This is a representative example of one of the most common questions I get as a recruiter. This is especially true in today's economy, where many senior attorneys (in terms of years out of law school, not age) find themselves looking for a new position.
While it seems intuitive to think that a firm would prefer to get more experience at a lower salary, this is unfortunately almost never the case, and here are some reasons why:
- If a firm is hiring for a certain level of experience, it means they have a demand for a certain type of work. At a mid-sized or larger firm, typically junior and even mid-level associates will primarily be responsible for necessary but sometimes repetitive or tedious tasks, such as drafting and responding to discovery, document review, state surveys, due diligence, and doing the first drafts on motions. While you may be happy to do this work for a good paycheck, the perception is that a more senior or experienced attorney will not feel challenged or intellectually stimulated by having to do these tasks, and thus will be likely to leave as soon as a better or more interesting opportunity arises. Due to the cost of hiring, firms want their attorneys to stick around, and thus they are typically biased towards attorneys with the appropriate level of experience for the work at hand.
- If you are a more senior-level attorney who is looking for or willing to take a job with a lower level of experience, it almost universally means that you do not have your own book of business. Most firms are hiring for the long-term, and want to groom and retain associates who will be able to generate more business for the firm going forward. If you are ten years into your career and have not yet developed your own clients, it is a signal for firms that you are unlikely to be able to generate future business, and so they will prefer someone who is senior and has a book of business, or is more junior and has not yet needed to demonstrate this potential. Another way of thinking about this is the traditional “up-or-out” policy that exists at the majority of firms, and if you are looking for a job because you got stuck with the “out” option, any new firm is going to question why this was the case.
- Client perception. Law firms are a business, and they stay in business by attracting and retaining clients. Clients want to know that their matters are being handled expertly, and when they see the billing breakdown, a client might wonder why a class of 1998 attorney is being billed at the same rate as a class of 2008 attorney. As the story goes, a more experienced attorney should be a better attorney and thus be able to command a better rate. Everyone loves a deal, but when there is a substantial discount on a product, especially something as important as legal advice, you can't have a client questioning whether a senior attorney's rate is so low because that attorney is not actually that good of an attorney. Unfair or not, perception is everything, and firms are thus extremely careful about establishing and maintaining a client's belief that the client's matter is being handled by the best possible attorneys.
This is not an exhaustive list, but it will give you a sense of why firms typically will not hire attorneys for a position who are not within the desired class range advertised for the position. While some firms are willing to be flexible if a candidate is otherwise stellar, many firms we work with are quite strict when it comes to class year. As a candidate, being flexible on entry level class year and compensation will always increase your odds of landing a new position, but it is helpful to be aware of the realities of the market so that you can be realistic about your search and spend your efforts wisely.
Harrison Barnes is a prominent figure in the legal placement industry, known for his expertise in attorney placements and his extensive knowledge of the legal profession.
With over 25 years of experience, he has established himself as a leading voice in the field and has helped thousands of lawyers and law students find their ideal career paths.
Barnes is a former federal law clerk and associate at Quinn Emanuel and a graduate of the University of Chicago College and the University of Virginia Law School. He was a Rhodes Scholar Finalist at the University of Chicago and a member of the University of Virginia Law Review. Early in his legal career, he enrolled in Stanford Business School but dropped out because he missed legal recruiting too much.
Barnes' approach to the legal industry is rooted in his commitment to helping lawyers achieve their full potential. He believes that the key to success in the legal profession is to be proactive, persistent, and disciplined in one's approach to work and life. He encourages lawyers to take ownership of their careers and to focus on developing their skills and expertise in a way that aligns with their passions and interests.
One of how Barnes provides support to lawyers is through his writing. On his blog, HarrisonBarnes.com, and BCGSearch.com, he regularly shares his insights and advice on a range of topics related to the legal profession. Through his writing, he aims to empower lawyers to control their careers and make informed decisions about their professional development.
One of Barnes's fundamental philosophies in his writing is the importance of networking. He believes that networking is a critical component of career success and that it is essential for lawyers to establish relationships with others in their field. He encourages lawyers to attend events, join organizations, and connect with others in the legal community to build their professional networks.
Another central theme in Barnes' writing is the importance of personal and professional development. He believes that lawyers should continuously strive to improve themselves and develop their skills to succeed in their careers. He encourages lawyers to pursue ongoing education and training actively, read widely, and seek new opportunities for growth and development.
In addition to his work in the legal industry, Barnes is also a fitness and lifestyle enthusiast. He sees fitness and wellness as integral to his personal and professional development and encourages others to adopt a similar mindset. He starts his day at 4:00 am and dedicates several daily hours to running, weightlifting, and pursuing spiritual disciplines.
Finally, Barnes is a strong advocate for community service and giving back. He volunteers for the University of Chicago, where he is the former area chair of Los Angeles for the University of Chicago Admissions Office. He also serves as the President of the Young Presidents Organization's Century City Los Angeles Chapter, where he works to support and connect young business leaders.
In conclusion, Harrison Barnes is a visionary legal industry leader committed to helping lawyers achieve their full potential. Through his work at BCG Attorney Search, writing, and community involvement, he empowers lawyers to take control of their careers, develop their skills continuously, and lead fulfilling and successful lives. His philosophy of being proactive, persistent, and disciplined, combined with his focus on personal and professional development, makes him a valuable resource for anyone looking to succeed in the legal profession.
About BCG Attorney Search
BCG Attorney Search matches attorneys and law firms with unparalleled expertise and drive, while achieving results. Known globally for its success in locating and placing attorneys in law firms of all sizes, BCG Attorney Search has placed thousands of attorneys in law firms in thousands of different law firms around the country. Unlike other legal placement firms, BCG Attorney Search brings massive resources of over 150 employees to its placement efforts locating positions and opportunities its competitors simply cannot. Every legal recruiter at BCG Attorney Search is a former successful attorney who attended a top law school, worked in top law firms and brought massive drive and commitment to their work. BCG Attorney Search legal recruiters take your legal career seriously and understand attorneys. For more information, please visit www.BCGSearch.com.
Harrison Barnes does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for attorneys and law students each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can attend anonymously and ask questions about your career, this article, or any other legal career-related topics. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom
Harrison also does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for law firms, companies, and others who hire attorneys each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom
You can browse a list of past webinars here: Webinar Replays
You can also listen to Harrison Barnes Podcasts here: Attorney Career Advice Podcasts
You can also read Harrison Barnes' articles and books here: Harrison's Perspectives
Harrison Barnes is the legal profession's mentor and may be the only person in your legal career who will tell you why you are not reaching your full potential and what you really need to do to grow as an attorney--regardless of how much it hurts. If you prefer truth to stagnation, growth to comfort, and actionable ideas instead of fluffy concepts, you and Harrison will get along just fine. If, however, you want to stay where you are, talk about your past successes, and feel comfortable, Harrison is not for you.
Truly great mentors are like parents, doctors, therapists, spiritual figures, and others because in order to help you they need to expose you to pain and expose your weaknesses. But suppose you act on the advice and pain created by a mentor. In that case, you will become better: a better attorney, better employees, a better boss, know where you are going, and appreciate where you have been--you will hopefully also become a happier and better person. As you learn from Harrison, he hopes he will become your mentor.
To read more career and life advice articles visit Harrison's personal blog.