As most lawyers know, legal recruiters have become a fact of life. Although telephone calls from recruiters may seem intrusive-or even annoying-during a hectic workday, a savvy lawyer (even one not interested in changing jobs) should not ignore these calls. Instead, you should take a moment to listen before deciding whether or not to continue the conversation. By speaking briefly with a recruiter, you can gain valuable information about the legal market and your marketability. Moreover, you can develop a relationship with someone who can be an invaluable asset to your career, either now or in the future.
This article is intended to help you evaluate legal recruiters and get the most out of working with them. With the number of legal recruiters continually multiplying, it is more important than ever to carefully choose whom to work with and to know how to form a successful relationship.
I. Before You Choose A Recruiter
- Define your reasons for looking and your career goals. What aspects of your current job are unsatisfactory? What criteria are you seeking in your ideal job?
- Be flexible. Having figured out exactly what you're looking for, understand that you may need to be flexible. Although the "ideal" job may be hard to find, you would be surprised how a few small changes can substantially increase your job satisfaction. You should avoid relying on generalities when evaluating potential opportunities. For instance, categorically excluding all large firms from your search may dissuade a recruiter from telling you about an opportunity that (other than size) matches all of your criteria.
- Update your resume. Tailor your resume to the position you are seeking. Also, be as descriptive as possible. For example, it is better to write "took and defended approximately 20 depositions" than to simply state "experience with depositions."
- Obtain a copy of your final law school transcript. Every law firm requires a transcript at some stage in the process. Many firms will not even review your resume until they receive your transcript.
- Think about potential references. Most law firms and companies perform reference checks. These are typically conducted after an employer has made you a contingent offer. However, it is advisable to determine who your references will be prior to interviewing.
- Select a writing sample. Many law firms require a writing sample before they will make an offer, and some require it before the first interview. Choose your writing sample with great care. A single typographical error can mean the difference between a job offer and a rejection.
II. Choosing A Legal Recruiter
Make sure the recruiter is a member of NALSC (National Association of Legal Search Consultants). NALSC is the only national professional organization of legal search consultants and its members must adhere to a strict Code of Ethics. (Copies of the Code can be obtained from NALSC members or through NALSC directly).
Demand confidentiality . A recruiter should unequivocally guarantee you complete confidentiality. Do not hesitate to ask what steps he or she takes to keep your search confidential.
Ensure control by express authorization. A recruiter should never submit your resume anywhere without your prior express authorization. An unauthorized submission is not only unethical, but it also severely compromises your confidentiality. Unscrupulous recruiters (unfortunately there are some) have been known to submit a resume en masse without the attorney's consent. If a recruiter sends your resume anywhere without your prior express authorization, you should report this unethical conduct to NALSC.
Evaluate the recruiter's knowledge. A recruiter should know about the position(s) he or she is profiling (e.g., requirements of the position, size and composition of the firm and/or practice group, firm culture). A recruiter should also know about the legal market in which he or she works (e.g., Chicago).
Be wary of recruiters with grandiose claims. Some recruiters claim to have "exclusive" arrangements with employers. This claim may be true, but exclusives (especially with law firms) are rare. Recruiters have also been quoted as saying that they know of every opportunity in town. Although a few of the older and more respected search firms in Chicago may know about the vast majority of positions, it is highly unlikely that any one recruiting firm will know about every single available position in Chicago. Often such claims are nothing more than an attempt to ensure that you only use that recruiter. Using only one recruiter is a personal choice and should not be forced by such deceptive tactics.
Do not sign an exclusive agreement with a recruiter. Some recruiters require candidates to agree in writing at the outset of their relationship to work only with them. Not only does this foreclose potential opportunities through other recruiters, it is unlikely that you will know at this stage whether you like this recruiter and whether he or she will do the best job for you. Forcing you to sign an exclusive agreement is often a bullying tactic. Loyalty should be earned, not forced. There are very limited circumstances when it is acceptable for a recruiter to ask you to work with him or her exclusively. This may be appropriate if the recruiter knows that there are a finite number of firms that would be a good fit for you due to your credentials, practice area or other specifics. However, even in these rare circumstances where an exclusive relationship may be appropriate, a written agreement is never necessary.
