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.

The Power of Networking to Help You Land Your Dream Job

Networking often sounds intimidating; it is not. In fact, this is one of the most powerful tools you could use to find your dream job. It is faster, better, and definitely more possible than through any other means available to find you and land you your dream job. Networking does require work and consistency, but is well worth the effort.

The advantage of finding a job through networking is that your application is already recommended by someone the employer trusts, and hence, it is easier for you to get that job than any other contender to the job.

Types of Networking You Should Know about and Use

You may be one of those people who think that networking is just that. There are actually two major types of networking, and if you want to find your dream job quickly, you need to broaden both.

1. Informal Networking – This is what you do without really thinking that you are networking. When you talk to your family, friends, neighbors, college friends, people you see at the grocery store, people you meet while you are commuting, and so on, you are actually networking informally.

When you are looking for a job opening, go ahead and announce this across your informal network. You never know who knows someone else who would be love to use a person of your qualifications. This could land you the job you are dreaming about just by knowing the right person.

2. Formal Networking – This type of networking is as powerful and useful as the informal type. Here the networking is at a different level and definitely more formal. This is when you contact and develop rapport with peers, seniors, and juniors in your field of experience and interest. To grow and broaden this network you need to attend conferences, seminars, workshops, etc. in your field. You could also join professional social media networks such as LinkedIn where professionals connect to one another for mutual support and growth.

To remain on the top of the head in a formal network, you need to send regular updates regarding your professional achievements, accolades, etc. Pace the flow of information in such a manner that it stays interesting and achieves its purpose. If it is too often, the information would be ignored as spam very soon; if it is too rare, the relevancy of the information would be lost.

Always invest time and effort in networking; this is one tool that will never fail you when you are looking for a job.

Look Ahead and Plan Accordingly

For many attorneys, the law is their chosen career, and they came into it with particular goals or aspirations.  In your own case, perhaps you wanted to work in the Department of Justice, prosecuting wrongdoing, or maybe you wanted to become a top corporate partner at a large New York firm.  From my long experience in talking with fellow classmates as a law student, law firm colleagues as a practicing attorney, and now lateral job seekers as a legal recruiter, I can also tell you that a very significant number of our profession did not have any particular goals or aspirations coming into the practice of law.

Many law students end up in law school because it can function as a catch-all graduate school with the promise of gainful employment upon graduation (of course, anyone who has been paying attention to the legal market this past decade knows what a generally dubious line of reasoning this has turned out to be, even among middle-tier law graduates).  They aren’t entirely sure why they are there, or what they want to do with their legal education, they just know it is a “useful” degree , and that going to a good law school and getting good grades is a relatively straightforward set of next steps for the average overachiever who isn’t sure what else to do with themselves.

Even those who go into law school with a purpose may find that their anticipated or desired goals simply aren’t realistic and/or won’t pay the bills (wanting to be an “international human rights lawyer” is one of the most common instances I see among aspiring would-be and current practicing attorneys).  Yes, there are many jobs out there that require a legal education, including hanging your own shingle, but in terms of being personally rewarding and achievable, it is very surprising to me how little thought most attorneys give to both their short- and long-term career plans, and what will bring them both financial success and/or personal happiness.

An incredibly simple, useful, and astonishingly underutilized thought exercise, no matter where you are in your career, is to look for those attorneys who are at least a couple years, if not 5-10 years, ahead of where you are on your current path (or who have taken the path you hope to take moving forward in your career), and take a hard look at the positives and negatives of what they are doing in terms of their work and their life.

For instance, pretend you are a 4th year litigation associate at a mid-size or large firm.  Your current career path will take you on the road towards partnership, with the obvious caveat that you perform well and start to develop business.  Don’t just look at the partner mentor at your firm that you like and enjoy working with.  Look at all the partners, the type of work they do, the tasks their days are consumed with, the hours they work and the life they lead.  Will you be happy in that situation?

Yes, the pay can be great, there is a great deal of associated prestige that comes from making partner, and you might not have to trudge through tedious document review or write research memos anymore.  But the flip side of the coin is that the hours can be just as long (or sometimes longer), there is a lot of extra work on top of simply litigating (billing, collecting, delegating, partner meetings, client development, being the bottom line for the entire case and not just a couple aspects of it, etc.), and there is a never-ending pressure to attract and retain more clients and to bill more work each and every year to expand the firm’s profits.

