Why Recruiters Don't Represent New Lawyers
If you are still in law school or have just graduated, it is unlikely that a recruiter would even bother to represent you. The reason? Reputable recruiters generally represent only the very top attorneys who have at least several years of practice on their resumes. Recruiters make their money because firms pay them a percentage of each successful candidate's salary. So, the higher the salary an attorney can command, the higher the recruiter's profit. Also, firms generally turn to recruiters when they have a special need for a lawyer with specific experience. At this stage in your job search, you are simply not an attractive prospect for a legal recruiter. If a recruiter does contact you and wants to represent you, be wary—it could be a scam. And of course, you should never pay anyone to represent you to firms. A legitimate recruiter gets paid by the firm, not by you.
How a Recruiter Can Hurt Your Chances
Let's say you are interested in making a lateral move and you have been contacted by a recruiter who promises you great things. Should you bite? Probably not. Even Nick Corcodilos, author of "Ask the Headhunter," writes that "you don't need a headhunter." A recruiter is generally only successful in placing candidates if he or she has personal contacts at firms and companies. Think about it. How many quality contacts could one person have? Twenty? Thirty? Maybe even fewer. With job openings so scarce, those contacts might not even have a position available.
The best recruiters will only send out your resume to firms where they have contacts and where they know positions are available. Many headhunters don't have the necessary contacts, though. They will submit candidates even if the firm isn't looking for new hires. And the firm is then bound by the recruiter's fee agreement for the next six months. That means that even if a position isn't available immediately, if something opens up that you would be right for later on, the firm would still be obligated to pay the recruiter's finder's fee! Finally, if you get a particularly overzealous and unscrupulous recruiter, he or she just might accidentally submit you to your own firm! That would be pretty tough to explain. The best recruiters respect confidentiality, but they only work with the top one percent of attorneys seeking jobs.
Finally, in today's tight job market, firms and companies are increasingly seeking ways to cut costs. Remember that a recruiter's fee is supposed to be paid by the firm. Therefore, if a firm has a choice between a candidate who is represented by a recruiter and one who is not, it will be much less expensive for the firm to hire the candidate who doesn't have a recruiter. Recruiters tend to charge between 25 and 50 percent of a potential employee's salary. If you are nearing the partner level, or even if you're an associate with several years of experience, that adds up to a hefty fee! And if firms don't want to shoulder that burden, they may either disregard your candidacy or hire you and then take that fee, or part of it, out of your first-year bonus. In a perfect world, the firm would pay for the recruiter's entire fee, but today, that is less and less likely to happen.
The Only Time a Recruiter Might Be Beneficial
If you are looking to make a lateral move and your qualifications exactly match a firm's requirements, a recruiter might help you get your foot in the door. However, remember that scrupulous, qualified recruiters only work with about one to two percent of the attorneys seeking jobs. Even if you seem to be an exact match for a position, the firm may disagree. In any situation, you should always look to hedge your chances by giving yourself the chance to find every possible position out there, not just one or two found through a recruiter.
What Is the Answer?
Just because a recruiter doesn't want to represent you doesn't mean you don't have options. You have more flexibility than you think. Keep in mind that recruiters fill only three percent of available jobs. According to the National Association for Law Placement (NALP), most jobs are found through "self-initiated contact." A direct-mail campaign to the firms of your choice is most likely to end with success. Of course, you'll also need a great cover letter and resume. Legal Authority can help you with all of your needs. Our company maintains a huge database of legal employers that is updated constantly. Also, our staff attorneys know what firms are looking for. For a small fee, we can help you prepare a targeted mailing that will get results!