Recently there’s been significant discussion about technology and how it is dramatically changing the legal landscape, including the world of recruiting. Technology certainly has its benefits. In our search-optimized, app-laden world, anyone with access to the internet can get a decent snapshot of available options in a given market. The new generation of lawyers is more connected to information than ever before, and it’s easy to see why simply having access to openings or candidates is appealing. If you know a firm is looking, then all a candidate has to do is send a resume and hope to land an interview, right? Unfortunately, the process of lateral movement is not that simple. There are many factors that associates and firms must consider, including those "unknowns" that only a trusted advisor can identify and address for all parties involved.
When it comes to successful lateral hiring, the best law firms understand that a lawyer’s reputation should be evaluated with the same level of scrutiny as their credentials. By the same token, more than 30 years in legal recruiting has taught us that these firms should hold the same high standards for the recruiter as they do for the candidate. So for MLA, as with any recruiter, maintaining our reputation for high-quality placements and guidance is paramount.
While it is a given that any legal recruiter should only work with the best attorneys in the field, it should also be evident from the start that they have an ingrained philosophy to “do right” by their clients and candidates, and to the extent possible, offer unbiased advice on their candidates’ careers and clients’ objectives. It goes well-beyond sending candidates a list of options and asking where they’d like to apply or suggesting a firm wait until it has the best line-up of resumes. The best recruiters spend hours meeting with candidates and firms to determine their best options and matches. These best practices, along with a commitment to confidentiality, honesty, and a long-term approach to the candidates’ diverse career goals in either the law firm and/or in-house arenas, allow the recruiter to serve as a counselor to candidates and clients, navigating and supporting the job transition process in a search for the most-appropriate next steps for the lawyer and the firm.
For the hiring law firms, merely posting job openings online is a passive attempt to find the best-matched talent for a position. The unintended consequence of this waiting game is the firms’ existing employees bear the additional burden of work without the necessary associate support. While waiting for ideal applicants, partners may struggle to keep clients because they don’t have the appropriate team for their matters. A good recruiter, one who’s familiar with the firm and can accurately explain the environment and opportunity to a lateral associate, can bring enormous value to a group with a need for talent. The best candidate for the job may not be actively looking for new opportunities, and these lawyers must be searched for in a strategic manner and actively recruited. The waiting game isn’t aggressive enough, because targeting only those active job seekers can delay finding the perfect fit, costing money in missed business opportunities for the firm.
The following are five reasons that guidance from an experienced and talented recruiting professional, from inception to execution, is ideal for the associate who is considering a lateral move.
1. Advocacy: Meeting with a recruiter allows candidates to assess their career goals and to figure out which options will truly achieve those goals. When our law firm clients reach out with needs, they depend on our ability to fully vet candidates and play matchmaker for available positions. Moreover, if a candidate doesn’t fully fit the specifications (a year junior to the posted job order, for example), a recruiter with a strong reputation and relationships with the top firms could get that candidate in the door, because the client will usually listen to the recruiter if they know that candidate brings something else to the table that may make them an ideal lawyer for a certain role, even if they aren’t an exact fit for the given job requirements
2. Time: Odds are that most associates at law firms are billing close to, or above 2,000 hours a year. With that much time in the office, does one really have time to sift through openings and positions online during personal time? This is especially true for the associates in saturated markets that have more opportunities available for experienced attorneys than can be counted. Wading through the numerous options can be a daunting task. Sure, anyone can type a few keywords into a search engine hoping to filter options, but what if associates’ goals are mischaracterized or they are unsure of what they want? While a candidate truly won’t know until interviews are completed and they have had the experience first-hand, an experienced recruiter will be able to provide an advanced, insightful lay of the land, ranging from a firm’s client base, to partnership prospects, to practice areas of strength and everything in between, prior to considering each option. Whittling down the list of firms to a select few ensures that time isn’t wasted for both the firms and candidates.
3. Market Knowledge: Running an online search will probably yield recognizable firm names. Heck, you might have considered some of them during on-campus recruiting, or even have been across the table from them, but how are you supposed to know what life is really like inside? Experienced lawyers know that all firms are not the same; each has its own personality and presents different opportunities for associates. An associate’s career-track at one firm could be dramatically different than that path at any other.
Let’s say a quick search shows that six firms that are looking for a candidate with a particular skill set. The candidate is familiar with most firms, and they're all respectable. After doing some internet digging, however, law firm websites can look pretty similar; they are all marketing tools to gain the same clients, after all. How are candidates supposed to know what makes each firm unique?
This is where it makes sense to select a recruiter who has deep insight into the top firms. Extensive geographic reach and relationships with partners, associates, and in-house counsel, can provide a conduit to unparalleled market knowledge. Candidates should only trust their career decisions to someone who studies the market on a daily basis, thus offering insight and answers to many questions that any associate should be aware of before even applying for a new position.
Getting the “real picture” can only be attained by having experience; and having the right recruiter in your corner cannot be replicated by a database, no matter how many filters have been added.
4. Access: Technology has its drawbacks when it comes to legal recruiting. Many firms decided to no longer post professional needs online because their recruiting departments were inundated with resumes, many of which are not even applicable to the open position(s). Reputation and longstanding relationships with firms’ Managing Partners, Hiring Partners and Recruitment Coordinators equips the recruiter with expertise and information to provide any candidate with the full picture.
When the recruiter knows the firm and the candidate, they can even effectively create new positions for candidates, because they know what the firms need. Many firms will review exceptional candidates on an opportunistic basis. However, those opportunities don’t arise from simply lobbing a resume into the recruiting department. When the recruiter is regularly meeting with law firms to assess specific hiring needs and inform them about the legal landscape and market trends, they can partner together to create the right positions with the firm and candidate in mind, ensuring successful placements and attracting key decision makers’ attention when presenting candidates.
5. Process: The lateral process is difficult to navigate individually. We leverage our experience to inform candidates throughout the process. This includes the duration of the search, number of applicants or competitors, and the reason for hiring. Not to mention, if a lawyer wants to make a lateral move, they will probably look at a few options, so while a candidate is trying to navigate the morass of multiple offers, deadlines, bonuses and start dates (and probably a brief vacation in between!), it is essential to have an informed advocate on your behalf.
While technology is a great tool, online search software is no substitute for service from an experienced professional.
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Michelle Fivel is a Partner for the Associate Practice Group in the Los Angeles office of Major, Lindsey & Africa. Michelle has and continues to successfully place partners and associates in top-tier international, national, regional and boutique law firms as well as prominent corporations. She is regularly called upon by clients to provide counsel and advice regarding the lateral market.
Ru Bhatt is a Managing Director in the Associate Practice Group of Major, Lindsey & Africa and is part of the firm's New York office. Ru specializes in placing associates of all levels in top-tier national, international and regional law firms as well as in prominent in-house positions. Ru distinguishes himself by being a strong advocate for his candidates.