See also: Tips in Preparing for the Interview
Looking for the right position can be a full-time job. For lawyers eager to move on to the next challenge — but not wanting to risk the current paycheck — finding the time to search for a new position on top of 60- to-80-hour work weeks can be a daunting prospect. Notwithstanding an extremely competitive industry and job market, it's no wonder that some job seekers eventually decide just to stay put.
By knowing who's hiring and exactly what those employers are looking for, recruiters often have inside information that can make a difference in whether a candidate lands the job. Since legal recruiters also save time for law firms and corporations by conducting the search and only presenting well qualified candidates, many employers turn to them to help fill key positions.
Cultivating Relationships with Candidates
Once the candidate makes the initial contact, a recruiter reviews that person's resume, helps identify goals, advises about places that match the candidate's background, and helps in preparing for interviews. Professionals agree that preparation is not to be taken lightly and is key to a successful job search.
Yvonne Brathwaite is a principal of In-House Only, a minority-owned legal recruitment firm in Atlanta. Brathwaite emphasizes that the best candidates demonstrate their preparedness to be ready contributors, and they take the time to summarize their accomplishments to underscore this ability. In-House Only recruits experienced lawyers specifically looking for corporate in-house placements, although it occasionally conducts searches for law firms.
According to Brathwaite, "It's very important to show your work beyond your resume, but it takes time. If you specialized on the transaction side, then do a transaction summary, show your level of involvement and responsibility."
Brathwaite believes that corporations want someone who can jump right in and get started without having to be trained. "The market has been slow and is just starting to pick up. Corporations are looking for candidates who are making a difference and inspire confidence," said Brathwaite.
She typically starts with reviewing a candidate's resume and then getting to know that person. "Once they've gotten to know who I am, I need to find out where they are in their career and what they're looking for," said Brathwaite.
One recruiter remembered a client who approached the job search process as if he were working on one of his biggest projects, then came up with spreadsheets and a "pros vs. cons" list.
David Maldonado, regional vice president and diversity coordinator of the national search firm Special Counsel, says that in addition to being able to do quality legal work, candidates should be able to grasp all the issues involved in their law specialty. He agrees with Brathwaite that, "Firms and corporations usually will want someone who can come in and hit the ground running."
Maldonado adds that typically the placement requests they receive from their clients for attorneys are for people who have had two-to-eight years of experience. A number of legal recruitment firms require that their candidates have at least one or two years of experience, and advise new graduates to take advantage of their law school recruitment programs through career services offices.
According to Stacia Foster-Blake of SFB Legal Search in New York, positions with a narrow focus seem to be in popular demand. "Employers want a narrow expertise, they want people who specifically do merger and acquisitions, regulatory work, or investment fund work. It's different than 10 years ago; positions are much more narrow," said Foster- Blake, whose legal search firm places candidates ranging from those with at least four or five years of experience, all the way to general counsel positions, although she said there are some exceptions to the rule.
However, she warns against being too narrow, and suggests that having two or three niches opens you up for different opportunities, while one niche may only lead you in one direction.
Diversity Increasingly Matters
Many of today's corporations and firms are more committed to having their workforce reflect the demographics of the nation as a whole. Maldonado states that diversity has become an important and serious goal for everyone. "It's been put on the front burner by major corporations and every law firm that I can think of. It isn't what they're looking for in candidates as much as it is what they're trying to do with their own legal department or law firm." Having been a lawyer for 20 years and in staffing for close to 8 years, Maldonado believes that this is probably the biggest change he's seen in employers requesting diverse candidates. "There's been a significant improvement. The biggest change you're seeing now is that about 90 percent of corporations are identifying people who are diversity coordinators and recruiters. Ten or 20 years ago, that was unheard of.
"An important component of your job-seeking plan should be partnering with a legal search firm that has demonstrated that they're committed to assisting law firms and corporations who want to diversify their workforce," said Maldonado.
The time-honored tradition of hard work and preparation still applies to all candidates seeking positions. "We saw a distinct trend last year, when law firms were interested in seeing diverse candidates," said Kimberly Fullerton of Major, Hagen and Africa, a global search firm with 60 recruiters that hires only for full-time positions, including law firm associates, partners, and in-house counsel.
Fullerton adds that law firms and corporations are looking for well-credentialed candidates with really strong interpersonal skills who are also diverse.
The Recruiter Advantage
Recruiters are familiar with the companies they're making placements for, so they are able to better match candidates with employers. In fact, some corporations and firms use recruiters exclusively, so it's harder to break into those places that don't accept unsolicited resumes.
Melba Hughes, executive director of the National Association of Legal Search Consultants, an organization that requires member firms to abide by a code of ethics, said that legal recruitment firms developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s. "I've been a legal recruiter since 1984 and have seen the industry grow. Corporations and law firms are contacting recruiters as their first source of candidates, and more candidates are contacting recruiters to keep them abreast of opportunities," said Hughes.
"A recruiter is good to bounce jobs off of," said Fullerton. "The recruiter may even suggest that you stay where you are," Fullerton continues.
In fact, when dealing with legal recruiters, success stories are plentiful whether contact was initiated by job seeker or search firm.
Comfortable in her job at an Atlanta law firm, Sheryl L. McCalla, a graduate of the Emory University School of Law, received a call from a recruiter at MHA for a position. At the time, she had two young children and was happy with the flexibility her job offered her.
