What Most Legal Recrutiers Will Never Tell You: How Most Legal Recruiters Really Do Their Jobs | BCGSearch.com

What Most Legal Recrutiers Will Never Tell You: How Most Legal Recruiters Really Do Their Jobs


Print/Download PDF

Font Size


 from  Office  Managing Director

Rate this article

11 Reviews Average: 4 out of 5

Every individual recruiter
A. Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes

Every individual recruiter's style has a certain merit.  Nevetheless, when you are dealing with recruiters it is important to be aware of their particular recruiting style.  As the head of a national recruiting firm, I speak with legal recruiters both within and outside of my recruiting firm each day and have become quite familiar with various recruiting styles.  If you use a recruiter for your job search, the recruiter you use will undoubtedly have their own particular style.  It is important that you be aware of your legal recruiter's particular recruiting style because this will determine how successful the recruiter is for you.

In my experience, there are three main styles of recruiters.  The first type of recruiter I call the Cougar.  The Cougar typically most concerned with making the perfect match and does not submit people to a lot of firms or work with a lot of candidates at one time.  The second sort of recruiter is the Market Penetrator.  A Market Penetrator typically works with many candidates at one time and submits their candidates to many firms at once-often regardless of whether they have a position.  The third sort of recruiter is the Database Lover.  The Database Lover generally is somewhat literal and submits only highly qualified candidates to active openings.  Unlike the Courgar, the Database Lover is a little more literal in terms of their approach to recruiting and placement.

Each recruiting method has its own sets of advantages and disadvantages.  The recruiting styles of the Cougar, Market Penetrator and Database Lover are explored below.


A Typical Market Penetrator Placement.  The Market Penetrator spends a couple of hours each morning studying law firm websites for openings.  They also are very interested in law firms and read most periodicals and legal newspapers they can get a hold of.  The Market Penetrator may even spend some time in front of the television reading Martindale Hubble.  The Market Penetrator wants to know everything they can about the market because they believe this will allow them to make placements.  While the Market Penetrator may meet with law firms on an ongoing basis, their belief is that the market is huge and that their emphasis should be on the global picture.

The Market Penetrator decides a certain type of attorneys in a certain practice group is in demand.  They have openings for that attorney; however, they also believe a good attorney in that practice area will be marketable at firms that do not even have openings.  The Market Penetrator takes out a few ads in legal periodicals and job posting boards seeking those sorts of attorneys.  The Market Penetrator makes a bunch of calls.  When the Market Penetrator starts finding candidates, they submit them to a large number of firms-firms with openings and firms the Market Penetrator believes have openings.  As their candidates get interviews, they submit more candidates to the firms that it sees are interviewing its people.  Without ever forming a particular close relationship with any law firm, the Market Penetrator makes a placement.

The Market Penetrator's method of recruiting and placement is based upon sheer force and aggressiveness.  This Market Penetrator's recruiting method is based upon the belief that the (1) respective candidate's goal is to get the best possible job and (2) the candidate needs to be aggressively marketed because (a) they will find a job (through the recruiter-or otherwise), and (b) the recruiter should be the one who gets them the job.  The Market Penetrator also believes they cannot possibly know everything that is going on in their market and must constantly be pushing to market their candidate to new and potential opportunities matching the candidate's interest.

Under the Market Penetrator's method of recruiting and placement, the recruiter will seek to represent a high number of candidates under the belief that they are constantly taking the pulse of the market (through submitting candidates to employers) to see where the opportunities are most likely to be. This, in turn, enables the recruiter to be able to make choices about proper submissions due to the constant feedback the market provides.

The Market Penetrator typically takes a candidate and researches (1) current jobs, (2) past jobs in a market, and (3) potential jobs.

First, the Market Penetrator will know the current jobs where the candidate is or is not a good fit and will choose these jobs from the list of active jobs in the database.   The recruiter will always attempt to interest a candidate in the positions that are most appropriate for a candidate that are active.  The Market Penetrator will also likely do independent research to find active jobs for its candidate.

Second, the recruiter will then look at past jobs and, depending upon the candidate's practice area or-the strength of a given market-will also select a certain amount of past jobs for the candidate if there is a likelihood in the Market Penetrator's mind that the same firms may have the same openings again.  While it is not always the case, if a candidate is in an obscure practice area where there are typically very few active jobs, the recruiter will spend a great deal of time studying past openings.

Third, the recruiter will use Martindale and knowledge of the market gained from reading legal periodicals and so forth to develop a potential list of firms to "hit" with the candidate's materials in order to see if the firm has any interest. In some instances, the firms the recruiter "hits" will be firms the recruiter and/or recruiting firm has not dealt with in the past and does not even have openings.  This method of recruiting is something that not many recruiters necessarily do; however, it deserves mention since it is a tool in the Market Penetrator's arsenal.

