Lawyers tend to have a contemptuous view of legal recruiters. It’s understandable, given the glut of “bad apples” in the industry—the scheming, self-interested recruiters haphazardly pummeling attorneys’ voicemail and email inboxes. But high-quality legal recruiters are capable of providing tremendous value in ways that many attorneys don’t appreciate until they’ve been through a job search with such a recruiter. Here I debunk four legal recruiting myths that remain prevalent among those lawyers yet to experience working with a good legal recruiter.
Myth 1: Legal recruiters only provide value at the beginning of a legal job search.
Many attorneys believe that legal recruiters’ primary value-add comes at the start of a job search, in the form of a specific job opportunity that the recruiter is privy to. However, when it comes to law firm opportunities, a recruiter can represent a candidate before any law firm, with a few rare exceptions. Indeed, the most value a recruiter brings to the process is not at the beginning, but rather at the end of the search process—at the offer negotiation stage. This is when a seasoned recruiter can show his or her true value by advising the candidate on the terms of the offer and what may or may not be negotiable. Sometimes this translates to literal value, in the form of a signing bonus, or to an intangible value such as ensuring certain days off for a previously planned vacation. Therefore, it is important to choose your recruiter not based on a particular opportunity that he or she cold-emailed you about, but rather the level of the recruiter’s experience, skills, and trustworthiness.
Myth 2: Lawyers can advocate for their candidacy better than a legal recruiter.
“Be your own best advocate” is a sound adage, but in the context of a legal job search, it is usually neither practical nor profitable to do so. For starters, lawyers typically do not have the bandwidth to properly engage and respond to legal employers with whom they are applying. Law firm attorneys billing 200-300 hours per month will not have the time to be adequately responsive to the torrent of communications from the recruiting coordinators (“RCs”) of multiple employers.
Fortunately, legal recruiters can take on this time-consuming responsibility on behalf of the candidate. This responsibility can include fielding information requests, scheduling interviews, negotiating offers, and ensuring a candidate stays on an RC’s radar. Highly skilled legal recruiters can coordinate candidacy processes among multiple employers such that any offers eventually made to the candidate will be received at roughly the same time. This allows a candidate the valuable ability to compare offers simultaneously, as opposed to one after another in a vacuum.
Furthermore, when taking on the (often arduous) responsibility of negotiating offers, an experienced legal recruiter will know what is considered “market” for the various “asks” that an attorney might have for their potential new employer. Legal recruiters making a living negotiating employment offers will naturally have greater familiarity with what is considered market, compared to an attorney relying on anecdotes from their professional or personal network.
This insight from the legal recruiter is especially valuable when negotiating the peripheral variables beyond base compensation. Is it too much to ask for a non-prorated bonus? Is pushing for a signing bonus OK? How much time off to ask for before a start date? How to handle a previously planned vacation when not enough vacation days will have been accrued? What is a reasonable timeline for a new bar admission when relocating, and how much time off for bar study is appropriate? Legal recruiters worth their salt will have negotiated these components countless times across various practice areas, geographies, and seniority levels. They will be prepared not only to make these asks on behalf of the candidate, but also to give guidance to the candidate on what exactly the asks should be.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, legal recruiters are uniquely capable of having certain conversations with potential employers that some lawyers find uncomfortable and that some RCs find unbecoming of candidates. Because of their intermediary position between employer and candidate, legal recruiters are equipped to provide updates to potential employers about the current competition for a particular candidate. Specifically, this means updating RCs about interviews being granted or offers being extended to a candidate by other employers.
The communication of such updates greatly benefits the candidate, by way of catalyzing greater RC engagement (more on this to follow), yet many attorneys are reluctant to provide these updates themselves, for fear of being perceived as either arrogant or desperate. And indeed, there are many RCs out there that will view this form of self-advocacy as arrogance or desperation. Some RCs will even start to wonder how it is that an attorney has the time for such self-advocacy and will ask themselves why the attorney isn’t tasking a legal recruiter with this role. The last thing a candidate needs is an RC’s imagination running rampant in search of red flags.
Myth 3: Legal employers prefer candidates that are not working with a legal recruiter.