Beware of the overly aggressive recruiter. A good recruiter should be enthusiastic and responsive. He or she should not try to push you into a job by disparaging your firm or misrepresenting an opportunity to make it more attractive. If you think a recruiter is too pushy or aggressive, chances are employers feel the same, which could hinder your job search at its inception.
III. Using A Legal Recruiter
Keep all information disclosed by a recruiter confidential. Just as the recruiter should keep all of your information confidential, the reverse is equally important. The foundation of a recruiter's business is information, and anything he or she discloses to you is confidential and proprietary. If a recruiter tells you about a specific job opportunity, you should not contact that employer directly or disclose this information to another recruiter or person. If you want to be considered for a position disclosed by a recruiter, you should submit your resume through that recruiter. Mutual confidentiality is the key to a successful relationship.
Be honest with your recruiter. It is imperative that you disclose all relevant background information fully and accurately to your recruiter. For example, if you failed a law school class or were fired from a job, tell your recruiter before he or she submits you for a position. A good recruiter can help you handle such negative information in a way that will not foreclose job options.
When working with more than one recruiter, maintain accurate records and keep everyone fully informed. You should keep records of:
1. all opportunities disclosed to you and when they were disclosed;
2. who disclosed each opportunity to you (e.g., friend, colleague, recruiter);
3. where and when your resume has been submitted; and
4. who submitted your resume to each employer.
Please be aware that if you submit your resume (through recruiters or otherwise) to the same employer (knowingly or not) more than once within a six month period, the employer probably will not interview you. Duplicate submissions of your resume should be avoided at all costs, because they reflect poorly on you (e.g., employers may think you lack attention to detail or are desperate). If you keep your recruiter(s) up to date on your job search and maintain accurate records, you will avoid such problems.
Keep your recruiter advised of all relevant developments. You should always let your recruiter know of any changes in your practice skills or career goals. Such information can greatly impact on your marketability. In addition, you should let him or her know when your interviews are scheduled and share your feedback immediately after each interview. Remember, your recruiter acts as a liaison between you and the employer and can help you address any issues that may arise.
Maximize the relationship. A good recruiter can provide you with invaluable assistance during your job search that goes beyond simply identifying opportunities. Such assistance can be in the form of: (1) reviewing and, if necessary, revising your resume; (2) proofreading your writing sample; (3) supplying background information on prospective employers; (4) preparing you for job interviews; (5) discussing the advantages and disadvantages of various job offers; (6) negotiating compensation and benefits; and (7) facilitating the transition to your new job.
A successful relationship with a legal recruiter will significantly increase your chances of finding a more satisfying position. With your help, a good recruiter can:
1. identify more positions that match your interests, since many firms and companies do not advertise their openings;
1. provide valuable assistance to you during every stage of your job search, such as giving you information about potential employers so you can better evaluate your options; and
1. accelerate your search and make it far less time consuming for you, allowing you to focus on your current job while your recruiter focuses on advancing your career.
So the next time a recruiter calls you, take a moment to listen to what he or she has to say. Even if you have no immediate interest in exploring other opportunities, it is wise to establish a relationship with an ethical and reputable recruiter. This will ensure that you don't miss out on that ideal job
Craig M. Hoetger, Esq., formerly a legal recruiter with Chicago Legal Search, Ltd., received his J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School in 1993. He previously practiced labor and employment law at Matkov Salzman Madoff and Gunn and Jackson Lewis Schnitzler and Krupman.
Jennifer H. Seelicke, Esq., formerly a legal recruiter with Chicago Legal Search, Ltd., received her J.D. from California Western School of Law in 1996. She previously practiced land use and environmental law at Seltzer Caplan McMahon and Vitek.