Casting A Wide Net

When I first started practicing law, I joined a small (75-attorney) single-office litigation boutique in Washington, DC.  It was a very collegial place, and everyone knew and respected one another.  I (and other junior associates) were invited to partners’ homes for dinner, and partners came to my wedding.  We all played on the softball team.  One of the reasons I chose this firm is that I knew I wanted this type of friendly, laid-back environment, and I did not believe it could be achieved in a large firm.  So, what was I to do when my firm announced plans to merge with a Very Large Firm?  My colleagues and I were devastated when the merger was announced.

We were all pleasantly surprised to find that very little actually changed after the merger.  Plenty of little things changed, but, because the large firm basically just absorbed our DC office and added very few people of its own, it felt mostly the same.  The partners were just as friendly, the associates just as happy.  But one thing that did change was the type of associate that was willing to look at our firm.  Suddenly, we had a reputation as being a “big firm.”  It was strange because to us, we were still the perfect place for someone who wanted to work in a small firm.

The point of the story is that I believe that many associates missed a great opportunity to join our extremely pleasant firm, because they felt that they already knew what a big firm (like ours) was like.  They were wrong!   If they had kept an open mind, applied, and come in to talk with us, it would have been easy to explain that our office was not a typical big firm office.

The same is true in your job search.   You might think that a mega-firm is an awful place to be, or, similarly, that a small firm does not do sophisticated enough work for you, based solely on their size.  Instead, I would advise you to dig a little deeper.  Firms are proud of their firm character, whatever that is, and they want to attract people who fit into that culture.    Take the time to look at the firm’s website.  See who their clients are.  Read what they advertise about what type of culture their firm has.  Talk to your recruiter, if you are working with one, to find out what you can about the firm’s culture, and whether you might like to apply there.  The point is, don’t rush to judgment about a firm without knowing more about it.


Two Hot Niche Practice Areas – Executive Compensation & Employee Benefits, and Technology Transactions

I’ve written a lot in the past about larger events in the overall economy eventually driving a hiring cycle in particular areas of the law, and want to give a current example of two niche practice areas that are very hot right now in the current market: Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation, and Technology Transactions, and even more specifically within the latter sector, Data Privacy.

First, Executive Compensation & Employee Benefits (and to some extent ERISA) is extremely hot right now.  If you are at a small or mid-sized firm with solid expertise in this area, and have been looking for an opportunity to make the jump to a large Am Law firm, now is probably the best time in recent memory to attempt that lateral upward move (and of course BCG is happy to assist).

With the ongoing market recovery, corporate and transactional law started to come back in a big way.  Deals were happening, companies were merging, new companies were being formed on a regular basis (especially in hot start-up hubs like Silicon Valley and Seattle, and even now in Los Angeles and New York), and along with those mergers on the business, finance, and securities side, these companies are needing expertise on issues relating to executive compensation packages as they try to lure and retain talent.  This is especially true for international companies that may be dealing with compensation and employment laws from a wide variety of jurisdictions.  You can almost always count on the executive compensation and employee benefit sector to pick up steam in the wake of an upward trend in corporate hiring, and right now is no exception.

Similarly, Technology Transactions is currently very, very hot.  If you have technology transactional experience, such as licensing, outsourcing, and experience related to mergers, acquisitions, etc., for technology companies, you should definitely take a look at your options on the lateral market.  Even if you are not actively looking, or are happy where you are, it will be a good long-term career exercise to see whether there might be firm with better work or future partnership opportunities.  BCG can help you find these positions.

Technology transactions has become an extremely hot market for lateral attorney movement for a lot of the same reasons – with corporate transactions, mergers and acquisitions, venture capital, and corporate formation all on the rise the past two years, and the fact that the technology sector has been driving a lot of the current economic growth, it makes sense that there is a strong demand for attorneys with particular expertise in this area.