1. The Advantages.

The Advantages of the Market Penetrator's method of recruiting and placement are:
(i)  They are likely to assist the candidate in applying to the majority of the places the candidate is likely to work;

The Cougar is likely to expose its candidates to majority of real and potential openings in the market at one time.  Through their in-depth understanding of the market, the Cougar develops a level of market insight and intelligence that surpasses what most candidates could ever know.

When working the a Market Penetrator, most candidates do not need to do much work for themselves in their search. They can rest assured that their recruiter knows where openings are and are most likely to be. Using a Market Penetrator largely eliminates the need for a candidate to use multiple recruiters.

(ii) They are constantly turning up new jobs as firms they may  not approach (i.e., firms with inactive jobs or no jobs at all) express interest in their candidates (a Market Penetrator may sometimes get a new fee contract from a law firm every week), and

The idea that a recruiter may approach firms without specific openings on a candidate's behalf is something that is quite alarming to individuals who are not recruiters (and even some recruiters).  Nevertheless, a good Market Penetrator approaches firms only after a very careful study and an educated opinion that their candidate may be a good fit for the firm.

You need to keep in mind that the Market Penetrator believes the market is massive.  The Market Penetrator also believes that no amount of intelligence can ever provide it with all of the openings in the market.  The Market Penetrator believes the best way to learn of new openings beyond those they already have is to be constantly taking the pulse of the market.  For this reason, as firms interview their candidates they develop new openings for candidates who they work with later.  Ironically, Market Penetrator's typically have the most real openings.
(iii) They are giving the candidate the broadest possible  choice of opportunities to make an educated decision about where they might work; and,

The Market Penetrator is able to give their candidate a broad range of choices of where to work.  In a given city, there may be over 25 places where a candidate could potentially work.  Each hiring organization is different and some candidates are likely to be more comfortable in some hiring organizations than others.  By giving their candidates so many potential options and choices, the candidate the Market Penetrator represents may actually have a more fulfilling career.

(iv) The Market Penetrator approaches firms that other recruiters are not approaching and therefore their candidates have a better opportunity of employment due to less competition

Because the Market Penetrator is approaching firms that other recruiters may not, there may be less competition for these jobs.  Accordingly, the Market Penetrator's candidates may be more likely to be hired.

2. The Disadvantages.

The disadvantages of the Market Penetraror's method of recruiting and placement are:

(i) It takes a lot of work in terms of research and this comes
at the expense (most often) of forming strong relationships with employers and candidates;

A Market Penetrator must spend a great deal of time doing research.  In fact, the Market Penetrator's whole method of recruiting is based upon doing a great deal of research.  While this may not seem like that bad of a thing, most recruiters are "social animals" who go into recruiting because they enjoy interacting with people on a very frequent basis.  Accordingly, this recruiting method is not something that all recruiters are comfortable with.

The research a Market Penetrator does is often consuming enough that they cannot spend a great deal of time getting to know their candidates and clients personally.  This lack of in-depth personal attention can be somewhat detrimental in that the recruiter cannot understand the complexities of various personality types at work in making a good match possible.

(ii) It generally results in a lower percentage of interviews
vis a vis submissions than other methods; and,

Because a large portion of the Market Penetrator's work is exploratory, their candidates may often be introduced to employers that are not the most ideal fits for the candidates.  Accordingly, while some recruiting methods are very likely to result in a high percentage of interviews, the Market Penetrator will likely get its candidates a lower percentage of interviews when compared to the number of submissions it makes.

(iv) firms may become annoyed because they are receiving
"unsolicited" resumes.

An unsolicited resume is one the firm does not request and does not come in response to a specific opening.  If a recruiter sends too many unsolicited resumes to a given firm, the firm will become annoyed and may request the recruiter does not send them any more candidates.  If this occurs, future candidates will be prejudiced by not having actual opportunities available to them when the firm does have openings.


A Typical Cougar Placement.  ACougar calls up a law firm and asks to meet with the law firm.  The recruiter visits the law firm and spends time meeting with the hiring partner, recruiting coordinator and other attorneys in the firm.  In the meeting the recruiter "hits it off" with the law firm and the firm gives the recruiter their openings.  The recruiter also establishes a strong bond of trust with the law firm and both understand each other very well.  Over months or years the recruiter and law firm establish a very strong bond of trust. The recruiter has a very good sense of the types of candidates the law firm is likely to interview and hire. The Cougar may visit with the law firm several times per year.

