You may love your current job and cannot imagine leaving; however, almost nothing in life stays the same. Firm management will change, colleagues will come and go and clients won’t stay the same, life’s responsibilities will evolve, and your personal goals won’t be static. What is important to you in the first few years of practice will change as you progress in your career and life. Whether you need to make a lateral move now, or realize your worth isn’t being acknowledged down the road, having an established relationship with a reputable legal recruiter will keep you in tune with the ever-changing legal job market and may be pivotal to changing jobs now or in the future.

Setting the Stage: What to Know When Working with a Legal Recruiter

Like attorneys, legal recruiters work with multiple clients and will likely handle multiple searches on any given day. Getting to know how the client is distinct is critical to the legal recruiter’s ability to recruit on their behalf. Knowledge of the organization’s culture, strategic goals, and hiring objectives is extremely important. Skilled and experienced recruiters study the market daily and they are often in a strong position to know the difference between the law firms in terms of culture, compensation structure, and billable hour breakdown. This information can be beneficial to keeping a pulse on the hidden job market.

Each recruiter has their own unique approach to how they recruit. Some recruiters prefer working with a broad range of clients on a contingent basis. Other recruiters prefer working with just a handful of clients on a retained or an exclusive basis. Still other recruiters prefer handling a few retainers or exclusive searches and a few contingent searches.

Since there are different kinds of searches a recruiter may take on, it’s worth explaining their differences and how these might affect the way the recruiter approaches the search. Thus, knowing about the different kinds of searches and their pros and cons gives you the ability to determine with which kind of recruiter you’d like to work.

What to Take into Consideration When Choosing a Legal Recruiter

Contingent, Retained, and Exclusive Searches

A recruiter who handles contingent searches typically works with multiple clients and recruits for multiple roles. They are only paid when they fill the role. Since they may not have a deep relationship with the client, they may be less effective in preparing you for the interview. That said, they may have a broader perspective on the lateral market and may be more effective at identifying hidden jobs that may not be advertised. 

The recruiter who handles retained searches is typically paid a partial fee upfront to conduct the search, and the balance is paid upon filling the position. They are motivated to fill the role with the best candidate possible. Because of this, they may not be as motivated to “keep you in mind” should it not work out for the current role on which they’re working. On the other hand, they will likely have significant insight into the company’s culture, compensation structure, benefits, and opportunities for advancement.

Similar to retained, an exclusive recruiter is motivated to fill the position—and to fill it with the best candidate—because they’re not competing against other firms. They often have a long-established relationship with the client, and are able to provide insight into the organization beyond a job description. They often have placed several candidates with the firm, so they can speak to the experiences of those whom they’ve previously placed.

Many recruiters work simultaneously on all three types of searches at any given time—contingent, retained, and exclusive; however, the retained and exclusive searches will always take precedence. There isn’t a right or wrong approach, per se. That being said, the ideal recruiter has a combined approach working on contingent, retained, and exclusive searches, given that they will have both a broader understanding of the legal market as well as insider knowledge for individual companies.

Characteristics to Identify the Best Legal Recruiter

In addition to understanding the impact that different searches can have on a recruiter’s ability to help you, seeking the following characteristics in any recruiter should increase your chances that you’ll find one who will do their job diligently. This is not necessarily an exhaustive list, but it should be a guide in helping you choose the recruiter who will help you in the best way possible.

  1. They are active listeners and will spend time getting to know you, your career goals, and what is important to you in terms of your next position. They ask thoughtful questions that demonstrate their understanding of your legal career, and are clearly motivated to help you, and not just to fill a role. They are respectful of your decisions and do not push you into a position in which you’re not interested.
  2. They possess a solid track record and reputation in the legal industry. Do not rely on “Best Legal Recruiter” lists since those are often manipulated by contributors. For example, the “Most Influential Legal Recruiters in America List” is produced by an organization that is owned by the search firm that is annually ranked #1. Instead of relying on these biased lists, ask what types of placements they have made, at what level, and in what geographic region. If they are a junior-level recruiter, ask if they have resources (e.g., a mentor, databases, and training). 
  3. A reputable legal recruiter will have a process in which they prepare the candidate for the job interview, which includes feedback on the resume, a thorough interview, interview prep, and assistance with negotiating the offer package. A good recruiter will explain how they’ll take you through the various stages of the interview process and will prepare you for every interaction. They should act as a skilled coach and advocate, providing quality feedback and guidance on the job search, your resume, and the differences between employers. 
  4. A good recruiter will be honest and forthright on whether a position or timing is right for you, regardless of whether it benefits them in the end. In some cases, it may not be advantageous to work with a legal recruiter. Therefore, the right recruiter for you should be able to demonstrate that they do have reason to believe they can be helpful to you in achieving your career goals.
  5. A reputable recruiter will be responsive to your questions and concerns. If they do not have an answer for you, they will attempt to find out. They know you are a busy attorney, so their goal is to streamline your job search, and promptly provide all the information that you need.
  6. A good recruiter understands the importance of confidentiality and will only send your resume to clients whom you’ve approved. Recruiters should only submit your resume to employers in whom you’re most interested. Spreading a broad net comes off as being desperate to find a new job. Several employers keep track of applicants for several years, so you do not want to jeopardize your chances down the road when you may be more qualified for a position.
  7. A good recruiter makes a visible effort to continue learning about the market. Aside from having deep relationships with a client, an effective recruiter uses multiple methods to study the lateral market, such as by keeping up with lateral recruiting trends, or attending conferences.
  8. Conveying a care for ethical behavior when conducting business should be something you seek from your legal recruiter. Being a member of an organization such as NALSC, where signing a Code of Ethics is required, implies that the recruiter won’t end up being more detrimental than beneficial to your job search: acting unethically on the recruiter’s behalf can lower your chances of landing the job.

How to Make the Most of Your Relationship with Your Recruiter

Relationships are only successful if there are open lines of communication. The recruiter cannot help you navigate the complex job interview process if s/he doesn’t fully understand your situation or timing. Tell the recruiter if you’ve already submitted your resume to a position or an internal person within the past year. The recruiter may be restricted from submitting your resume, depending on the firm’s guidelines. When a recruiter submits your resume to a firm to which you’ve already submitted and it is a breach of the rules, it gives the impression that the recruiter did not do their due diligence, and it makes you look desperate to find a new position. Recruiters build their reputation on submitting qualified candidates. If you are not honest with your recruiter, they will not be inclined to help you further.

If you’re fully open and honest with your recruiter, you’ll build a healthy, mutually beneficial relationship that can aid you in your job search now, as well as years down the road. So, hopefully your job is treating you well; but in the case that it isn’t, or that you simply want to achieve more in your career, or that you need greater flexibility for the foreseeable future, seeking a knowledgeable, caring, trustworthy legal recruiter can help you achieve that.


If you’re looking for a role at a new firm, MB Attorney Search will help find a new office you’ll love. This attorney recruiter serves legal professionals throughout the Midwest, bringing a quarter-century of experience to aid in your job search. Visit their website to learn more about their attorney recruitment services or call (888) 563-5984 for a free consultation today.

Call Now Button