"He put me in touch with the managing partner, and I was very candid and told him that I was content with where I am now," states McCalla. "His response impressed me. He said that it may not be a match on either side, but in any event it will be a wonderful chance to meet and get to know some other lawyers while they meet and get to know you."
After several meetings over the course of nine months, McCalla had gotten to know the people at the firm. "I like the personalities, their quality of work, and the professionalism. I then thought to myself, ‘If not now, then when,' and accepted a position with them," McCalla concludes. She credits the natural transition into her current position at the Atlanta-based firm Doffermyre Shields Canifeld Knowles and Devine to the opportunity of having been able to establish a relationship with her future employers.
Foster-Blake adds that another advantage to using a recruiter, especially for women lawyers, is that you can ask the questions that you might not want to ask a potential employer. For example, a lawyer who wants to start a family down the road can ask the recruiter about how flexible the company is and if they allow lawyers to work part-time.
David Cade met his recruiter, Yvonne Brathwaite, while attending a social function at a judge's house and they began to occasionally keep in touch. After referring fellow lawyers to Brathwaite, Cade, who at the time was with a bankruptcy group at a law firm, became interested in two openings that Brathwaite suggested he consider. They were in two different industries, and Cade received an offer from both corporations.
"Without using a recruiter, your options are probably limited. Employers are less likely to look at a resume cold," said Cade.
Cade chose the position at General Motors in Detroit, where he is now counsel to the business unit responsible for all construction activities at the company. "I didn't know what to expect with a recruiter, but a good one will know their limitations if they don't have any placements in your area. A recruiter shouldn't be so eager to take your resume and fail," states Cade.
Since recruiters have a relationship with the hiring companies as well as with the clients, trust is a big factor. Cade and other candidates say that you have to feel comfortable with and have a good relationship with your recruiter, because that person should be someone you can rely on and go to for advice.
Marcus Williams, who changed positions from a small firm to a large firm in Detroit through the help of a recruiter at Special Counsel, suggests that an advantage of using a recruiter is knowing that the employer is actually looking to fill a position for which you may qualify. With that knowledge comes a level of assurance that you're not wasting your time.
"Be as specific as possible in your search and with your recruiter," Williams advises jobseekers.
Williams' recruiter told him about several positions, and one of them sounded interesting. Although he had been looking and was offered a position in the Washington, D.C. area, Williams decided to remain in Detroit and accepted a position with another law firm.
Williams also emphasizes that he doesn't hide the fact that he's a diverse candidate. "The fact that I'm black is apparent from my resume," said Williams. "A recruiter has every incentive to pass my resume along only to an employer that he or she thinks will receive it well, which is another level of screening and assurance by the recruiter, which saves you more time and effort," Williams concludes.
Another advantage to using a recruiter, according to Hughes, is that your resume is sure to go to the right person. When sending a resume directly to the company on your own, the person conducting the screening may not be accustomed to looking at resumes for lawyers. Hughes adds that legal recruiters can discuss items on the resume with the appropriate person.
Looking for a Recruiter
When deciding whether to use a particular search firm, recruiters say that you should find out where they have made placements. Brathwaite says that she doesn't believe in the yellow book method and, just like you would a physician, recommends asking around for an objective opinion. "Find someone that you're motivated to work with," said Brathwaite.
Foster-Blake agrees, and adds that when lawyers are considering a recruiter, they should ask friends for references. She suggests that when talking to recruiters, ask them to describe their most recent placement in detail.
Finding out which legal recruiters have relationships with your law school is another good idea, according to Fullerton. She also suggests asking the corporations or firms that you're interested in who they use to recruit for them.
Networking is Essential
"A job search is a good reason to build a network," said Fullerton. "Lawyers should always be networking, even when they have a job. A good network benefits you, whether you are looking for a job, developing business for your law practice, or seeking advice from lawyers similarly situated to you," Fullerton concludes.
As a jobseeker, meeting as many people as you can and becoming involved with organizations that share your interests can only help in the long run. Maldonado believes that there are a lot of pieces to an effective networking plan, and this includes tapping into legal organizations such as specialty bar associations in your practice area as well as those focused on diverse lawyer networks.
There are a host of organizations that legal recruiters say candidates can join to give them that heads-up on the job search process. Many of these organizations also have networking events and job banks.
Fullerton advises jobseekers to check out their law schools and take advantage of any resources or directories they offer, and even their former firms to see what resources they have.
Keep in touch with alumni of your present and former law firms or corporations. The importance of building and maintaining your professional network is critical. As Foster-Blake sums it up, "It is important to network for the future."
ONLINE DIRECTORY OF LEGAL RECRUITERS
Finding and retaining legal talent is one of the major challenges facing law firms and companies today. It's not surprising that many companies retain a specialized legal recruiter to assist their human resources staff.
If your firm has decided to work with a legal recruiter, you'll find the largest listing of U.S. legal recruiters on Martindale-Hubbell's website at www.careers.martindale.com. The directory includes basic listings organized by city and recruiter profiles, and the eAttorney service is open to both employers and job candidates seeking to connect for opportunities.
In addition, the Association of Corporate Counsel (www.acc.com) offers an in-house jobline, and MCCA's website includes a job bank.
Carisa Crawford-Chappell is a freelance writer based in Bowie, Maryland.
From the July/August 2004 issue of Diversity & The Bar®