When the recruiter is in the market, they are very focused upon this law firm's hiring criteria.  They primarily ignore candidates who do not fit the law firm's needs.  They spend time calling "ideal candidates" and running a limited amount of advertising.  Many attorneys may not actually know the name of the recruiting firm the Cougar works for and, quite often, the Cougar may even work alone out of their home.  The Cougar spots the ideal candidate and meets with them.  The Cougar says many good things about the law firm and the candidate meets with the law firm and is hired.  The Cougar has made a placement.

It is a little known fact that recruiting is among the world's oldest professions.  For as long as human beings have worked for compensation, there have been others who have recruited others to do work for others and been compensated for finding others to do this work.  The Cougar's recruiting style has literally been around for thousands of years and is among the most traditional types of recruiting.  Long before databases, computers and even classified advertising, the Cougar was plying their trade.

As the name suggests, the Cougar lies in wait for the ideal candidate (or hunts them by calling) and knows the exact jobs to submit the candidate to and the best candidates likely to fill that job.  The Cougar's method of recruiting and placement is based upon the idea that (1) they know the jobs very well where the candidate is likely to get a job, and (2) by having a very highly developed sense of the market and good understanding of their clients they are likely to get their candidates the best interviews.

Under the Cougar's method of recruiting and placement, the recruiter spends a great deal of time thinking about the firms and potential candidates for those firms.  Very few candidates may be represented at one time; however, each candidate represented is likely to get interviews.  A candidate may be submitted to as little as one or two firms.  In addition, the recruiter tends to form very close relationships with a limited number of firms.  This, in turn, results in the recruiter's candidate being looked at quite closely.  The recruiter also forms an excellent and very close, trusting relationship with each candidate they represent.

In situations where there are as many as ten potential opportunities in the market for the candidate (i.e., active jobs) the recruiter may submit the candidate to as little as two or three jobs under the belief that the candidate is most likely to be a "fit" at these firms.  The Cougar knows their market and is highly selective with their candidates and the firms they submit them to.

It bears noting that this is the most typical method of recruiting and placement among recruiters nationally.  The reason for this is due to the fact that it works.

B.  Cougar Recruiting Examined

The Cougar's method of recruiting and placement is based upon having a very strong focus.  This focus has both its advantages and disadvantages.

1. The Advantages.

The advantages of the Cougar's method of recruiting and placement are:

(i) They make placements other recruiters would likely not make (and learn about jobs first);

A Cougar forms a very strong relationship with hiring authorities.  This is the nature of the Cougar and in most cases the Cougar is simply not comfortable working for hiring organizations it does not have a very close relationship with.  As a consequence, the openings that a Cougar has are all real openings where the hiring organization has a definite need.

In addition, because the Cougar's relationship with the hiring organization is so close, the hiring organization may not provide these openings to other recruiters for fear of upsetting the Cougar.  Therefore, the Cougar is more likely to make placements with these hiring organizations and have access to opportunities other recruiters may not.

(ii)  They have a very good understanding of the types of candidates firms are likely to hire; and,

When a candidate is approached by a Cougar (or finds a Cougar via an advertisement), the candidate's time is not being wasted if the Cougar decides they are a good fit.  If a Cougar is working with a particular candidate, the odds are very high that the candidate has a strong likelihood of being interviewed and hired by the particular hiring organization.

This level of understanding is beneficial for everyone.  The candidate has access to "inside information" about a particular hiring organization and can make educated decisions about whether they want to interview with the hiring organization or not.

(iii)  They form very close trusting relationships with their candidates.

Because the Cougar is most often not working with many candidates at one time, they can take the time to really understand the people they are working with.  In addition, because the Cougar is so concerned about its candidates being a good fit for each hiring organization it is doing work on behalf of, it will ask its candidates numerous questions and get an in-depth understanding of its candidate to ensure that it is making as good a fit as possible with its clients.  The Cougar is typically very concerned with what their clients think of them.

While a Cougar is compensated by the hiring organization, its recruiting style is also very conducive to representing candidates for a very long time until the "perfect fit" comes along.  A Cougar may work with a candidate for months or even years until it finds the perfect opportunity for them.  This is the way Cougar's like to operate.  Accordingly, a candidate may be well served when an excellent opportunity does come along.

2. The Disadvantages

The disadvantages of the Cougar's method of recruiting and placement are:

(i) By taking on so few candidates they miss numerous opportunities to make placements;

The Cougar is extremely focused.  Their focus is upon having strong relationships with a limited number of law firms at one time.  Because of this focus, a Cougar will miss numerous good candidates in the market and numerous places where they could make placements.  The Cougar does not care, though.

