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I routinely hear comments and questions along the lines of "Hmm, I must say, I have thought about being a legal recruiter myself" and "Do you like it more than practicing law? Do you spend your day cold-calling people? Are you making more or less money than you did at your law firm?" My response to these comments and questions has never varied. Even years after leaving the legal profession to become a recruiter, I can honestly say that I am happier as a legal recruiter than I have ever been at any job, and I have never looked back.
This article shares my personal experience in moving from practicing as an intellectual property attorney to working as a legal recruiter with BCG Attorney Search. It also sheds some light on what we as legal recruiters do on a daily basis and answers some common questions people have about our industry. Before getting started, please note that the details this article provides are most relevant to the world of permanent attorney placement, not temporary or contract attorney placement (which is quite different).
Taking the Leap
Leaving the practice of law was not easy, but I have never second-guessed my decision. I am not one of those people who became a legal recruiter because he hated the practice of law and wanted an easier alternative. I worked with extremely bright and enjoyable attorneys, and I worked in a sexy field on cutting-edge issues that were featured in the newspaper on a regular basis. So why did I leave the practice? Although I really enjoyed some aspects of practicing law, there were other aspects that bored me to tears. I knew that in order to keep going for more than 2,000 hours per year for the next 30 years, I would really need to love what I was doing (at least most of the time). The truth was I didn't love what I was doing, although I was a pretty darn good actor at times. But the acting became exhausting, so I decided to consider making a change. Here are the steps I went through to transition from being a practicing attorney to being a legal recruiter:
About one year before I left the practice, I read an article about legal career counseling and the fact that many lawyers were using it to gain more clarity with regard to their professional goals. I contacted a career counselor in DC—a lawyer who himself had left the practice of law to become a counselor—and spent some time taking personality and vocational tests to identify my natural strengths and strongest interests while exploring different practice areas where I could best use my natural talents. All the testing and discussions with my career counselor confirmed what I already knew: my true passion was working with and helping people on a direct level. This was no surprise, given my background in psychology. I also loved to write. One of the suggested careers that fit my personality type was recruiting.
I had thought about legal recruiting over the years and had always thought it would be interesting, and my career counselor even suggested looking into it. But for some reason the Jaws theme popped into my head every time I thought about legal recruiters, mostly due to my experiences with overly aggressive recruiters who had contacted me while I was practicing. Before thinking about leaving the practice (and giving my wife a heart attack), I wanted to explore fields of law other than intellectual property that involved direct contact with people regarding issues of a more personal nature.
I explored family law and estate planning—two very "people-oriented" practices—but for some reason I just could not get very excited about moving forward. At this point, I felt frustrated and was convinced that I would never find a legal job that was a good fit for me.
2. Legal Recruiting with BCG: Could This Be What I Was Looking For?
This all changed one evening when I contacted a former colleague who had left the intellectual property world to become a legal recruiter with BCG Attorney Search. Like a good recruiter, she asked a lot of questions about what I was looking for and what I enjoyed doing. I also asked her questions about why she left the legal profession. The more we talked, the more I realized that we had very similar personalities and interests…and, most importantly, that she absolutely loved her job.
She explained that BCG approached recruiting using a counseling-based model and that all of the company's recruiters (almost exclusively former large law firm associates) took recruiting very seriously. After our conversation, I reviewed BCG's website and was absolutely blown away by its sophisticated technology, the volume of content it provided for the legal community, its research-based recruiting model, the highly detailed cover letters its recruiters provided for their candidates, and the pedigrees of the recruiters. Most recruiters had graduated from prestigious law schools and had excelled at top law firms across the country.
I was most impressed with the levels of dedication and focus BCG seemed to have for the recruiting profession. To me, BCG seemed to treat legal recruiting the way the most serious and accomplished attorneys treated the practice of law. The shark-like stereotypes I had thought of whenever I heard the words "legal recruiter" quickly disappeared. I suddenly became very excited about legal recruiting.
3. Interviewing with Different Legal Search Firms
I quickly contacted BCG about becoming a legal recruiter, but I also wanted to interview at other Washington, DC, recruiting companies to make sure I covered all of my bases. While I enjoyed meeting different recruiters in the city and learning about their approaches, I kept coming back to BCG because the owner, Harrison Barnes, had a vision that was unlike that of any other recruiting company I had seen.
