I graduated from a top 5 law school and was recently laid off from a prestigious AmLaw firm on the West coast. Given my credentials, my friends and colleagues are telling me I should network on my own to find my next job. I'd prefer to let a recruiter help me but wonder if this will hurt my chances. Is it true that recruiters can be an impediment to a job search since the firm has to pay a fee for the service? Don't recruiters just find jobs for associates who have good enough credentials to find jobs on their own?
This is an excellent (and very common) question. The truth is that a good recruiter does more than just work with the best and brightest, submitting multiple candidates' resumes to a number of firms in the hopes of making placements. The best recruiters are advocates, plain and simple, and leverage their skills in ways that traditional job seekers do not have the capacity to do. First, recruiters have the ability to get your resume in front of the people who have the power to hire you. This includes law firm recruiters, supervising attorneys, practice heads, and managing partners. Recruiters who are well established generally have spent years cultivating relationships in law firms that serve their candidates in many beneficial ways. In addition, and just as important, recruiters provide a valuable screening service for law firms, answering multiple questions in advance of their being asked by potential employers--and they can do it in much more thorough detail than would be appropriate in a traditional cover letter. This is especially useful when there are "sticky" details that need to be fully explained: gaps in employment; layoff situations; summer associateships that did not result in offers; not having the Bar in the state in which you are applying; reasons for leaving current and previous positions; and a host of other details that would not be generally discussed by a traditional applicant. So advocacy takes on many important forms in this instance.
And, yes, there are those candidates who simply cannot be helped by recruiters and should subsequently network on their own. Candidates who attended unranked law schools and had poor academic performance and/or have never worked in a law firm traditionally are not the best candidates for working with recruiters. Even the best advocates cannot get past a law firm's requirements for good schools, good grades, and/or prior experience. In many of these instances, the new position for these candidates will come through personal connections. But generally speaking, using a recruiter is the best route for strong candidates, as recruiters can open doors that candidates could never open working alone.
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