Along with general technology transactions, a new sub-niche now has more demand than ever before – expertise in data privacy.  While there are only a couple of firms who can boast truly comprehensive expertise in this area, many firms have at least a couple of partners who service clients with legal needs in data privacy, and we only expect that demand to increase as data collection becomes a bigger factor in terms of corporate profits, as well as a part of the overall cultural zeitgeist as technology becomes a larger part of our lives each year.

If you are an attorney with expertise in either of these areas, it would be well worth speaking to a recruiter to see what your options might be on the lateral market.  And if not in this area, think about how your own career trajectory might align now and in the future with overall market trends – it is a good thought exercise that will help you plan your career, and possibly a forthcoming career move.


How Important is Future Promotion when Considering an Offer?

Our candidates often ask us how important it is to weigh future promotion prospects (either to counsel or partnership status) when considering a law firm opportunity and whether they can reasonably expect to get a commitment from law firms regarding such progression prospects. In truth, it is almost impossible for a firm to predict the future by guaranteeing that progression will happen, even where associates perform at the highest level. No firm can realistically or accurately tell you today what your progression prospects are years from now, especially if you have not yet begun working for the firm.

There are simply too many factors that must be considered and too many unknowns.  Factors that impact progression prospects include, for example:  the practice group’s future profitability; the firm’s overall financial condition and related ability to promote additional associates; the home office’s “sign off” on a particular progression prospect; your performance over the years; the overall state of the economy; the future “class year spread” in your group; and a host of other considerations.

Of course, there are certain things you can do to increase your odds of progression including, for example, working with as many partners as possible (even across offices), putting in the hours when needed, helping to develop business and producing consistently high quality work product. It is also a good idea, where possible, to develop expertise in a niche sub-specialty, as this is a great way to make yourself indispensable to your firm and its clients.

Because it is so difficult to accurately predict what things will look like in a particular practice group years down the road (or even to guarantee what the state of the economy will be), I would suggest focusing on alternate, but related, criteria when contemplating a lateral move. Since no firm can guarantee you today of your progression prospects years from now, instead focus on the following:

  • How busy is the practice group today?
  • What is the group doing to grow its presence and further develop its client base?
  • Does the practice group have a clear strategy for the future?
  • Is this a positive and nurturing work environment?
  • Have other associates successfully progressed through the ranks?
  • Do the practice group leaders have a history of going to bat for their associates and helping them achieve progression?
  • Do the practice group leaders work with their associates to ensure that they are checking all of the boxes they need to check in order to progress, including, for example, making sure associates work with a wide range of partners and have some exposure to the home office?
  • Does the firm host firm-wide events and/or encourage associates to travel to other offices, including the home office, in order to meet other members of the firm?

If you can affirmatively answer most if not all of the above questions, then the progression odds are in your favor, although it is never possible to guarantee such things years in advance. But by drilling down on the above details, you can obtain a far more accurate sense of your long-term progression prospects than could be gained by directly asking a question that simply can’t be answered this early on.

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Why You Should Use a Good Legal Recruiter (Part II – The Need for Expert Experience)

This is the second of three essays regarding why attorneys should use a good legal recruiter rather than “go it alone” when seeking a new job.  The first essay explained that the primary reason you should use a good recruiter is the need for expert assistance.   The legal market is highly complex, and just as your clients rely on your expertise in legal matters, so should you rely on a good legal recruiter’s expertise in the legal market.  This essay will focus on the second major reason why you should retain a recruiter – the need for the recruiter’s expert experience in the legal market.   It is assumed in all of the essays in this series that the searching attorney is in a situation in which using a recruiter would be both appropriate and advantageous.  As will be explained further in a follow up fourth essay, this is not the case for every attorney.

The good recruiters will have years of experience with the legal market, preferably at least five (or more for the top recruiters who specialize in assisting partners).  The most qualified recruiters will have additional years of experience as an associate (or even better, also as a partner) at top firms.  From all of this experience, they will have built up strong relationships and credibility with the local firms, including the most elite ones.  This means they can not only help attorneys find which firms are the most likely to be the right firm for them, they can also help the attorneys get in the door.  This is especially true if the recruiter works for one of the few large, national recruiting companies like BCG that have been around for years and established a stellar reputation (and often a personal relationship) with numerous firms across the country.

