7 Dos and Don’ts When Looking for a Law Firm or In-House Counsel Job in a New Market

October 27, 2019

Despite what your Career Services counselor may have told you in law school, scheduling awkward coffee meetings with attorneys who are third-tier connections probably is not the most successful route to finding a position at a sophisticated law firm or corporate legal department in a new city. And spending hours online applying to any opening in town is extremely time-consuming and could ultimately mean that your resume gets stuck in the vacuous ethernet with no feedback or indication of whether your candidacy is being seriously considered. So if you are planning a move across the state or across the country, there are certain steps you should (and should not) take when it comes to looking for a new job in another legal market.

1. DO – Work with a reputable legal recruiter. When you’re sick, you see a doctor. When you want to sell your home, you enlist a realtor. When you want to sue someone, you engage a lawyer. The same is true when searching for your dream job. You should talk with an expert. Legal recruiters, particularly those who are in or otherwise very familiar with your target market, know who is hiring (even for positions that never make it to online job boards). They have close relationships with the various legal employers in town and are familiar with their workplace cultures. They also know how to get you in front of decision-makers who could benefit from your prior experience. Ultimately, working with an established legal recruiter can ease much of the stress of relocation and save you time.

2. DO – Talk to your legal recruiter first. Before you schedule coffee with your spouse’s friend’s cousin’s neighbor who just so happens to work at the law firm of your dreams, talk to your recruiter first. Most recruiters are paid for introducing prospective candidates to a would-be employer, and they cannot introduce you to someone you’ve already met. So if you have already spoken to a firm partner, who probably has nothing to do with the firm’s hiring process, or submitted your resume to that firm online for a random position for which you weren’t actually qualified just to “get your foot in the door,” your recruiter is now blocked from skillfully tailoring your resume and recommending you to an actual decision-maker at the firm for a position for which you are qualified. Don’t take away your recruiter’s options for placing you by limiting which employers she can actually talk to. So before you send your resume to every law firm and corporate legal department in town, talk to your recruiter first. Ask if she has any contacts at that firm or company. Let her see what opportunities she can uncover for you and give her the chance to recommend you in the best possible light (given her likely relationship with the employer). You’ll get your chance to shine once she secures you an interview.

3. DO – Control where your resume is sent. When working with any recruiter, it is crucial to control where, when and to whom you are being recommended. Many recruiters claim to have expertise in a given market or industry, but if they don’t have established relationships with the law firms and corporate legal departments who are hiring in that city, then they may use your resume as bait to fish for new opportunities with clients they don’t already work with. This rarely works. Furthermore, it could deprive you of the opportunity of being thoughtfully recommended for a job by a recruiter with whom that employer does work – or worse, cause you to be viewed as desperate because your untailored resume keeps showing up randomly in hiring partners’ inboxes all over town. So require your recruiter to obtain your express consent before proposing you to any client or potential employer. Most reputable legal recruiters will do this without you having to ask – but always ask.

4. DO – Use your recruiter as a resource. Before you move, talk to your recruiter to learn about the local legal market and employment outlook. In addition to providing information at a macro level, your recruiter should also be able to tell you about certain local law firms or legal departments, sharing details that aren’t available through online job searches. When you are exploring possible job placement opportunities, don’t be afraid to ask your recruiter about things like firm culture, billable-hour norms and expectations, possible career advancement opportunities, compensation ranges, turnover, and more. There are few people who will have a better sense of what local legal departments and law firms are like than recruiters because they are constantly receiving the inside scoop from employers and candidates looking for new opportunities.

5. DO – Be honest with your recruiter. Give him honest answers to his questions about your prior experience and tell him the kind of job that would really interest you. Most recruiters are adept at thinking outside the box (or outside the four corners of your resume), and you limit their ability to think creatively and expansively if you provide vague answers to their questions or try to hide any potential red flags in your past. Also, be sure to share your priorities, your must-haves and would-like-to-haves with your recruiter. He will know best which potential employers are likely to match well with your ideal wish list. And if you don’t feel comfortable sharing this type of information with your recruiter, then it probably means you have the wrong recruiter.

6. DO NOT submit (or allow a recruiter to submit) an untailored resume. Job searching, or rather job getting, requires more than a one-size-fits-all approach. It is important to customize your resume for each employer and position for which you are applying. If you are seeking a highly compensated position with a sophisticated law firm or legal department, it is critical that your resume be customized to best communicate how your experience meets the employer’s specific needs and preferences, including the employer’s culture and individual decision-makers’ personalities. Sending a generic or insufficiently tailored resume typically results in a fleeting glance by the hiring partner or general counsel – or on the off-chance you do get noticed, it can negatively impact your offered compensation and decrease your negotiating leverage. Skillful legal recruiters will help you tailor your resume to highlight your prior experience and skill sets that they know will resonate most strongly with their clients.

7. DO – Consider non-traditional arrangements. While it is important to tell your recruiter the type of position you think you want, it can be helpful to keep an open mind and consider other alternatives when you are relocating or approaching any new job search. You may think you want an in-house position because work-life boundaries are important to you, but your recruiter may know a local firm that has a strong reputation for providing that type of culture. You may have made $500,000 in your last job, but your target market (and desired position) may average less than that. Or while you may not have considered entering a firm or corporate legal department on a contract basis, it could be a fantastic way to test the waters at a new employer, especially one you are unfamiliar with, before actually committing to a career there. Plus, oftentimes, you can skip the line and get in with an employer much faster by agreeing to start on a contract basis (and still receive premium pay and benefits). Your recruiter will likely know which engagements are anticipated to convert to a permanent position down the road. Remember, you can always decline options presented by your recruiter, so make sure she knows you’re willing to consider an array of options.

You Don’t Have to Go it Alone on Your Job Search
Dream jobs may seem like the stuff of fairytales, but working with a recruiter gives you the opportunity to explore positions you may not have found on your own and can mean you get “warm” customized introductions to decision-makers rather than risking your chances as one applicant in a large pool.

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