Advice on working with placement agencies

J. Nick Augustine J.D. is the principal of Law Publicist Communications, an ALR/PRA, Incorporated agency.  Law Publicist Communications is a public relations agency also offering coaching and consulting.  Nick advises and assists attorneys in transition in public relations, marketing and practice management.  Nick shares recruiting and staffing experience and tips for legal job seekers.

Attorneys in transition should research placement agencies in order to create a targeted strategy for job placement.  My recruiting and staffing experience opened my eyes to the variety of placement agencies in the marketplace.  Yes, they are there to help you find a contract and permanent placement.  Yes, these agencies need to make a profit, and your viability as a candidate is a function of profitability and demand for your credentials.  You should be aware of how placement agencies work, what they are looking for in a candidate, and how the fee structure works.

A placement agency sources candidates and submits them for consideration for a position.  The agency’s client, in this case, the law firm, pays the agency directly when a match is made.  Agencies source candidates through job postings, internet marketing and referrals from other agencies.  The positions to be filled can be temporary contract positions (you are an employee of the agency and a contract fee is paid for your work) and permanent positions where you become an employee of the hiring law firm.

In down economies many firms are interested in a temporary to permanent placement situation.  The benefit to the firm is that they can try out different candidates and if they don’t like a candidate they can try someone else until they get the right fit.  Some solo practitioners looking for extra work will accept contract positions to supplement income.  Asking questions about the duration of a project can help you gain insight as to the likelihood the contract position might become permanent.

Recruiting agencies offer candidates like inventory.  Savvy recruiters can skim through a resume in quickly tell if you are marketable to their client.  Large law firms can be picky and the credentials are very specific.  Competition in the market for top tier positions is fierce.  You may not even be submitted unless you attended the right school, held law review and similar positions, or attained a minimum class rank.  When looking for new law firm clients, many placement agencies boast about the quantity of candidates in their pool.  Before you become an unhappy candidate they will never submit, ask the agency about their clients and do your own diligence to determine if you have fighting chance.

When you register with an agency you are often asked to complete some skills testing and to complete a practice area profile that details your knowledge, skills and credentials.  In order to stand out to a recruiter you need to be skilled and memorable.  If the agent likes you and senses your personality may fit with a firm they will work with you to highlight certain items on your resume to show the client that you are the best candidate.  Remember, never lie on your resume – it is not worth risking your career and reputation for a placement agent who simply wants to earn a placement fee.

If you register with several agencies you have a better chance landing on the desk of someone who can open a door to your next interview.  If you find an honest recruiting agent with whom you get along well, you may become a long-term registered candidate.  Most agencies keep your contact information and resume in their database for future opportunities.  The agency that may place you in your first permanent position may reach out over a year later to tell you about another position.  Remember, the most valued candidates are already happy working at a firm and just may consider a change for the right compensation package and firm structure.


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