Thus, the best recruiters will be able to use their experience as both a recruiter (and often as an attorney as well) to fully understand the candidate’s particular practice, needs and preferences.  This understanding will in turn allow the recruiter to better identify which firms are most appropriate for the candidate  – i.e., are a better “fit.”   The candidate will then be better able to narrow down the firm choices and construct a more efficient and effective search.  For attorneys who have limited time and/or need to move quickly, this ability is invaluable.

Finally, the experience of a good recruiter allows them to better “maximize the odds” with respect to application process, even with the most elite firms.  The law firm hiring process is both long and challenging, especially for the most prestigious firms and especially for partners.  In addition, the competition in today’s legal market is fierce.  In many practice areas, the supply of lawyers exceeds the demand for their services.  Even attorneys with generally strong credentials must often find some way to “stand out” from the competition, or they will most likely be rejected at the application stage without any real opportunity to “make their case” to the firm.  Experienced recruiters, however, can better “market” their candidate in such a way as to maximize their chances of ultimately having their application accepted and receiving an initial interview.  The third essay will explore the need for a good recruiter’s knowledgeable and objective advice through the deeper parts of the process, including interviews and offers.

Interview Skills 101: Focusing on the Positive

If you are currently on the job market, it is likely that you are looking to improve a mediocre or unpromising situation, or are even trying to escape a bad situation.  Whether you are a partner or an associate, there are some important reasons that maintaining a positive tone in your conversations with future employers makes you more attractive.

It has been said many times that looking for your ideal next job is a lot like dating.  Like a potential mate, your future employer wants to feel wanted, and not like they are simply the best you could do under the circumstances.  No one wants to date a person who is simply looking for a way out of a bad situation, and seeks a soft place to land.  As an interviewee, you will do well to demonstrate to your potential employer that you are successful and wanted in your current firm, and that you are choosing them out of many excellent options, because they are truly the best fit for you.  Wouldn’t you date that person over someone who makes it clear that they are settling for you?

To this end, I often advise job-seekers to avoid negative statements or even negative insinuations about a current employer.  It is best to offer neutral (and true) reasons for wanting to move on.  Neutral reasons have nothing to do with you or your skills, nor do they reflect negatively on your current firm.  Instead, they fall into the “these things happen” category.  Here are some examples of neutral reasons for wanting to leave a firm:

  • Geographic reasons: I want to move to another city to join my family/significant other/move back home etc.;
  • Practice area reasons: I want to practice law in a city where my practice area is more robust;
  • Firm size reasons: I would like to join a larger firm where I can attract larger clients;
  • Loss of work: My firm just lost a major client/practice group, and the loss had nothing to do with me;
  • Merger: I liked the size and atmosphere of my firm and we just merged;
  • Personal advancement: Your firm has the best group in my practice field.
  • Ambition: My firm does not encourage associates to develop business, instead focusing on institutional clients, and I want to develop business because I am entrepreneurial.

If you characterize your firm as being inadequate, it almost always reflects negatively on you.  Similarly, if you present yourself as being undervalued, potential employers will ask what is wrong with you that you are being underutilized.  Here are examples of reasons that either reflect negatively on you or show that you have a negative view of your current employer, and should be avoided:

  • I work for an awful /mean/unreasonable partner;
  • My firm doesn’t pay well enough;
  • I am underappreciated/underutilized/not a go-to person;
  • My work provider is having an affair with an associate, so I don’t get the work I should get (this is a real reason someone told me!);
  • The clients at my firm are nickel-and-dime, low-level clients, and I want more important work (you can get this point across by simply phrasing this more positively).

Difficult partners, poor bonus years, and office drama are all part of the reality of working in a law firm.  Don’t be the person who has to have everything a certain way in order to be successful.  You won’t make a good impression, and you won’t get the job offer.

