My Nonpracticing Law Job: Recruiter


I left legal practice for recruiting as a seventh-year employment associate. As a double-barred Columbia Law School graduate at an AmLaw50 firm, no one had "legal recruiter" on their bingo card for my career — not even me.

People told me I was crazy for making such a huge and unexpected pivot so late in my associate career. But it turns out that choice was absolutely the right one for me.

Let me explain how I got there — and give you some advice if, after reading, you find yourself interested in recruiting, too.

As a natural-born helper, I have always loved offering emotional support, forming connections and helping people through hard things. I was a tutor in college, a peer mentor in law school, and am forever the mom of my friend groups.

So, I gravitated toward employment law in law school because it felt the most people-centered and helpful of the major BigLaw practice areas. I took a 1L internship at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and found I really did enjoy it. I went on to get an offer from an AmLaw50 firm to join their employment practice and jumped at the opportunity to pay off some of my crippling student debt while also doing work I actually liked.

But then, during my 3L year, I researched and published a student note about midwifery and birth justice in the Columbia Journal of Race and Law and became utterly enthralled with the topic — so much so, that I then felt torn about how to square my legal degree and impending employment law job with a new and burning passion for birth work and advocacy.

I knew I didn't want to abandon my legal training or the promise of financial security completely, so, instead, I decided to make birth work a real hobby, and trained as a doula — another helper role.

Doula work is meeting someone — or a couple — at one of the most vulnerable times in their lives and providing emotional and informational support to them through their entire birthing year, as well as physical support during their birth. There is so much unknown, fear, misinformation and feeling alone when you're having a baby, and I love helping people feel less alone and more capable through that, especially Black, Indigenous and other people of color, who are the most disenfranchised and over-controlled within our current systems.

I graduated law school with a handful of doula clients under my belt, and a question of whether —now so passionate about something that helped people in a much more tangible way than defense-side legal work — I'd ever really be happy in BigLaw.

Luckily, I was able to find a good balance. Though I never fell in love with the litigation part of employment practice, the advice work, workplace trainings and investigations really did feel like a good match for me — they allowed me to help companies learn, improve their employee relations, boost morale, adjust processes to scale, and foster inclusivity. They also allowed me to cultivate close client relationships, acting as a trusted expert and go-to for many. I felt useful, and I was good at it.

But even with my ideal practice in hand, I found myself gravitating toward other, less tangible tasks to fill my nonbillable work time — formal and informal mentoring, affinity group leadership, and firm recruiting.

I was that mid-level associate who always made time for juniors' questions, to take people out to coffee, plan events, and play office therapist. I loved those things more than I could ever love my practice, and I constantly wished I had more time to dedicate to them.

For years, I did the associate grind, while also dedicating significant time to mentorship and affinity group work and taking on birth doula and childbirth education work when my busy schedule would allow, which was rarely. It was a lot to juggle, but I did it happily because the balance of all three gave me deep purpose.

But when I had kids of my own, I realized I could no longer do it all — the high-demand legal work, the support-centered nonbillable firm work, my doula work, and being a present parent to very young children. I knew I needed to find a day job that was closer to a regular 40-hour schedule and still allowed me to be a helper while leveraging my legal training and experience.

And that's how I found recruiting. A recruiter I spoke to when I was looking to leave BigLaw — who is now my mentor and good friend — described her job as part unlicensed therapist, part sports agent, and part matchmaker, all with the flexibility to pick up her young children from school every day and rarely miss a family dinner or milestone.

I've found all those things to be true of legal recruiting. As a recruiter, I'm able to provide emotional and informational support to people during a vulnerable time and help them feel less alone through the process of changing jobs, which beautifully parallels my doula skills while utilizing my legal background.

It's also given me back my family and personal life in a way I could never have dreamed of as a BigLaw associate. Hence, I like to think of myself as "Danielle the Recruiter, the Lawyer Doula" — a doula for lawyers!

If you're reading this and thinking, "wow, recruiting seems like the perfect gig," there are a few things you should seriously consider before pursuing it:

First, recruiting is a commission-driven job. That means most of your compensation is tied to the number of placements you facilitate. And since it takes a year or two to establish yourself in this industry and develop relationships with lawyers and firms, you should expect to make very little in compensation for about two years.

This is a huge adjustment for most lawyers. If you are the primary earner in your household or live in a particularly high cost-of-living area, this drastic change may not be as feasible for you. That being said, successful recruiters can earn as much as or more than BigLaw associates, sometimes up to seven figures.

Second, not all recruiters or recruiting companies are created equal, and the overall reputation of legal recruiting as a profession reflects that. As an associate, I detested 90% of the recruiter outreach I received.

Now, on the other side, I see why: It's exceedingly easier to have a "throw spaghetti at the wall" approach to this job — sending out flashy mass emails to associates whose practices and credentials don't match the role, submitting attorneys to dozens of roles they aren't a good fit for in hopes that a few stick, and not getting to know your candidates, firms, or the market well enough to truly be a useful adviser.

If you want to be the kind of recruiter people can trust and rely on, who only does curated, thoughtful submissions and outreach, and is an expert in their market, you will have to put in a lot of relationship-building and emotional time and effort, and you will constantly have to explain to people how you are different from the many, less conscientious recruiters out there.

Third, recruiting is nowhere near as prestigious as being a practicing lawyer, especially in BigLaw. So, if being a lawyer and making BigLaw money matters to you or your family for status or personal success reasons, recruiting will be a hard adjustment.

Fourth, you will need to become comfortable with setbacks and the unknown. As a recruiter, you can't force anyone to make or take a job offer — all you can do is help and advise them through the process, maintain good relations with firms, and be responsive and proactive. The rest is out of your control.

Additionally, candidates and offers can fall through for a million different reasons even before the offer stage: A lawyer might decide to apply through a friend rather than through you, a firm could choose to go in a different direction after your candidate's second-round interview, or someone might choose to leave the law altogether or go in-house after you've been working with them for months to find law firm jobs.

This means no one commission is ever guaranteed. And, critically, it's our job as recruiters to roll with those punches, do what is in the best interest of our candidates and clients, and stay positive and maintain our integrity throughout.

This is yet another way my doula work unknowingly prepared me for recruiting — I can never force or coerce someone to make any specific choice related to their birth or baby, I can only support, advise and provide information. If lack of control is hard for you, recruiting might not be for you either.

Recruiting, I believe, is best suited for lawyers with high emotional intelligence, low ego and a drive to help others; who want more balance and human connection in their lives; can manage their emotions through difficult and unknown situations; and don't mind a potentially yearslong period of financial uncertainly before regaining financial stability.

If that sounds like you, I hope one day to welcome you to this great profession. It's changed my life for the better a million times over, and I have no regrets.


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