There is an Allstate commercial that starts with Dennis Haysbert, who starred as President David Palmer on the critically acclaimed “24” and now heads up the cast of “The Unit”, saying “we may not be in a recession, but it sure feels like one.” Well, I would like to rephrase that quote to say, “we may not be in a recession, but the legal market is responding as though we are, and thus we must act accordingly.”
In the hallways of the top law firms, in the bar study courses across the country and in the class rooms of the law schools, whispers filled with fear are growing louder as discussions about the current legal job market – or lack thereof – become more abundant. As such legal giants as Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP announce massive layoffs, attorneys debate whether the current times resemble the downturn of the nineties or 9/11.
I am sure everyone can agree that lateral movement has slowed down to a near halt. So how do legal employers find qualified candidates in the current economic climate? And more importantly, how do the attorneys who dare to make lateral moves right now find positions? The simple answer to both questions is to use a legal recruiter. For the most part, hiring a legal recruiter to help fill a vacancy or find you a position makes the search easier.
Legal employers utilize recruiters because recruiters are expected to find quality candidates quickly. Currently, law firms are being flooded with resumes of candidates that are searching for jobs due to layoffs or, in the case of the solo practitioner, due to the disappearance of business. Yet, only a few positions exist. Gone are the days where work is so plentiful that overstaffing is commonplace. Thus, employers’ resources are drained when they utilize their staff to review these piles of resumes flowing in. Add in the fact that statistics indicate that as baby boomers leave the job market and law school graduation rates remain flat, there will be a shortage of qualified attorneys. As a result, employers will be relying more heavily on recruiters to find them top talent – recession or not.
On the flip side, candidates need to utilize recruiters so that their resumes land on top of the pile. Experienced recruiters have developed relationships with different employers, and employers respect their opinions and suggestions. This allows the recruiter to get a candidate that may have fallen between the cracks before an employer for a thorough consideration. Basically, an experienced recruiter can help a candidate jump to the front of the line.
What makes recruiters so special? It is the job of a recruiter to learn the market, the players and the requirements of each position. The more a recruiter understands the market, the culture of the different employers and the details of the vacancies, the more qualified the recruiter will be to find a good match. It takes a lot of time and energy to gather this information. Time and energy that most candidates rather not spend, especially if a candidate is currently employed. Simply, why reinvent the wheel when someone already has the blueprints and the contact list?
In a downturn such as the one in right now, both sides of the coin – employers and candidates – turn to recruiters, most of whom are former practicing attorneys, because of their contacts in the industry. Often recruiters are able to find or place top candidates because they have many contacts they can call for recommendations. Most jobs are filled and deals done through the use of contacts. Recruiters tap their contacts to find out as to who may be looking or who of their contacts think would be interested. Often, it is through one of the recruiter’s contacts that an actual match is made between employer and candidate.
If a recruiter is unable to make a love connection through his or her contacts, often the recruiter turns to a database maintained by the recruiter that provides an excellent source for potential candidates. If the recruiter is thorough, this database will contain resumes of active and inactive candidates. In addition, the database shall include target candidates, which are qualified candidates in the industry that may be able be persuaded to leave their current job for the right opportunity.
Similarly, recruiters should have a database on employers and what their areas of practice. Therefore, when a top candidate’s resume is received, but no actual vacancies exist, the recruiter can contact a select group of employers who may be interested in speaking with the candidate. Even if they are not actively looking, most firms will make room for a top candidate in a practice area where there tends to be a shortage of qualified attorneys.
For difficult searches, an experienced recruiter will utilize fellow recruiters. Joining forces with recruiters from all over the country, allow the recruiter to provide a more thorough search. Both legal employers and candidates should look for a recruiter that can provide such a service, especially where a search covers multiple states or metropolitan areas. For example, one recruiter may know of a potential candidate but may not work in that industry or area of the country and thus, may refer that candidate to another recruiter more qualified to assist such candidate.
Moreover, if diversity is the name of the job search game, then legal recruiters are an excellent source for guidance. As with most legal employers, legal recruiters are setting up diversity initiatives as well. Many of the larger recruiting firms are creating diversity departments and/or diversity coordinator positions. The goal of these departments or coordinator positions is to advise employers on the hiring and retention of diverse candidates as well as provide the employers with qualified diverse candidates to choose from.
Lastly, the advantage of using a legal recruiter is the benefit of receiving a pre-screened candidate. Most recruiters conduct phone interviews to determine qualifications and interest of candidates. In addition, any creditable recruiter conducts background checks on the candidates prior to submitting a candidate’s resume to an employer. Background checks should be conducted no matter how wonderful a candidate may appear. A recruiter does not want to place someone who has lied about where he/she has worked, attended school or licenses received. A mistake like this could destroy a recruiter’s reputation and career.
On the same token, candidates should welcome these preliminary screens so that if any questionable information arises, things can be addressed and rectified prior to a potential employer receiving their resume. It is better for the recruiter to deal with any potential reasons for an employer to reject a candidate versus losing a job offer because the employer found out something negative about the candidate. In closing, both employers and candidates should utilize legal recruiters to expedite and provide efficiency to the job search and actual hiring processes. And the fact that the legal market in this country is experiencing one of its worse downturns in a long time (whether you choose to call this downturn a recession is up to you), the need to utilize legal recruiters is even greater.