The macabre word “headhunter” found its first usage in the 1940s. Although the term seems a bit predatory despite its common usage today, the images of taking someone’s head may remain true for some recruiting shops out there. With low barrier to entry, many new shops can come and go and drag the remains of a poor associate and partner’s career in their wake out the door. I’ve compiled a list of four things to ask yourself when a no name recruiting company calls you coldly.
1) One Cravath Please. One of the hardest aspects of career management is being honest with yourself about the strength of your candidacy. Some recruiters will pitch you firms that sound appealing but in reality are aspirational. While you were fixated on your dream firm, the recruiter was busy loading the pellets to try to hit a bullseye with a sawed-off shotgun. This serves two purposes; once you inevitably are turned down for your dream position, they will present backup options, which you will choose to settle for or move onto your next recruiter. However, since they’ve now blasted your resume off to every firm in town, they’ve made the job of the next recruiter that much harder as they will try to claim origination credit. For a busy attorney, this is a frustrating waste of time; for a swamped recruiting department, this is a waste of resources and time; for a good recruiter, this would be a waste of their reputation with the firm and make it immeasurably harder to place another candidate in the future at that firm.
2) Every Rose Has It’s Thorns. You know that firm that you love that you’ve dreamed about working for your whole life? The one you can picture the golden elevators leading up to their marbel adorned floors on the 85th floor? Someone is walking out the door as soon as you walk in. The realities of any business are that there are pros and cons that create push and pull factors in an attempt to create a kind of workforce equilibrium. From a very superficial level, if you value free evenings, you’re not going to enjoy working for high powered litigation firms in Manhattan. As we’ve discussed in past articles, relying on the insight of current or former attorneys at a firm can be dangerous. An unbiased recruiter will be your best insight into the firm culture, fit, and your prospects there. If a recruiter tries to sell you two tickets to paradise, they’re probably going to leave you stranded and freezing in Paradise Newfoundland. An honest recruiter will be realistic about the firm, and not just because we’re altruistic. If we place you, and you leave, we would lose out on the placement fee and engender distrust from the firm about our ability to accurately represent the firm to the candidate and appraise their interest.
3) Tip Of The Joberg. Recruiters often serve as gatekeepers to the legal market. Though firms post their needs on their corporate websites, the posted needs are almost always just a fraction of their actual needs. The issue with listing all of these postings is that it invites a frenzy of resumes that legal departments cannot keep up with. If a recruiter tries to tell you there are no oil and gas openings in Seattle, that’s probably accurate. However, if they are trying to push you to a specific firm by telling you it’s one of your only options, and you’re not in a niche practice, the truth is that they probably have a favorable agreement with that firm. We believe in transparency and honesty which is why we list the available jobs on the market on our website, which you can register for here. The reality of the market is that recruiters often serve as the impetus behind new firm expansion by bringing to the firm stellar associates and partners that allow them to expand their services into new industries or take on new clients that require a higher leveraged structure.
4) We Got The Titanic Screeners. As firms eventually collapse (see Dewey, Bingham, et al.) the rumblings often reach legal recruiters first. Recruiting firms actually play a fairly significant role in firm mergers as they facilitate the mass exodus or influx of lateral talent to the firms, creating a quandary for recruiters. By assuming that the firm will collapse, and pulling out as many attorneys as possible, we participate in facilitating a self-fulfilling prophecy that can derail the careers of the attorneys caught on the sinking ship. However, by helping a firm try to navigate around the iceberg by stemming the outflow of lateral talent, we run the risk of derailing those careers as well if the firm collapses. Instead of running this ethical trolley problem down one of the paths, we generally try to stay off the trolley altogether. If there are clear signs that the firm will collapse, we will assist attorneys in escaping the wreckage. Above all, we are clear about our expectations for the firm with our clients so that there are no surprises. The recruiting shops that show up quickly to the scene with a thousand lifeboats are they ones preying on fear in hopes of making a quick buck, and you can often use this as a gauge for their trustworthiness.
Though the preceding paragraphs were reflective of the darker side of the legal recruiting profession, the goal was not to dismay you, but to enlighten you that there exist many superb, honest, ethical and trustworthy recruiting shops on the market – us included. Making a sound lateral move is greatly eased by using a good recruiter. If you or someone you know is interested in making a lateral move, my coworkers and I are happy to assist in any way we can.
Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. Michael Allen is the CEO of Lateral Link. He is based in the Los Angeles office and focuses exclusively on Partner and General Counsel placements for top firms and companies. Prior to founding Lateral Link in 2006, he worked as an attorney at both Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP and Irell & Manella LLP. Michael graduated summa cum laude from the University of California, San Diego before earning his JD, cum laude, from Harvard Law School.
Lateral Link is one of the top-rated international legal recruiting firms. With over 14 offices world-wide, Lateral Link specializes in placing attorneys at the most prestigious law firms and companies in the world. Managed by former practicing attorneys from top law schools, Lateral Link has a tradition of hiring lawyers to execute the lateral leaps of practicing attorneys. Click here to find out more about us.
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