If you are realistic about what lies ahead on your current career path, and it is something you feel you will enjoy and be able to accomplish, then by all means, continue on!  Based on my experience, you are one of the lucky ones.  But if you look down the road and things do not look rosy, it may be time to consider another firm, or another career path.  It can be easy to put in the time for a couple years just to collect those paychecks, but in the legal market, there always comes a time where you must go up or out, or when you simply cannot take it anymore, and you will thank yourself if you have been thinking about this issue and have a couple exit strategies in mind.

Now You’re a Partner: How to Think Like One

You were recently named partner in your firm. Congratulations!  Your life is about to change significantly.  Some of these changes, like an increase in prestige, and hopefully, compensation, are obvious and easy to embrace.  However, with these benefits come increased responsibility and a change in the way you are viewed.  You need to start viewing yourself differently if you want to succeed.

The responsibility of creating your own business is often hard for new partners to swallow. How many times have partners with no business said to me, “My firm values me because I work really hard.  My job will never be in danger.”  I believe that this amounts to thinking like an associate.  Now that you have finally achieved your goal of becoming partner, you need to think about how to remain a partner for the rest of your career.  It is time to stop thinking like an associate and start thinking like a partner.

The Way Your Partners View You Has Changed.

As a partner, you are directly responsible for the success or failure of the firm.  Many new partners utterly fail to grasp this.  You are no longer a bright kid with a great work ethic.  Generally speaking, at your level, firms are much more interested in your ability to generate dollars in the form of business than they are in the excellence of your legal mind or your high billable hours.  Nothing will make you a more marketable or a more powerful lawyer within your firm than having high originations.  They will make you recession-proof.

You therefore need to think about your business generation game plan.  Ask yourself: what is my long-term feasibility in my firm?  It is generally not advisable to plan on a career as a support partner to someone else’s clients in a large firm.  Certainly, many partners have spent entire careers without a dime of their own business.  However, those of us who lived through the last downturn know better than to rely on a career of client-free partnership.  Your willingness to work hard becomes almost worthless when times are hard.  Are you willing to gamble your career on a perfect economy?

Usually, on entering partnership, firms do not expect you to have your own business.  Many firms actively encourage new partners to create their own opportunities.  Don’t fall into the trap of never having enough time to build your own business because you are billing time on someone else’s clients.  What opportunities does the firm offer?  Have you expressed your interest in learning the ropes and being included in cross-selling efforts?  If the firm does not promote cross-selling, you need to think about your potential for inheriting business.  If there is no potential, you might think about avenues outside your firm for generating a little business, and, as soon as you have some, you might think about moving to a firm with a better platform for business development.

Many large firms have had the same institutional clients for many generations.  If you are set to inherit one or several from a retiring partner, that’s great.  However, you should be quite sure that a) the client plans to stay with you, and b) the retiring partner plans to encourage that client to stay with the firm, and, specifically, with you.  Retiring partners often do not like to discuss these things, and it is important that you not assume anything.

The Way Clients View You Has Changed.

Clients want to put their trust in attorneys who have a successful record of selling business.  No one wants to be your first client.  Therefore, if you can manage to get smaller clients at first, I encourage you to take them, even if it means lower rates or making cheaper up-front project rates.  This way, you create recommendations for your work, and this will help you generate more and bigger clients down the road.

Clients may know you from having worked with you as an associate or junior partner.  Now, they will speak to you on a different level.  You will know much more about the inner workings of the company, and they will confide in you in a way that is more intimate than before.  Allow yourself to get to know your clients on a deeper level.  Listen for cross-selling opportunities for which you may refer your colleagues.  Hopefully they will return the favor, and the client becomes even more a client of the firm.

The Way Other Law Firms View You Has Changed.

If you do decide it is time to make a move, you will find that the way you are viewed by other law firms has completely changed.  When you were an associate, firms were interested in your prior law firms and where you went to school. Now firms want to know one thing: the dollar amount attached to you.  Mid-sized law firms generally seek at least $500k in annual portable business, with large firms asking for $1.5-2M.  If you have none, it is very unlikely you will be brought in as an equity partner (you may be brought in as a counselor senior associate), or worse- not considered at all because you are seen as too expensive.  If you have been promoted to partner in your firm, you absolutely must work to create a portable book of business; it is the only thing you have to sell.  Whenever I have a stellar partner who has no business, the first question a potential employer always has is, why not?  What is wrong with this attorney that he has no business of his own?  A total lack of business creates an immediate red flag in the eyes of any law firm.