Law firms’ recruiting coordinators actually love working with legal recruiters, as there are several ways legal recruiters simply make RCs’ lives easier.
Those updates I just mentioned about current competition for a candidate? The ones only legal recruiters are appropriately positioned to provide? They are invaluable to RCs. RCs really do want to be in the know about what their counterparts at other employers are doing with respect to a candidate. A lot of attorneys I talk to have trouble believing this. But the truth is that RCs hate to lose a candidate to a competitor before having a chance to give an interview or offer. When they lose a candidate in this manner, RCs not only need to spend resources to replace the candidate in the hiring pipeline, but it’s also a bad look for them in the eyes of firm leadership, who are certainly not keen to find out that good talent has slipped to a competitor through the cracks of an RC’s inbox (which, for some RCs I know, will collect hundreds of new emails per day). When working with a legal recruiter, RCs are kept abreast of where a candidate is within other employers’ processes, without needing to have a potentially unseemly conversation directly with the candidate about the same.
Next, legal recruiters frequently act as translators between RCs and candidates, ensuring no asks crossing the negotiating table are misconstrued. For example, a legal recruiter might assuage a candidate that was taken aback by a firm’s request for an immediate start date, explaining to the candidate that this is just that particular firm’s standard ask, and that the firm will certainly be open to pushing the start date back. While these “translation” services are a boon to both employer and candidate alike, RCs that I work with will regularly cite this as one of the most impactful ways I make their job easier.
Lastly, RCs know that high-quality legal recruiters have high-quality candidates. Working with a reputable legal recruiter will paint a candidate’s resume in a positive light (while working with a disreputable recruiter can color a resume negatively), enabling RCs to identify promising candidates more quickly. One of my colleagues at Empire Search, a former RC at a major law firm, recalls that in her time as an RC she would immediately place the resumes from a select few favorite recruiters at the top of her application pile. Well-respected legal recruiters provide employers a convenient means of cutting through the clutter of candidates.
Myth 4: Applying to a legal job through a network contact is better than using a legal recruiter.
Given the pervasive (though misplaced) disdain attorneys have for many legal recruiters, it’s no surprise that attorneys think it wise to circumvent recruiters and instead apply to a legal employer’s opportunity via a professional or personal network contact that either works at or has a relationship with the employer. However, even if one ignores the aforementioned advantages of working with a legal recruiter, there are still a couple of good reasons to be wary of submitting a resume through a friend or colleague.
Legal recruiters that maintain strong relationships with recruiting coordinators have an informed sense of their own reputation with legal employers. This is why they can be confident that resumes they submit will be well-received. Friends and colleagues lacking such relationships may be woefully ignorant of their reputation with HR decision-makers. That mid-level associate at a choice law firm whom the applicant knows from law school might represent themselves as being able to elevate the applicant’s resume within the firm. But many candidates do not know of their friend’s reputation within the firm itself. Unfortunately, some qualified candidates may undeservedly have their resumes tarnished by the poor reputation of a colleague they risked applying through.
Even if the friend does have a good reputation internally, I’ve also witnessed attorneys’ objectivity become compromised after they’ve applied to opportunities through network contacts. When in the position of considering multiple job offers, or even when simply debating between taking an offer or staying put at their current employer, candidates tend to feel obliged to accept the offer they received through a friend’s referral, even when alternative options are objectively better aligned with the candidate’s interests. Not only is this bias detrimental to a candidate’s career satisfaction, but the referral process as a whole (no matter the outcome) often strains the relationship between candidate and referrer.
I’m confident that in 99% of scenarios, using a well-qualified and trustworthy legal recruiter will be an attorney’s best option for approaching a job search, compared to using a network contact or going it alone. My hope is that my myth-busting endeavor here will at least cause attorneys to revisit their notions of legal recruiters and resist recoiling from honest legal recruiters’ communications. My more ambitious goal, which I work at every day in my legal recruiting practice, is to rewrite the role of legal recruiters, as viewed in the attorney community, from that of indiscriminate salespeople to indispensable advocates and advisors.
Lauren Gizzi is a Managing Director at Empire Search Partners. Lauren can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about Empire Search’s law firm and in-house legal recruiting, visit our Legal Recruiting Services page.