Using a Legal Recruiter

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Have you ever contacted a recruiting firm in vain trying to interest them in working with you? If this has happened to you – and you have plenty of company – don’t take it personally. Legal recruiters only work with a small segment of the profession.

First, it’s best to know what a legal recruiter can and cannot do for you. Legal recruiters are paid by law firms and in house legal departments (clients) to fill specific needs. They generally do not work with government and nonprofit agencies or academic institutions. Recruiters are not accustomed to finding lawyers with no prior experience in a particular practice area or individuals looking to make a career change. They are also not the best choice for senior attorneys looking to change firms who do not have a sizable portable practice. These supply-and-demand parameters are established by the clients, not by search firms.


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So who do legal recruiters work with? Well credentialed associates in high demand practice areas; partners with larger portable practices; and in house attorneys or those looking to move in house from firms. They are known as candidates. A good legal recruiter will act like an agent representing a candidate to their clients and should be able to present a candidate’s background in an optimal way. They may have access to positions that a candidate doesn’t and most certainly, should have the knowledge to facilitate a good match.

If you are a partner level attorney, a seasoned recruiter will have an intimate understanding of the local market such as compatible rates, clients, and cultures and be able to relocate you and your practice in a confidential manner.

In Phoenix, which is considered a smaller legal market, the best reason to use a legal recruiter is to maintain confidentiality while managing a job search. The Phoenix market is like a small town where lawyers know each other. If you are at all concerned about confidentiality, an experienced recruiter is invaluable.


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Can you work with more than one recruiter at a time? Yes, and for larger markets, it is probably a good idea. If you are going to do this, however, you must keep good notes on where each recruiter is sending you so that you are not accidentally presented to the same employer by two different recruiting firms. As far as Phoenix goes, it is harder to use more than one recruiter, so you might want to speak with a couple and then make your decision.

If you are looking to relocate to another part of the country, a good legal recruiter is invaluable and like real estate agents, you are best served by those residing in the preferred locale with intimate knowledge of their legal communities.

So how do you locate a good recruiter? First, you might want to check with your own personal contacts that may be able to recommend someone with a good reputation and established track record. Check out search firm websites, and LinkedIn bios. The trade association for legal recruiters is The National Association of Legal Search Consultants (NALSC) You can refer to their directory for the name of a local recruiter. NALSC members agree to abide by a code of ethics which regulates how they deal with candidates, clients and each other.

The best way to reach out to a recruiter initially is by email. If you are an associate, be prepared to forward a current resume, law school transcripts, and writing samples or deal sheets depending on your specialty. If you are a senior attorney, in addition to a current resume, you will want to be prepared with a list of clients you believe will move with you, and financial information such as rates, collections, compensation, etc. for discussion. A brief explanation about yourself and why you are making the contact is generally sufficient to begin as long as a resume is attached. If you are not a match for a current opportunity, your resume will probably be stored in a database for future opportunities. If the recruiter feels you are a good candidate for a match, they will reach out to you immediately.


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When you do speak to the recruiter, ask about their overall experience and about their most recent placements. Are they selective where you are sent? A good recruiter can help streamline your options and tailor the best fit for you. Find out how much the recruiter knows about their market. Do they know the personalities and cultures of their clients? How many attorneys have they placed with a particular client? Will they be presenting you only for opportunities which you have given your prior permission and where the employer has also agreed to accept referrals in advance. A good recruiter will not forward your resume to any employer without a prior signed fee agreement in place with the client where you are being presented.

Finally, if you are contacted by a recruiter, listen politely. Even if you are not currently interested in making a change, this is a great time to establish a relationship with a legal recruiter for the future. Phyllis Hawkins

Phyllis Hawkins

Recognized by The American Lawyer as the doyenne of Phoenix legal recruiters, Phyllis Hawkins has been in the business of legal search, recruitment and placement continuously since 1985. Recruiting exclusively in Arizona, Phyllis has been responsible for the staffing of most out-of-state firms locating in Phoenix and has placed hundreds of partners and experienced associates with Arizona law firms and corporations.

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