Although BCG was wildly successful, its business model was not about "sales" or trying to persuade people to move from job to job just for the recruiter's monetary benefit. Rather, it focused on helping to improve people's lives through legal recruiting and on using the most sophisticated means and innovative technology to achieve its goal. Because it used such sophisticated technology and had such a strong advertising budget, the company was able to attract an extremely large number of candidates; in this regard, BCG seemed much more like a legal placement firm than a "headhunting" firm. It seemed that BCG recruiters spent a lot of time working with candidates who contacted them first, as opposed to spending all day on the phone cold-calling potential candidates. To me, BCG was an extremely unique and attractive company…and one that I wanted to be a part of.
While there were many very good recruiting firms in Washington, DC, I trusted my gut and went with BCG. Once I had received an offer to work for BCG, I had no reservations about leaving the practice of law. Actually, I couldn't wait to begin recruiting.
Training to Be a BCG Recruiter
When I started, I was given the option to spend several weeks training at the company's main office in Los Angeles. While I certainly missed my friends and family in Washington, DC, the experience was priceless and an absolute blast. The owner of BCG had a guest suite in his house, and he was kind enough to invite me to stay with him and his family so that I could learn as much about recruiting as possible.
In Los Angeles, I was trained by a number of recruiters on all aspects of recruiting. While anybody can pick up a phone and start calling candidates, I learned that there is so much more to recruiting than merely calling people and asking them if they are interested in a particular job. I spent hours each day studying the firms in my market and the attorneys in various firms, re-familiarizing myself with all of the movements that had taken place in the market over the past year or so.
I also learned detailed information about various practice areas and how recruiting approaches differed depending on the specific practice areas. I also worked with resume experts to make sure my resume skills were up to par. I learned how to draft "BCG-style" cover letters, which are quite detailed and informative.
Most importantly, I learned how to recruit in a manner that was not focused on sales or persuasion; instead, I was taught to work with a model that focused entirely on the needs of the candidates and law firms and on doing what was best for my clients. I was ingrained with a recruiting philosophy that was based on treating other people's legal careers with the care and respect that I would treat my own, and this is something all BCG recruiters incorporate into their practices on a daily basis.
What Legal Recruiters Actually Do
This part of the article highlights what BCG recruiters do on a regular basis, which should give you a pretty clear picture of a recruiter's practice.
Tracking and Staying Aware of New Positions
BCG has a real-time database of current legal positions that is maintained and updated by not only the recruiters but also a large research staff. Thus, we constantly peruse our database in search of the most up-to-date positions. Our database is so sophisticated that it allows us to pull up a particular candidate, click a button, and view all of the active jobs that match the candidate's field of practice and geographic location. This certainly saves quite a bit of time and makes our job much easier.
A portion of each day is spent speaking with and meeting attorneys who contact us in order to determine whether they would be possible matches for any of our positions. Because BCG has so many job postings and such a large presence, many attorneys initiate contact with us in order to obtain help with their job searches. But in order to properly serve our clients (the law firms), our screening process is quite rigorous and we can only work with a very small percentage of those attorneys who contact us.
While we certainly consider the attorney's law school, grades, current law firm, practice group, and other factors, we also spend time speaking to the attorney about his or her reasons for considering a new position. If, for example, an attorney has stellar credentials but is considering a move for what we believe are the wrong reasons, we will explain why we do not think the attorney should be placing himself or herself in the market.
One of the hardest parts of the job is having to tell attorneys that they do not meet our screening requirements. It's never easy telling somebody that he or she doesn't meet our requirements. Also, deciding whether or not to represent a candidate is a very subjective process, so we have to learn to trust our gut instincts about potential candidates. This is a never-ending learning process.
Detailed Candidate Interviews
If an attorney has passed the initial screening, we typically conduct a longer interview so that we can get to know the attorney on a level that goes beyond what is merely on the resume. Many recruiters find this part of the job to be the most interesting because it allows us to really get to know and connect with the attorneys on a more personal level. This is also very useful for finding out about potential problems that may not be evident from the resume.
Cold calling often comes to mind when people think of legal recruiting. Unless somebody has a steady flow of quality referrals, cold calling is an essential part of any successful recruiting practice. While I can't attest to the experiences of recruiters at other companies, I spend some time cold calling when there is a targeted search for which I need candidates, but it's not a large part of my practice at all. Weeks will go by during which I do not cold call.
Fortunately, BCG's presence in the market attracts so many qualified candidates to us that we don't have to spend very much time "working the phones," unless there is a search for a particular position for which we don't already have any suitable candidates. The exception is during the beginning of a recruiter's career, when cold calling is the quickest way to build one's practice and pipeline of candidates.