When discussing your current firm, even if you are unhappy, remember always to lead with positive statements.  It is obvious to potential employers that if you are looking around, something is missing from your current firm experience. You don’t have to dwell on that.  Instead, lead with positive statements like:

  • “I love the people I work with,”;
  • “I’ve gotten some great experience at my firm,”;
  • “I’ve been very lucky to have a high level of responsibility.”;
  • “I worked on one very exciting project where I got to do X,Y,Z.”

All of these statements show a potential employer that you are enthusiastic about practicing law, and will bring that enthusiasm to their firm.  No one wants to hire someone who is just collecting a paycheck, who is in a downward spiral, or dislikes practicing law.

In sum, always remember to focus on the positive if you want to make a good impression. Praising all the great things about your current firm makes you sound both very professional and polished, as well as sought-after.   It is natural to assume that if you are saying positive things about your firm, they have similar feelings about you.  By contrast, if you point fingers because someone has treated you unfairly, or you feel that someone is unreasonable, or you are not valued as you feel you should be, it is almost certain that you will be viewed as the problem.

Come up with the most neutral reasons that are true for you for wanting to leave your firm.  Try to be the positive, enthusiastic person that an employer can see becoming a part of their firm.

Orienting Yourself In your Legal Career

Amidst the competing agendas partners hold as part of a firm, and the Chance opportunities that present themselves to you – a promotion you only sort of want, a new position you have to take because your old position has been eliminated – it is easy enough to lose your bearings in the legal world, and end up following a career path that is as jagged as a lightening bolt. How to resist this? How to ensure your career track remains on the trajectory of increased power, greater standing, greater pay, greater respect?

Take the time to write out your ultimate career goal. Why, after all, did you join the legal profession? Take that initial inspiration which you had before you even joined a law school, and update it, making a goal worthy of a lifetime’s plight. That, now, is your career goal.

Having made your goal, type it up at the top of a paper. Underneath that, write your five or so “virtues” or the principles you strive to develop as you advance in your career.

Finally, under that, name a personal hero, and find an inspirational quote from him or her if you can.

Having made this “Orientation Sheet,” use it every morning over coffee, to ground yourself in your Goal and your Means, and every time you read it, each morning, use your imagination to fill it out and think about its possibilities. A plan can help skirt panic and set in hope.

Having such a solid goal in mind, you will have a polestar to guide you as chance and happenstance tries to misdirect you on your career track. You an always ask, “When I make this next decision, which choice is most aligned to my goal, my purpose?” Answering always in the direction of greater power towards your goal, you will never fall astray, but achieve, step-by-step, the purpose you first began when  you chose to enter law. Keep your eyes open, career opportunities arise when you know what you are looking for.

Hiring Trends Look Positive

The legal market, like most markets, is cyclical in nature, both at the macro and micro levels.  Overall hiring trends in terms of the number of lateral job listings, the number of newly graduated attorneys who find gainful (and law degree-required) employment, and the number of firms who maintain or increase their revenues tends to follow the broader market.  Similarly, activity in particular practice areas tends to follow trends in the market related to the client base that practice area services.

A very obvious example is real estate, which completely tanked following the overall market crash that was in large part precipitated by a crash in housing prices and the related mortgages and security instruments that had been fueling the initial bubble.  Not only were law firms not hiring in the real estate sector, many firms were rescinding associate offers, pushing associates into other practice areas, and laying off attorneys who had otherwise been very productive up to that point.

Fast forward a couple years later, and now that the market has recovered and real estate development is booming once again, particularly in major metropolitan areas, junior and mid-level attorneys with solid real estate experience are heavily in demand, and will frequently have a choice of firms to consider when making a lateral move.

When I graduated law school in 2007, I was the fortunate beneficiary of the tail end of the salary wars, where firms raised salary levels numerous times, even within months of prior announcements, because the overall market was doing so well that law firms were competing with hedge funds for the top law school graduate talent.  To my surprise and delight, I actually received two “raises” to my starting compensation between the time I accepted my offer letter and my first day of actual work at my firm.  Then, of course, things began to come apart the next year, and due to the hiring trends and rising salaries, law school applications had continued to increase until there was a huge surplus of newly-minted attorneys and a sudden lack of jobs when law firms started laying off rather than hiring.

