Summary: Are you wondering why a law firm rejected you? Find out what a legal recruiter can and can’t tell you in this article.
Question: Can you tell me specifically why a law firm rejected my candidacy?
The shorthand answer is: sometimes, and usually not entirely.
Part of the job of a good recruiter is to get as much information as possible from all parties involved in the process. A good recruiter will get all possible information about a candidate’s background and experience in order to best represent the candidate to law firms, including highlighting a candidate’s experience that is relative to the firm and the position, knowing how to deal with potential “negatives” in a candidate’s background or personal story, and truly tailoring a job search to firms and positions that would actually be a good fit for the candidate, i.e., those that will boost the candidate’s career and provide the best current and future practice opportunities.
A good recruiter also spends a lot of time getting as much information as possible about their law firm clients – everything from the firm’s practice areas, client base, internal culture, hiring needs (both existing and developing), compensation structure, and anything else that would be helpful in selling the firm to prospective candidates and accurately screening candidates for what the firm truly needs so as not to waste the partners’ and recruiting coordinators’ time.
There are limitations on this information, however, as with anything when you are dealing with the real world practice of recruiting as opposed to the Platonic ideal – candidates tend to want to hide potentially negative or damaging things about their background, they may not be forthcoming about deal breakers until very late in the process, or they may inflate (or devalue) their experience in a way that makes finding a firm match more difficult for the recruiter.
Law firms may be very opaque about their budgets, salaries, billable hours, or the turnover rate (and reasons for it) among their attorneys. They may be more or less forthcoming about where they are in the hiring process for a particular position – they do not want to say “no” to a solid candidate who may not look as good on paper as a candidate they are actively courting in the event the “better” candidate takes another position, fails to clear conflicts, etc., so candidates may sometimes feel as if they are left hanging even though they are still potentially under serious consideration.
All of this is a long way of saying that the flow of information is not always free and fast, and it can be compounded by the fact that partners and recruiting coordinators are extremely busy and typically dealing with a high volume of applications for any given position (hundreds, if not potentially thousands of applicants for positions in major markets at top AmLaw firms). Many recruiting coordinators at law firms also do double-duty on HR matters, adding to their workload. Thus, the vast majority of the time, they simply do not have the bandwidth to provide any feedback beyond a simple “no” on the candidate in question (and some firms have a practice of simply not replying unless they are interested in an interview, which recruiters tend to recognize over time, but which can leave individually applying candidates frustrated for lack of a concrete answer). Imagine doing document review where you not only have to flag for responsiveness, but also if you had to type up a justificatory note for each document you rejected as non-responsive – it would take ten times as long!
When information does come, it is usually quite limited. If a candidate is eliminated at the initial screening stage, there may possibly be some feedback from the recruiting coordinator to us recruiters if the candidate does not fit a particular hard-line criteria (that may or may not have been in the initial listing), such as state bar status, GPA cutoff, years of experience (too junior or senior), etc. Recruiting coordinators will typically provide this in the hopes that recruiters will then refrain from loading more candidates on their plate who would be non-starters given the search criteria as dictated by their partners. But beyond very simple, stock feedback that provides some metric such as seniority of class year or lack of a state bar, almost all other feedback will be so generic as to be fairly useless – something along the lines of “not a fit for our group.” While there are some recruiting coordinators who are more candid, and some circumstances where there is more detail (usually there is only additional feedback or detail behind a rejection following an actual interview series), it is not surprising that the feedback is generally generic across the board, as firms are loathe to say anything that might be taken in the wrong way, or that might hint toward any discriminatory basis for a candidate rejection, even if entirely benign.
So at the end of the day, feedback will be generally limited. A good recruiter who has a longstanding relationship with their client firms will still be able to gather and have enough information on hand to guide you in your search process, finding firms that are more likely to be a good fit for you (and vice versa for their client firms), but even the best recruiters will often not have the type of feedback from each individual firm that a candidate may want – that is simply the nature of the system. Understanding this dynamic will help you understand the abilities and limitations of what any particular recruiter will be able to do for you, and will help you focus on the parts of the search process that you can actually control.
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