The Way you View Yourself Needs To Change.

If you take nothing else away from this article, take this piece of advice:  you are only as marketable as the business you can bring.  Period.  When the economy first started to turn in 2008, I was inundated with partners who had no business.  Some had 30 years’ experience supporting work they did not originate.  I could do nothing for them, because in a down economy, a partner with no business is essentially a highly-paid associate.  This is not a position you want to be in.

If you are in a situation where you see no potential for creating business, I would advise you to create some of your own small opportunities, through friends, the bar association, and other professional associations.  At least then a firm can see that you have some potential for creating business, which goes a long way.  Then, look elsewhere, and make sure your new firm provides the support you need for business generation.


As I explained in an earlier essay, what is true with respect to individuals in dating is also true with respect to law firms considering lateral candidates – they want to be wanted.  If you don’t show much interest, energy or enthusiasm with respect to a potential mate, chances are he/she will develop little interest in you.  It is the same with law firms.  Law firms, like every other employer, want people who are not only excited and energized by their career, but who are also excited and energized by the interviewing firm itself. (See prior essay).

This fundamental point is related to another very important lesson with regard to how lateral attorney candidates (and their respective recruiters) should communicate with law firms during the interview/recruiting process.  Busy lawyers are often swamped with emails and phone voicemails.  Sometimes they have more than they can possibly answer in a timely manner.  So naturally, they prioritize.  Many lawyers will thus respond to clients and senior partners right away, while putting most other less critical emails and messages on the back burner until they can get around to them.  But what may work for lawyers in their everyday practice does not necessarily work when a lawyer is in serious discussions with another firm.  I have seen how lawyers all too often treat communications with an interviewing firm, as well as related communications from their recruiters, as “non-critical” and therefore shoved to the back burner.  Regardless of whether the lawyers are doing this out of habit and/or because they are not taking their job search as seriously as they should, this is a major mistake.

The reality is that – for the reasons stated above – law firms expect to have “top tier” or “critical level” priority when it comes to lawyers returning their communications.  In other words, law firms want to be treated like clients or senior partners, so that their communications to interviewing lawyers (or their recruiters) will be promptly returned, ideally by the next day (if not the same day).  Consequently, I have seen law firms become clearly irritated when an interviewing attorney has failed to promptly respond to an email or voicemail from the firm.  When this happens, the firm usually assumes that the reason for the delay in responding is due to the attorney’s lack of interest or enthusiasm in the law firm.  This assumption – whether accurate or not – can seriously damage the attorney’s chances to obtain an offer.  In one particular case, I witnessed a law firm withdraw an offer because the partner candidate failed to timely respond to the firm’s emailed offer and also to a voicemail from one of the firm’s partners (both the partner and the firm also failed to timely inform me of either of these communications – if one of them had done so (as they should have), the miscommunications would have most likely been avoided).  Again, this happened because the firm assumed the partner no longer had any interest.

For these reasons, I find myself having to constantly remind attorney candidates that they cannot afford to treat an interviewing firm’s communication as a low priority no matter how busy they are.  If the attorney does not consistently treat such communications as top priorities, they are likely to harm – or even ruin – their chances of obtaining an offer from that firm.

Seeking Excellence as a Lawyer Means Sometimes Taking a Break

It’s an old truism that happiness can’t be sought directly. Just as looking at the sun can only blind us, seeking only happiness will also distract us from our path. What a lawyer should be seeking in his career isn’t happiness, but excellence — to be the most effective, proficient, and powerful lawyer he can be. Seeking this, happiness comes naturally. Nevertheless, there comes a time in a law career where the weight of daily tasks and regular expectations become more tedious, where the dress attire weighs like wet clothes, and when it seems that “trying harder” at the job leaves us empty.

Clinically, we would call this “depression,” but that doesn’t mean you need a pill. Sometimes our “salvation” in a career, in a marriage, in a friendship, whatever, comes from outside it, and, in the case of being a lawyer, what this means is that the missing element of an effective law career may not even come from the law career.

