It is common enough for lawyers to complain about recruiters—that too many of them call too frequently when times are good, that they are too slow to respond when times are bad, and that they fail to follow up when follow-up might be appreciated. By the same token, we recruiters have gripes about the candidates we work with.
As a legal recruiter with over a decade of experience placing lawyer candidates at top firms, here is my list of the pet peeves that either harm a candidate’s candidacy or waste our time, or both. The list is short by design, in keeping with the “80/20 Rule” that the top few problems account for the vast bulk of the trouble that candidates sometimes get themselves into when they fail to behave toward recruiters and potential new law firms in ways that are always candid, professional, and honest.
1. Candor: Candidates Who Fail to Communicate the Whole Story
Every candidate has a story to tell about why he or she is seeking—or is simply amenable to considering—switching firms. In the best of cases, the story goes something like this: “I’m doing very well at my current firm, and am happy here; however, I believe that my already-successful practice would thrive even better at Dunning, Sponget & Leach.”
An equally common refrain is that, for one reason or another, things aren’t quite working out at one’s current firm. If this is the case, it is a mistake to imagine that a prospective firm will not learn the truth during the course of interviews or other aspects of what have become firms’ thorough—if routine—due diligence inquiries.
For this reason, attempting to hide any issues from a firm could be a major black mark against your candidacy. By contrast, identifying, and candidly explaining, such issues early in the process can make them non-issues, particularly if they are specific to your current firm, and do not reflect on your professionalism. (Non-issues include, for example, difficulties that one’s current firm faces, and not, by contrast, a malpractice claim against one personally, or being a defendant in a harassment suit). The touchstone inquiry is as follows: Would the prospective firm consider this information relevant in making a rational hiring decision about me? If the answer is “Yes” then all more the more reason to share the information with your recruiter, and to do so early in the lateral recruiting process. This is similar to the advice that you probably give to clients facing the prospect of a hostile cross-examination.
In a business where credibility is our primary asset, we legal recruiters have the incentive and the experience to shine the best possible light on our candidates, imperfections and all. We spend our days (and, not infrequently, nights), speaking with law firm representatives about candidates—both extolling their virtues, and recognizing (without highlighting), their shortcomings. What worse way to undercut the positive impression that a recruiter creates, than to surprise your target firm(s) with an item of unflattering information that was virtually sure to come to light in any event sooner or later? Again, you likely give similar advice to your own clients all the time.
In the worst case, the late revelation of unflattering information will torpedo your candidacy immediately, if the prospective firm deems you to have been dishonest or disingenuous in neglecting to mention it. At best, failing to mention a blemish early in the process raises questions about your—and, potentially, my—candor. Enough said.
2. Professionalism: Candidates Who Fail to Respect Others’ Time
Just as in Abraham Lincoln’s formulation, “A lawyer’s time and advice are his stock in trade,” so too with recruiters. We value our time no less than do practicing attorneys, and although our services are typically free to them, that does not mean that our time is less precious to us. We all make tradeoffs, and the most cooperative candidates receive the most–and the most sympathetic–attention.
Of equal importance, our clients—your prospective new law firms—value their attorneys’ time as well, and the hours spent attending to your candidacy might instead be spent billing clients for valuable work. So when you want to get, and keep, our and our law firm clients’ attention, respect our time.
A few practical examples:
- Keep the appointments you set. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been “stood up” without explanation by candidates who specifically asked me to phone them at specific times, often at very odd hours due to time zone differences. Even worse are the occasions on which I have received puzzled phone calls from law firm representatives, inquiring as to the status of candidates who simply never showed up for scheduled interviews
- Return calls promptly, especially when you know that a prospective new firm is awaiting information from you. It’s a good rule always to return client phone calls within 24 hours. When your own career path is in the balance, this guideline is even more important. So, when you need to cancel a scheduled call or meeting, just do the right thing: let us know, by phone, email, text, or carrier pigeon, as soon as you become aware that you will need to cancel an appointment, even if at the last moment
- If you’re just “kicking the tires,” don’t pretend that you’re a real candidate. Remember: the time may come when you are what they call in the sales business a “real live prospect.” And then your reputation will precede you.
3. Honesty: Candidates Who Attempt to Circumvent Their Recruiters
From time to time, every recruiter runs into the same situation: a candidate whom they had cultivated, educated, and introduced to another firm, seeks to cut the recruiter—and the recruiter’s fee—out of the deal. Nothing is more annoying to people in my profession, or more perilous for your candidacy. After all, the law firm with which such an unwholesome arrangement would need to be made is likely the recruiter’s long-term client, with deep relationships going back years, and with other candidates in the pipeline. So, put yourself in the position of a hiring partner at one of my client firms: would he or she view such behavior as reflecting your frugal stewardship of firm resources? Perhaps. But it’s just as likely that you would be viewed as a greedy, untrustworthy SOB who demonstrates little compunction about dealing sharply with a close business associate—certainly someone not likely to make a good colleague.
Good legal recruiters are as valuable to lateral lawyer candidates as good lawyers are to other business people, and the recruiter-attorney relationship works best when candidates demonstrate candor, professionalism and honesty in their every interaction. Doing so is not just the right thing to do; it’s also smart for your career.