moral imperatives, and moral imperatives don’t have much play in bankruptcy courts.”

The unsecured creditors might have more luck than the former partners. Who’s on the unsecured creditors’ committee?

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I had a cup of coffee last week with an old friend who happens to be a legal recruiter.

“Are you going to try to pry me out of my job?” I asked. “That’ll be a pretty tough sell.”

“I couldn’t place you if I tried,” he said.

“Excuse me?”

“You crossed that Rubicon two years ago. I do searches only for law firms, and they don’t hire in-house lawyers. You’re no good to me anymore.”

“Excuse me?”

“Law firms buy books of business. Not only that — they buy only past books of business. Nobody buys a story — a promise of future work — these days. Firms buy only your past successes. That’s often incredibly stupid, but it’s what they do.”

The guy had my attention: First, I’m no longer a hot commodity; somehow, that annoyed me, even though I’m not looking to sell myself these days. Second, law firms are stupid about lateral hiring; this was a blog post waiting to happen . . .

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Emily Herx

* Dewey need to send them a wedding present? Because to be honest, we really can’t afford one. Fifty of the firm’s European lawyers jumped ship to tie the knot with Greenberg Traurig in Poland. [WSJ Law Blog]

* “I don’t think there’s enough space in the legal market to absorb all the Dewey lawyers that aren’t prepackaged in a group.” When Dewey get on the unemployment line in New York City? [New York Law Journal]

* Ropes & Gray is expanding its Chinese private equity practice with plans to double its Asian-based lawyers by the end of the year. For now, the firm’s just poaching partners from Norton Rose and Paul Weiss. [Bloomberg]

* John Edwards’s legal team began his defense, and they still don’t know if he’ll be taking the stand. Not to worry, because he’ll be torturing his daughter, Cate Edwards, instead. [CNN]

* Remember the Catholic school that fired someone for getting IVF? They’re asserting the “ministerial exception” against Emily Herx — an unordained woman who doesn’t teach religion. [Washington Post]

* Apparently this only matters when top-tier schools do it, but like UC Hastings, George Washington Law will be reducing its class size in the hope of keeping new student enrollment below 450. [National Law Journal]

This is Elie Mystal, coming to you live from Austin, Texas, and the 2012 conference of the National Association of Law Placement. It’s my favorite annual conference, because every year, NALP just gets all the law school career services officers and all the law firm recruiters in a room, and tells them all the trends in legal hiring. We’re not talking about anecdotal evidence or law firm spin. It’s the one time each year we get to look at some hard numbers.

And in case you live under a rock, let me tell that every year since the recession, the numbers get more and more terrible. Looking at some of these statistics is as close as you can come to physically witnessing a dream die a horrible, mangled death.

This year, the numbers are worse than ever! And that’s the good news. NALP’s Executive Director, Jim Leipold, thinks that we’ve probably “hit the bottom” in terms of new associate hiring, with the class of 2011 suffering the absolute nadir of this process. While he doesn’t know if things will get significantly better any time soon, he figures they pretty much can’t get any worse.

Yay!

Does anybody want to hear the bad news?

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I recently received a cold call from a recruiter. Back in the day, when we were young and cocky Biglaw associates, we’d often just say “no thanks” and hang up on headhunters. For most of you, a call wondering if you’d like to explore a great opportunity in some department or other at another firm hasn’t occurred in years.

The economy just isn’t the same. For me, it’s been quite awhile since I received such a call. First of all, it’s fairly difficult to reach us; our numbers aren’t publicly available, thus making solicitations and cold calls something of an anomaly. Second, now that I’m in-house, the usual course is to seek out a recruiter, if necessary, rather than the other way around.

Well, my interest was piqued, and I chatted with her for about a half-hour. She works for a company with revenue much greater than I am used to, and a market cap well above my current employer’s. The job itself entails working on technology deals for a greater salary and overall compensation package. The company would also relocate me to a very palatable locale. Finally, the location is near many potential employers for my wife.

Seems like a great opportunity on its face. But, as one of my mentors has sagely stated, the devil you don’t know can be much worse than the devil you do know….

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The rumor mill has been churning nonstop over the past week about Dewey & LeBoeuf. In our recent stories about the firm, we’ve discussed reports of financial difficulties, partner departures, and possible layoffs of lawyers and staff.

During this time, firm management has remained fairly tight-lipped. But earlier this evening — a Friday evening, of course — the firm broke its silence. Chairman Steven H. Davis sent out a firm-wide memo, acknowledging the rumors and confirming that yes, Dewey will be conducting some layoffs and engaging in other cost-cutting measures.

Let’s take a look at the memo….

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Yes — Firm Is Cutting 5 to 6 Percent of Personnel

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….

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