To find that “missing part” that was lacking, doesn’t necessarily mean you need to go on an extended vacation, least of you all you have to retreat to Tibet and speak with a Lama. Finding that missing element, the bit of motive power, may come from something subtle and humble, not necessarily something as grandiose as a religious conversion. It may come to you by trying a new position, or by simply taking to at night to reflect on the one you have. But having this small bit, this vision, this hope, the bit of self-understanding, is having, in fact, your soul, your motive: it will make an intense verve for excellence effective, an investment, rather than a bleeding out.

What this means, ultimately, is that to be excellent, to be the best you can be, you must sometimes give it a break, and take time to reflect and meditate. Assess your overall strategy. Having spent the time to find your purpose, you will be invigorated to go back to the game with purpose.

New Job in the New Year? Here’s Why You Should Start Your Search Now

Ever feel like after Halloween, there is a race until the end of the year? You’re not alone. Christmas decorations go up in most stores BEFORE Halloween. We all brace for the holiday season and it’s easy to coast by until the end of the year and hold your job search until January.However, if you are seriously contemplating a new position in the new year, now is actually the optimal time to start your search.

Many attorneys fear starting the process in November because they feel that if they get called in to interview, proceed with the interview process, and are offered a position, they will have to start prior to the new year and lose their promised bonus from their current law firm.I would say about 95% of the time, this isn’t the case.Here’s why:

Many do not realize this until they go through it, but the recruiting process can be quite slow. Generally, even for the most qualified of attorneys, the process takes about two months. Particularly through the holiday season, it can be difficult to get everyone in the same room for a meeting or an interview. Two months solidly puts a start date after January 1.

Unless there is an absolute immediate need, if you receive an offer from a firm in November or December, the firm will not expect you to start until after the first of the year.Even if they would prefer an earlier date, it would certainly be reasonable to negotiate this point. Firms would much rather hire the “right” person for the job then the “wrong” person just because the latter could start two weeks earlier.

If, under the rare circumstance, that the firm absolutely needs someone before the end of the year, they are likely to offer a signing bonus to make up for the potential bonus that you would lose with your current firm.

There is an overall desire to have new attorneys in place before January first. The end of the year is as much of a mental “deadline” or mark for recruiting and hiring partners as it is for you.While it might be more comfortable for you to delay your search until January, it is also the goal for recruiting teams to have an offer out and accepted prior to the end of the year.This way, they can start off the new year with their team complete and without anything hanging over them. This is why there is such a tremendous push for interviews the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

You may find that if you wait, many of the positions that you found interesting will have already been filled. Of course, there is always a new hiring season. But, wouldn’t it be nice for you to go through your holidays with a new position already in place? Then you would have a fresh start to your new year.

Passively Searching: Looking For Your Dream Job Before You Need It

Although it may seem counterintuitive the best time to look for a job may be when you are happiest in your current position. This is because when you are successful and happy, you’re also at your most marketable. I have had many experiences in my career where associates wait until they have been let go to begin their job search, and when this happens, their marketability has already declined.

Associates who are doing well at their firm are highly desirable to a potential new employer. These associates may not want to search for something better. Consider, however, whether you might get even more of what you need in a new position.  Has your firm been promoting associates to partnership to your satisfaction? Have there been mergers, layoffs, or departures of groups that may change your day-to-day existence? Has the firm been grooming you to eventually become an equity partner? Would you like to simplify your lifestyle, perhaps travel more, work less, start a family? Has the nature of your work changed because of a change in clients? Any of these is reason enough to conduct a “passive” search, and a recruiter may be able to help.

A passive search is one in which you survey all options, and apply only for positions that appear to be a step up from your current position. I work with several passive searchers.  They decline to apply for many of the opportunities I present to them, but when a promising opportunity comes along, I make sure they are in the loop.  They are in a fantastic position because they have tremendous leverage.  The choice is largely theirs whether they change positions or not.  They are not afraid to negotiate favorable terms with a potential new employer, because, after all, they already have a job that is giving them much of what they want.  They can take their time and do all their due diligence, and if they get an offer, the decision is theirs whether or not to accept.

Employers want to be wanted; they prefer a candidate who can pick and choose, and who actively chooses to work for them after considering other options.  They want their employees to be happy working there, and not leave.   If they are interested in a candidate who obviously can take her time and wait for the right opportunity, they may be creative in giving that person what she needs in order to bring her aboard.  For these reasons, it is an excellent idea to conduct a passive search.  You may end up finding your dream job.