Despite its reputation, cold calling is not nearly as bad as it may seem. I have never had anybody hang up on me (though people do get off quickly at times in less-than-friendly manners). The majority of attorneys are very nice and pleasant, and many are receptive to speaking with experts on the market. After all, we have information that could help improve their lives. If you approach the calls with the right attitude and do not try to twist peoples' arms, cold calling can actually be fun. You meet a lot of new people and find out a lot of good information about the market.
Researching Law Firms and Preparing Candidate Submissions
Each day, we spend time researching law firms and practice groups to determine good matches for our candidates and clients. When a potential match is found, we also spend time gathering submission materials (resumes, transcripts, writing samples, deal sheets, etc.) to make sure that everything is in order. One particular thing that BCG is known for within law firm circles is its cover letters. For every attorney we present to a law firm, we write a detailed cover letter that usually spans several pages in length. We believe that attorneys and their careers deserve more than merely placing a resume in a fax machine or simply emailing a resume with a phrase saying, "Candidate wants to move for family reasons."
Preparing and writing detailed cover letters forces us to really get to know our candidates, both professionally and personally, and explain any issues that are not evident from the resume. Because I enjoy writing, composing cover letters is one of my favorite aspects of recruiting and makes me feel that I am truly adding a substantial and unique value to the process. Most importantly, the detailed cover letters are truly appreciated by both our candidates and the law firms.
Speaking to Law Firms Regarding New Jobs and Existing Candidates
We spend quite a bit of time talking to and meeting recruiting managers and hiring partners at law firms regarding their hiring needs. Because hiring needs can change on a daily basis, we try to keep in close contact with firms to ensure that we know about new positions as soon as they become available.
We also speak to recruiting coordinators regarding scheduling initial and callback interviews and field any other questions that may arise about our candidates. Additionally, once a candidate has interviewed with a firm, we like to get as much feedback as possible about our candidate interviews, and we find that having an open flow of communication with the law firms is vital to the process.
Pre-Interview Preparation and Post-Interview Coaching
One of the best parts of the job is getting calls from recruiting managers who tell us that they want to interview our candidates. When this happens, we take quite a bit of time preparing and coaching candidates for their interviews.
After an interview, we also take time to debrief the candidate and determine whether the candidate is interested in speaking further with the firm. Often, candidates are very nervous before and after interviews, and it is extremely important for us to be good listeners and to serve as sounding boards, providing coaching and support when needed. We also speak with firms after interviews to gain their feedback on candidates, as well.
Dealing with Rejections
I think all recruiters will agree that the hardest part of the job is finding out that one of our candidates has either not been granted an interview or has been rejected after an interview. It's amazing how invested we become in our candidates, and it is never easy telling a candidate that a law firm has passed on his or her candidacy. In recruiting, there can be a lot of "close-but-no-cigar" moments.
Just as quickly as one candidate gets a rejection, another gets an offer. This is hands-down the best part of the job and usually has an adrenaline-rush component to it. Although everybody is excited when a candidate gets an offer, it's important not to jump the gun before making sure the offer is worthwhile. Thus, we always spend time speaking to candidates about offers to determine whether they are satisfied with their offers or whether they would like to negotiate additional terms.
Staying Active in the Legal Community
Another important part of our recruiting practice is being involved in the legal community. Aside from writing articles, getting out of the office for speaking engagements is important, as well. BCG recruiters try to regularly speak at law schools and routinely attend networking events to connect with attorneys. We also attend conferences, such as the yearly NALP convention. I find that many of the best connections are made outside of the office.
For recruiters, the sky is the limit when it comes to compensation. Nothing has to stop a recruiter from making more than $1 million per year, so long as he or she is willing to put in the necessary effort.
Some recruiting firms have different compensation structures, but it's safe to say that almost all permanent (as opposed to temporary or contract) legal recruiting companies compensate recruiters based on commission. If a candidate is successfully placed, the recruiter gets a percentage of the attorney's starting salary. If a recruiter earns a base salary, it is often minimal.
Because of the commission-based system, a recruiter's earning potential is limitless. This is one reason legal recruiting is so attractive for entrepreneurial spirits who want direct control over their earning potential. One successful placement can earn you hundreds of thousands of dollars (although this is very rare). However, legal recruiting can be risky for some because there is no guaranteed flow of income and you only get paid when you make a successful placement.
