Bill Wilson spent over 20 years in legal departments at corporations large and small, from high tech to brick and mortar, and is writing about various topics while trying to find that next great career opportunity.
I will start with full disclosure: I despise recruiters, despite the fact they obtained my first two corporate jobs for me. I despise them because of what I feel they have become. But that doesn’t mean they won’t work for you.
Let’s define who we’re talking about. Retained recruiters get paid by a law firm or company to find someone, usually whether or not they actually find the actual successful candidate in the first instance. Some are general purpose, performing many kinds of searches, others are niche providers who limit themselves to particular industries or job type. Contingent recruiters find out about a search, come up with a candidate, present the candidate, and if that candidate is hired, they get a fee. The loftier the title, the more likely a retained recruiter is involved.
If you are a top of your class, never-failed, high-trajectory type, retained recruiters can help you. There are organizations that want to be composed of those kinds of people, and only those kinds of people, and will pay someone handsomely to find, contact and sift them. Recruiters make it a mission to keep tabs on those people who stand out in a field. They talk to people about peers, find out who they negotiated with, how they did, what they did wrong, who worked on this deal, who was at the table, who was flying to Nowhere to check out nothing.
They pore over presenters at various CLE programs, and check industry panels for speakers and trade publications for who writes the articles, noting the names that repeat. They look at organization charts to find out who’s on the way up, who’s stuck and who is getting creamed. For law firms, they look at who makes it rain, and who is merely getting wet.
But my personal view is that retained legal recruiters have become too myopic, too focused on the GQ cover boy or Cosmo cover girl who is on the fast track. They ignore, indeed are often somewhat hostile to, people who don’t fit a narrow set of criteria. They often claim it’s the client’s fault, that they are simply trying to fulfill the client’s articulated needs.
For large law firms, where credentials and rainmaking are today’s indicia of nobility and the raison d’être, I can understand that defense. But for most corporations, it makes no sense to me. I know a lot of general counsel, and comparing their views of who is successful in their departments with the desired criteria in most ads put out by retained legal recruiting firms does not reveal a high correlation in my mind. I have also seen many examples particularly of age discrimination by legal recruiters of both kinds.
A word of caution about contingent recruiters: many will fish for published jobs, and try to steer candidates to them. They do so sometimes despite wording in the published ad that no agency candidates will be considered. This practice can complicate the candidates’ position, so be very careful that you understand the provenance of any opportunity a contingent recruiter presents to you.