A couple of weeks ago, I got a message on LinkedIn from a headhunter asking if she could talk to me about an available job with another firm in town. I’m happy where I’m at and not interested in moving, but I told her I would talk to her anyway. I’ve long tried to operate by a philosophy that I will not blindly turn away an opportunity.
The next day she called and told me all about the job opportunity. She then asked what it would take to get me away from my current firm. I told her what a difficult question that is because of all the things I like about my current situation: I bill a lot of hours, but I’m able to work with a lot of autonomy. My firm gives me the support I need to develop my own business. No one is taking roll every day to make sure I’m at my desk from 8:00-5:00; if I need to leave at 3:00 for childcare reasons, no one is going to harass me about that. I’m surrounded by good people who are good lawyers.
When I finished telling her about my firm, the recruiter sat silently on the other end of the phone for a minute before saying, “So you’re telling me it would take a unicorn.” The rest of our conversation was pretty short after that. The job she was calling about was just a regular workhorse. No horns or magical powers.
Why Should Lawyers Talk to Recruiters about Job Opportunities?
I think there are two reasons lawyers should talk to recruiters if called: networking and understanding your market value.
We should always be open to expanding our professional network. The legal job market can be volatile, and you never know when someone you’ve met along the way may be in a position to help you at a later time. It’s possible (God forbid) my situation at my current firm could change – a major client could leave resulting in insufficient work, or leadership could shift causing an unpleasant environment – and I could need a way out. If I haven’t taken the opportunity to meet people and hear their offers even when I was content with my situation, then I’m not going to have any resources available when I’m looking to make a change.
Understanding your market value can be tricky, especially as you become an older associate and near the practice length where you expect to receive a partnership offer. Hopefully, you’re at a place where there’s a clear path to partnership and open dialogue about what is necessary for your to make partner. But even if you are, no two firms are alike. And your value at one firm may not reflect what it would be at another. The best way to understand your worth is to have conversations with recruiters and headhunters who are in the business of fitting lawyers to job opportunities. They, more than anyone else, can aid you in self-evaluation of your skills to pair it with your appropriate place in the market.
How Should Firms Feel about their Lawyers Talking to Recruiters?
While I am advocating here that you should hear out folks who approach you with opportunities, that advice comes with the disclaimer that not all firms are going to appreciate you doing so. There are certainly firms that will put a lawyer on the curb who is audacious enough to hear out another job offer, so you should be mindful of that, if you’re at a firm likely to have those sentiments.
I firmly believe that law firms should not be averse to their lawyers talking to recruiters. First, a firm should be developing good lawyers, such that other firms recognize your firm as a breeding ground for talent. You want to be the kind of firm that other firms are trying to hire your lawyers away from you. There’s a maxim that’s been floating around for years with no clear source of attribution – a CFO comments to the CEO, “What happens if we train our employees and they leave?” The CEO replies, “What happens if we don’t and they stay?” You’ll receive no higher compliment about the people who work for you than knowing that others want them.
Secondly, if firms are developing good lawyers who they want to retain, they should have the environment and compensation structure to keep those lawyers around. There will always be some attrition. Some people are always looking for the next, best thing that they think is just beyond the horizon. But there are as many people who are reticent to leave a good situation. So a firm with a good atmosphere that pays its people fairly should be confident enough to allow its people to talk to recruiters and accept the compliment that they raised up another good attorney who is coveted by other firms.
Photo by U.S. Army.