How did you enter legal recruiting?
I was a BigLaw associate for several years and was always very involved in both law school and lateral recruiting at my firm. I really enjoyed meeting and talking to young attorneys who were trying to make decisions about the course of their careers and realized that many of them were making really big, life changing decisions with little information. Coming out of law school, many junior associates chose their firms based on national rankings or because they liked the attorneys they met at on-campus interviews, and many of the associates I interviewed for lateral positions were likewise making career decisions without a full understanding of what kind of firm would give them the skills, experience and platform to set them up for their long term goals. It became clear to me that there must be a better way to go about making such important decisions. I also mentored young attorneys at my firm and loved strategizing with them on how to advance their careers. I realized that being a recruiter or career coach would be a great fit for me, but having established my career, the transition seemed daunting.
When the market crashed in 2008, I was working in-house at an investment bank (Bear Stearns) and my entire team was laid off. It was a scary time, but it was also extremely liberating and ended up being a blessing in disguise. I finally had the clean slate that I could use to take my career down an entirely different path to becoming a recruiter. That was 12+ years ago, and it was one of the best decisions I have ever made.
What have you seen change the most in the legal hiring market since you began recruiting?
Over the past decade, I have seen fewer and fewer associates gunning for the proverbial “brass ring”— becoming a partner at their firm. The majority of associates I work with tell me they don’t want to make the huge personal sacrifices (working weekends, missing family events, sacrificing their health) that they see others make to become a partner. I repeatedly hear the desire for more balanced lives with family and the time to pursue personal interests as major priorities. As a result, many mid-level associates reach out to me to discuss career paths outside of the partner track that they might be able to take.
What changes in the legal hiring market do you anticipate?
The competition for top talent remains fierce, and I think the firms that will do the best recruiting are those that can offer attorneys flexibility. This can manifest itself both in terms of allowing attorneys to have more control in developing their own practices and providing flexibility in physical location and ability to work remotely.
Firms are also becoming more committed to taking concrete steps to increase diversity, as we have seen with commitments like the Mansfield Rule, which 117 firms have signed on to this year. The Mansfield Rule measures to what extent law firms have considered women, people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, and people with disabilities for leadership and governance roles, equity partner promotions, formal client pitch opportunities, and senior lateral positions. To satisfy the Mansfield Rule, firms must consider these under-represented groups at a minimum threshold of 30% of the respective candidate pool. I am excited to see how these efforts change law firms over the next several years, and hope to continue to see more diverse lawyers in leadership positions at the firms we work with.
What advice do you most consistently provide to attorneys as they navigate their career paths?
You MUST take charge of your own career. No one is going to do it for you. You need to design and implement a strategy for how you will achieve your goals and hold yourself accountable to do the hard work it requires to get there. I regularly talk to attorneys who tell me they want to go in-house, but they have not done the work to find out how to get the experience that will put them in the best position to do so. Many of these attorneys also have not sought to leverage or expand their networks to meet the people who will connect them with those jobs, and they have not done the research into what kinds of in-house roles might be the most personally rewarding. If I could give one piece of advice to a young lawyer it would be to be proactive—think about what you want and go after it. Ask to do public speaking at your firm and introduce yourself to clients at networking events and form relationships with them. Invest in yourself and don’t just wait for a call to come about your dream job. You need to take action to make it happen.
What do you enjoy most about legal recruiting?
I absolutely love guiding people through the process of finding a job they are excited about. I enjoy learning about a candidate, what makes them tick, and helping them identify opportunities that will get them excited to go to work every day. I also love helping them prepare to excel in their interviews and properly negotiate their salaries. One of the most rewarding parts of my job is when I get a call from a candidate down the road telling me they are loving their role, or when a client tells me how happy they are with the candidate I placed with their company.
What areas of legal recruiting are you focused on?
I split my practice about 50/50 between work with in-house clients and law firms. I have a broad in-house practice, working with a range of companies from start-ups to large public companies, and tend to focus on clients in the tech, life sciences and financial services sectors. On the firm side, I have developed a specialty working with New York-trained attorneys who have West Coast roots and want to move back home, and in both New York and California, I do a lot of work with both associates and partners in the Corporate (M&A, Capital Markets, Finance and Emerging Companies/Venture Capital), Intellectual Property/Tech Transactions, and Funds practice areas.
What makes Empire Search unique in the legal recruiting space?
Empire Search operates very differently than many recruiting shops which send mass emails to thousands of attorneys on jobs that may or may not be appropriate for them, hoping to catch someone on a bad day and move them into another role that just happens to be open. At Empire Search, we pride ourselves on taking a much more bespoke, tailored approach and really understanding our clients’ and candidates’ needs. Our goal is to place people who have the right skills, personality and judgment to thrive and build long-term careers with our clients. That takes more effort than most recruiters are willing to make, but the payoff is having happy clients who know they can count on us, and candidates who credit us with meaningful career advancement and growth.
Erin Lum is a Partner with Empire Search Partners in San Francisco, where she has spent the past twelve years placing attorneys at leading law firms as well as in-house at companies of all sizes. Before joining Empire Search Partners, Erin was a Managing Director at Bear, Stearns & Co. Inc. and spent several years in private practice at Ropes & Gray LLP and at Kelley Drye & Warren LLP, each in New York. You can reach Erin on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/erinlum or at firstname.lastname@example.org