Before you transition into recruiting, to be safe, make sure you have enough savings to live for six months, or even a little longer, without earning any substantial income. (Some recruiting firms will pay you a minimal base salary or "draw" while you get up to speed). You need to do this because it usually takes, on average, anywhere from three to seven months to make your first placement. And after a candidate is placed, you typically have to wait a month or so to get paid by the law firm. Thus, having a financial cushion is an important consideration when entering this field.
In terms of earnings, we have found that most of the recruiters at BCG (many of whom practiced in large firms) earn as much or far more than they earned prior to leaving the practice of law. It is not uncommon for strong recruiters in our company—who take advantage of all of the company's resources, are extremely dedicated, and work smart—to make anywhere from $250,000 to $500,000 per year or more within a few years.
Again, there's a ramp-up period in the beginning, but if this is the right field for you (and you'll quickly know if it is) and you're dedicated, the earning potential is significant and limitless.
Personality Types that Seem to Do Best in Recruiting
There is no one particular personality type that guarantees success or failure in legal recruiting, but there are some common qualities (the "six Ps") that can help determine whether somebody will do well and be happy in this field. They are:
Proactive: Being proactive about seizing opportunities is very important. You cannot simply wait for opportunities to knock on your door.
Positive: Recruiters who have positive approaches to life seem to withstand the ups and downs that are inherent in this field much better. If you are prone to seeing the glass as half empty, this may not be the best field for you.
Personable: Since you spend a good portion of your day dealing with people's lives, it's essential that you are a people-focused person. If you are not energized by meeting, speaking with, and helping new people, this is probably not the right field for you.
Passionate: The best recruiters are those who love recruiting. They talk about it after work, and they bore their friends and spouses/partners with stories about their jobs. They truly feel the pain of their candidates when they are upset after rejections, and they truly feel the excitement when candidates are excited about offers. Outside of the office, they think about their candidates, read legal publications, study the market, and constantly think of ways they can improve their practices.
Persistent: Do you give up easily? You can't in this field. However, that does not mean you need to be pushy or annoying. There is a delicate balance, and those who can be persistent without being annoying are often very successful.
Plugged-In: Your expertise on the legal market is your currency. You should intimately know the employers in your market, and you should understand their pros and cons. When you pick up your local legal newspaper, do you skip right to the section discussing which attorneys are changing firms? If you do, take this as a sign that the field of recruiting may be the right field for you.
Lastly, I want to mention honesty and ethics. To be truly successful in this field in the long run, you must approach recruiting from a "good place." If you are looking to make a fast buck without regard to helping people, turn around and find something else. Recruiters who are focused simply on the money and view placing attorneys as the equivalent of selling widgets have reputations that reflect this. On the other hand, if your goals are to help attorneys develop their careers by providing honest and sound advice and to use your expertise to improve peoples' lives, you will be coming from the right place and your reputation will reflect this, as well. This is the one thing in this article I am most sure of.
It is important that you are guided by ethics and honesty to the point that you are perfectly willing to speak the truth, even at the expense of "losing a placement." Ultimately, the best recruiters are those who treat their candidates' careers with the same levels of honesty and integrity that they would treat their own family members' careers. Sometimes this means passing up a few placements, but it is critical to long-term success in this field.
No Regrets about Becoming a Legal Recruiter with BCG
I thought I'd never find myself saying that I love working, but I really do love recruiting. It incorporates many aspects of my former legal practice, such as research, writing, and negotiating. However, it also allows me to speak to many interesting people on a daily basis regarding their careers, and I find it extremely rewarding to help them with such integral aspects of their lives. At the same time, it is also very rewarding to help a law firm find the ideal candidate it has been looking for.
Are You Intrigued?
Speaking of finding the ideal candidate, if you are intrigued by what you are reading, your timing may be perfect. BCG Attorney Search has opportunities in numerous markets, and we are seeking to add more recruiters to existing offices and to start new offices. Markets of particular interest are Washington, DC, Chicago/Midwest, Atlanta, Texas, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Florida, Phoenix, Boston, Philadelphia, Denver, Hong Kong, and London.
If you've read this far, feel free to take a look at our website (www.bcgsearch.com), and if you're interested in learning more about a career in legal recruiting, please contact our Managing Director, Harrison Barnes, at firstname.lastname@example.org. We would be happy to speak with you about this fantastic and rewarding profession and how you might fit into our organization.
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