For some attorneys, phone calls from legal recruiters are an occasional annoyance; for others, such calls are a welcome relief—even a potential lifeline thrown to a lawyer whose career may be stalled or foundering at his or her current firm. A lawyer’s attitude toward calls from recruiters often varies over time, depending on whether he or she is happy and satisfied at a current firm, or whether a “change of venue” might represent a career improvement. But based on my almost 15 years as a legal recruiter—and nearly 25 as a member of the bar—I have one message to anyone who receives recruiting calls: always take them, or return them promptly. Doing so can only help you.
The primary benefit of taking a recruiter’s call is the opportunity to develop a relationship with someone whose business is to advance your career. Such a relationship can benefit you immediately, or over time, but in no view of the situation can the relationship harm you. At best, a recruiter can become your trusted industry- and career advisor, whose sound counsel is informed both by experience facilitating lateral moves, and by specific knowledge of the many firms with which he or she regularly communicates; at worst, a conversation with a recruiter simply represent a loss of about 5 minutes—the amount of time I estimate it takes for a lawyer to determine whether a recruiter has anything to offer, in terms of counsel or of information. Accordingly, most recruiting calls can be quite brief, inasmuch as all you really need to do at first is a bit of sifting, to determine whether the person on the other end of the phone is worth developing a deeper relationship with. But even brief conversations with not-particularly-timely callers can help in the long term: the more you reveal about the potential “ideal” opportunities might interest you, the more likely you make it that a recruiter thinks of you should an appropriate situation arise.
Recruiters’ services are almost universally free to the candidate; the acquiring law firm typically pays the placement fee. The best way to leverage this free service is to develop a personal relationship with an experienced, thoughtful, well-informed recruiter over the course of time. In my own practice, for example, I have relationships with candidates (and potential candidates) that go back over decades—and am therefore well-positioned to share my insights with lawyers as to which firm or firms might furnish superior opportunities compared with their current firms. (Any competent and experienced recruiter will be able to say the same thing). Even if you are not currently contemplating switching firms, think of recruiting discussions as an opportunity to perform basic “career prophylaxis”—just as you might visit the dentist for a semi-annual tooth cleaning before a cavity or toothache develops.
Developing a personal relationship with a recruiter has the following tangible benefits:
Real-time intelligence on practices at other firms that may interest you. Recruiters make it our business to know what’s going on in the legal industry. Even if we don’t happen to know every single new development off the top of our heads, we are well positioned to do research—i.e., have discreet conversations—to find out the information that can affect your career decisions, and answer any specific questions you may have about particular firms, practices, and lawyers.
Relevant, actionable, career advice based on our day-to-day experience with attorneys and law firms. While I often refer potential candidates to professional career coaches for help with client/practice development and marketing, I do an awful lot of candidate coaching myself. And my advice is almost always focused on the one thing that usually matters most both in terms of compensation and career satisfaction: developing a solid book of portable business. That is the currency of the lateral attorney marketplace, with which I deal every day. Profit from my legwork.
Attention when attractive opportunities arise. When recruiters are asked to find candidates for particular openings or opportunities, they typically turn first to their rolodex, then to their database, then to the Internet. In other words, if they can fill a job from their rolodex, there will be little need to turn to other sources of candidates. The lesson is simple: if you want to learn about opportunities first, it pays to be in a recruiter’s rolodex.
Personalized service based on deep understanding of your wants and needs. While a recruiter’s actual clients are the law firms, lateral recruiting is driven, more than anything else, by the willingness—at times, eagerness—of lawyers to explore employment opportunities at other firms. The better a recruiter knows you and your practice, and the more closely he or she has watched both develop over time, the more able that recruiter will be to advise you which opportunities might be most attractive to you.
The most effective legal recruiters cultivate long-term relationships with both law firms and lawyers, and lawyers are well-advised to take advantage of our service, which we provide to them free of charge. Apart from the time it may take to touch base occasionally with a recruiter, there is really no discernable downside to doing so; having those conversations can only help you if and when the time comes to seek a different law firm with which to practice.