Anyone who has paid attention to the legal market the past few years is familiar with the doom-and-gloom articles that pervaded legal publications, such as the article finding that less than half of newly-graduated attorneys were able to find employment in a position that required a legal degree, and the numerous articles about contract attorneys struggling to pay off massive six-figure student loan debts.

As is always the case, however, things do eventually come back around, and we have been very encouraged to see lateral hiring picking up across the board.  Current and would-be law students should also be encouraged by recent trends.  It has been a buyers’ market for a long time, but recent numbers released by the American Bar Association show that the fall 2014 entering law school class is the smallest in 40 years, even though the number of law schools has actually increased over that time.  In practical terms, that means that the shift of supply and demand means that we can optimistically project hiring at the entry-, junior-, and mid-level will continue to increase over the next couple years, barring any unforeseen major economic events.

If you are looking to make a lateral move, or to re-enter the market, now is an excellent time to begin positioning yourself to be the strongest possible lateral candidate, and our BCG recruiters are happy to discuss your current and future prospects with you, so please get in touch!

What is the best way to respond to recruiter cold calls?

Perhaps you find them bothersome.  But if you get them, especially in large quantities, you should be grateful.  It means that your market value is still high.  It is when they stop calling that it is time to be concerned.  In any event, when you do get a recruiter cold call, it is a good idea to know how to respond to them in a way that best advances your interests.

As an initial matter, there is usually very little risk in accepting a cold call.  At worst, it can waste a minute or two, in which case you should politely say good bye and end it.  At best, it can provide you with the employment opportunity of a lifetime.  Even if you are not currently “looking,” cold calls can provide you with valuable information about the current market, which makes those calls still worth a few minutes of your valuable time.  Moreover, in the legal profession things can (and do) change very quickly.  Consequently, you may have need for a top notch recruiter in the future.  Accepting cold calls is a great way to meet recruiters, identify which ones really know what they are doing and then build long-term relationships with the best ones so that they will be available in case the need later arises.

What you certainly don’t want to do is immediately agree to have whatever stranger recruiter who happened to call you at that moment send your resume off to however many firms.  I have been amazed by how many lawyers will do this.  Can you imagine one of your sophisticated clients hiring a lawyer to handle their complex legal work based solely on a single happenstance cold call without any more information about that lawyer, their firm or their experience and level of ability?   What if the cold calling lawyer is a complete schlepp?

This is why it is in your interest to do the appropriate research in order to distinguish between the highly competent and fully experienced recruiters from the majority of other recruiters that do not fit either of those descriptions.  The best recruiters will be the ones who have successfully placed attorneys like you (such as big firm partner) into the type of firms that you work in over the course of around 10 years or more.  They will also typically work for well-established and highly reputable recruiting firms (such as BCG Attorney Search), as well as have impressive credentials (such as top 25 law schools and/or previously worked in prestigious AmLaw 200 type firms).  Impressive credentials are especially important if you are an attorney with similarly stellar credentials looking to move to an AmLaw 200 type firm.  Do not be shy about asking direct questions about the recruiter’s background, experience and credentials.  You have every right to know who you are doing business with.  It is also wise to check out the recruiter on the internet after you have spoken to them.  Once you have verified that a particular recruiter is truly high quality, and not just some joker trying to make a quick buck by emailing your resume all over the city (and there are all too many of those as well), then and only then does it make sense to trust them with your professional future.

How to Get Your Recruiter to Work for You

Everything is competitive these days, even the attention of a good recruiter. There are so many qualified attorneys on the job market, how can you assure that your recruiter is effectively working for you? How can you trust that your recruiter is really spending time to make your application stand out against the competition?

