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Ask the Hiring Attorney: How do I hire a legal recruiter?


Q: How do I find a legal recruiter I can hire to help me find a job after I graduate and pass the bar?

A: Congratulations on nearing the finish line for law school! And congratulations on thinking ahead about your job search. As you’re already seeing, earning your law degree is just the beginning—there’s still a lot to think about when it comes to job searching and career building.

Yours is a common question among law students, but it also contains misconceptions about how to conduct a job search and how legal recruiters work.

First, you don’t hire legal recruiters.

Legal recruiters aren’t paid by job seekers; they’re paid by employers. Most recruiters work on a contingency basis. (Retained recruiters work with senior-level talent so I won’t address them here.) This means they are competing against other recruiters to present candidates to employers. They don’t get paid unless their candidate is chosen and stays with the employer for some pre-determined amount of time. Recruiters are salespeople who act as middlemen between sellers (talent) and buyers (employers) in exchange for a percentage of the purchase price.

Of course, that doesn’t mean they don’t work hard and do a good job. Their reputations are based on finding great people to fill vacancies. But you should understand where they’re coming from. Your interests and the recruiters’ interests overlap, but aren’t identical. Ultimately, since recruiters are paid by employers, they aren’t as focused on selling you as they are on getting employers to buy. In short, recruiters don’t place job seekers; they fill vacancies.

It may seem like a subtle difference, but the fact that legal recruiters are paid by employers can have a profound effect on job seekers: recruiters are for the most part interested in investing their time and resources into job seekers who can fill vacancies that employers will pay them to fill.

If your resume is brought to an employer by a recruiter, then the employer must pay the recruiter if it hires you. Essentially, that’s a surcharge making you a more expensive job candidate than if you had approached the employer on your own.

However, many employers will not pay legal recruiter fees, particularly in buyers’ markets. These include small employers, nonprofits, and government. Because of contraction in the economy and improvements in technology, many large employers have also “cut out the middleman” by creating their own online job boards and application process, and so will no longer accept resumes brought to them by recruiters. Additionally, employers can—and do—recruit candidates directly through platforms like LinkedIn.

If you limit your job search to working with recruiters, therefore, you may well be cutting yourself off from employers who might have otherwise considered you.

Because employers who pay recruiting fees are only interested in premium job candidates, recruiters are only interested in premium job candidates. In most cases, premium job candidates do not include law students and entry-level lawyers. Those few law students and entry-level lawyers who are premium job candidates do not need to work with contingency recruiters; they’ll be successful approaching employers directly.

The bottom line is this: most law students and entry-level attorneys are better off conducting their own job search rather than trying to outsource it to a recruiter. No one cares more about your career development than you do, and you are best equipped to do the networking and pavement-pounding it takes to be successful. While there are lots of resources out there to help you and give you direction, ultimately you need to be the driving force behind your job search.

And there’s no better time to start than now.

Finally, use extreme caution when considering a recruiter, job placement service, or employment agency that requires job seekers to pay them, especially if that payment is required upfront. Sadly, these are often scams. You can get more information from the Federal Trade Commission:….

A version of this article was originally published by Bloomberg Finance L.P. Reprinted with permission. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

Shauna Bryce Shauna C. Bryce is a graduate of Harvard Law School with 20 years in law and legal careers. As a nationally recognized lawyer career coach, she works one-on-one with executive-level attorneys in Global 100 law firms and multibillion-dollar businesses in the U.S., Europe, and Asia, as well as regularly presents to groups of lawyers, career coaches, law students, and others. Her advice column, Ask the Hiring Attorney®, inspired by what general counsel and partner-level clients said they wish they had known while they were in law school, was originally published by Bloomberg Law. She’s the author of the How to Get a Legal Job® series and Bryce Legal® Career Advice for Lawyers blog.