As recruiters, our time is pulled in multiple directions between responding to the needs of our candidates and our law firm clients. Recruiters evaluate candidates just like attorneys evaluate recruiters. We have to make choices about where to focus our energy. Here’s how you can help us focus on YOU:

Be Enthusiastic About Your Career

Recruiters want to help attorneys that love their work and are enthusiastic about taking the next step in their careers. When I get on the phone with a potential candidate, nothing motivates me like talking to an attorney that loves being attorney and has a passion for the work they do. When an individual is ambitious and hungry for greater responsibility, more client contact, potential for advancement, more sophisticated work, or anything that will elevate their career, I know that I’ve found a great candidate. This type of attorney is typically focused on the search, responsive, and will come across well in an interview. If you are not enthusiastic about your career, how can a recruiter be enthusiastic about representing you our clients?

Be Honest

By being completely honest and open with a recruiter, you give your recruiter the tools necessary to represent you in the most effective way. Don’t tell us what you think we want to hear. Tell us the truth. Were you laid off from your last position?  Did you not get along with your boss? What are your goals? This is all extremely pertinent information. By being upfront and honest, we can give you our best advice with respect to your resume, marketability, what opportunities to target, the way to present yourself to firms, and how to answer difficult interview questions. Our job is to help you find the best possible opportunities for you and your career goals. By being anything less than honest, you are hindering us from doing our jobs efficiently, which costs us time and money.  As a recruiter, almost nothing turns me off more than the sense that a candidate is not being completely honest with me.

Be Open to Suggestions

No doubt, there needs to be a superior level of trust between a recruiter and a candidate. While the candidate may have a good idea for what he or she wants, a good recruiter knows the market, the firms, and wants to give you as many options as possible (and knows how to accomplish this). If your recruiter gives you suggestions with respect to differing geographic locations, law firms, or even types of positions, be open to these suggestions. At the very least, take them under serious consideration. You are still in the “driver’s seat” and are welcome to turn down any offer that comes your way. Let recruiters utilize their expertise in opening your eyes to different possibilities. Recruiters may very well know better markets for your skill set. You might find a perfect situation that you would not have otherwise considered.

Submit Your Resume

It is a good practice for recruiters to keep in touch with attorneys that are not actively looking and may only be interested in few options.  However, recruiters will naturally work harder for those candidates that give them the “OK” to send to multiple firms. By doing this, the candidate is demonstrating a level of trust and relaying that he or she is serious about a lateral move. By submitting to multiple firms, the recruiter is investing more of their time in your successful placement. As we invest more time, we become more devoted to you. If your response is more often a “yes” to potential possibilities, then a recruiter will likely continue to push boundaries in searching for the best opportunities for you.

Give an Exclusive

Almost nothing gets a recruiter working more diligently than a two-week exclusive with a promising candidate. This gives the recruiter a sense of trust and ease when presenting new possibilities to you and ambition when pitching you to law firms. If you give a two-week exclusive to a great recruiter, you can bet that “no stone will be left unturned.” In exchange for your trust, you will secure the time and attention from your recruiter.

Becoming a Promising Prospect

The most coveted workers are happy and busy. When you are busy, you will not be eager to seek a new job, but when you are desperate and really need the interview to go well, that’s when the interview tanks. The hiring managers are like dogs, they smell fear, and they don’t want to hire less than the greatest candidate on their list. If you are nonchalant and don’t need them, how can they resist you? It is the same as when dating: when you are established in a relationship, that’s when all the great women wish you were single. But when you are single, nobody answers your phone calls.

What to do? Talk openly and often about your dreams. Your boss will listen, and might work them into your job. Moreover, other people will listen, and might recommend a job that will fit you perfectly. The more you are bubbling with enthusiasm for what you do – not all of it, just the best parts – and seeking opportunities for new challenges, the more others will find you a compelling figure and want you to join your team, and bring that energy with you.

If, however, you are burnt out, nobody wants to invite that negative energy to their team, and you will have a harder time finding the job you want. In such a case, take a vacation, find God, write your novel, whatever, and then come back to the employment game.