(ii) They develop fewer new jobs and an in-depth understanding of their markets through proactive marketing of candidates; and,

The Cougar does not seek to develop a high number of jobs.  They only care about the jobs their clients have.  Accordingly, the Cougar can offer their candidates only a limited number of opportunities at one time.  If a candidate is seriously seeking a new job, they may not be well served using a Cougar who will only introduce them to a limited number of openings.


A Typical Database Lover Placement.  The Database Lover spends a great deal of their time studying active openings in the database of their recruiting firm. Since most Database Lover's work at large recruiting firms, they have the benefit of a large stable of potential candidates to work with.  The Database Lover will examine openings that the recruiting firm gets each day and reach a decision about the sort of openings they would prefer to recruit for.  Whether through an advertisement, a cold call, or an existing relationship, the Database Lover gets a particular candidate they would like to work with.  The candidate is submitted to active openings matching the candidate's profile in the database.  A certain number of these employers interview the candidate and offers are extended.  The candidate accepts one of the offers.  The Database Lover makes another placement.

The Database Lover's method of recruiting and placement relies principally on the use of a database to make placements.  Very few recruiters utilize this method of recruiting and placement and those that do are typically at large recruiting firms with sophisticated databases.

Under the Database Lover's method of recruiting, candidates are sent to firms with "active" openings in the recruiting firm's database.  This recruiting method is based upon the belief that (1) if there is a real job, the candidate should be marketed to it, (2) the most likely source of a placement is with a real job, and (3) firms should be treated with respect and only shown candidates when they have made us aware they have a specific opening.

Under the Database Lover's method of recruiting and placement, the recruiter will monitor active jobs closely and watch for candidates matching these jobs.  Here, the recruiter will typically submit candidates to the active jobs they can find.

1. The Advantages.

The advantages of the Database Lover's method of recruiting and placement are:

(i) They are able to provide firms with candidates matching their openings on an on going basis (and not upset firms with  unsolicited resumes in the process);

The Database Lover submits candidates in response to actual openings that employers have.  As employers have openings, the Database Lover will provide them with candidates.  Employers know that the Database Lover only sends them candidates if they have an actual opening.  Accordingly, firms come to rely upon the Database Lover for a steady stream of applicants for their positions and most often are not annoyed with the Database Lover's recruiting efforts.

(2) If they are aggressive, they can approach employers with openings in odd areas (e.g., Maine, Sacramento, Indiana, Saudi Arabia) with appropriate candidates that are likely to be direct hits;

One advantage of the Database Lover's method of recruiting is that it is quite literal.  Because their emphasis is not on knowing markets like the Market Penetrator, or knowing firms like the Cougar, the Database Lover can often be quite effective.  This is particularly so in areas "off the beaten path" where employers may have openings for an extended period of time and see few candidates.

For example, if there is a firm in rural Maine with an opening for a patent attorney and the Database Lover finds and excellent candidate willing to interview with that firm, their efforts may have a very high rate of success.

2. The Disadvantages.

The disadvantages of the Database Lover's method of recruiting and placement are:

(i) They do not necessarily ever get a thorough market coverage because they are responding to actual jobs for the most part;

The Database Lover's method of recruiting is quite literal.  They look for actual openings and put their candidate's into competition for those openings.  The method is not based on research or identifying "market trends" like the Market Penetrator's method of recruiting.  Accordingly, the Database Lover may miss many potential openings for their candidates.

(ii) They may not take on candidates where they do not have actual openings; and,

Because they are almost exclusively dependent upon a database, the Database Lover may fail to place many candidates whose skills and experience make them extremely marketable if they do not have actual openings to submit the candidate to.

(iii) Their candidates are competing with every other candidate in
the market being submitted by a recruiter to the same firms.
The Database Lover is not the most creative sort of recruiter.  Therefore, they could be said to be somewhat "masters of the obvious" in that their approach is quite cautious.  Because they do not rely on the sort of research a Market Penetrator does, or develop the strong relationships a Cougar does, the Database Lover will miss many openings other recruiters might locate.


While there are certainly many different types of recruiters, I believe the following characterizations show most heavily the types of differing recruiters there are.  The above explanation could be dramatically expanded with more examples and insights; however, for the most part these are the three main types of recruiters.

Make no mistake about it: The Cougar thinks they do the best work, just as the Database Lover and the Market Penetrators believe they do the best work.  The fact that there is any tension between competing methods is a sign of a healthy organization and in any good recruiting firm you will find recruiters who gravitate towards one method of recruiting or another.  While I hesitate to say this, if your recruiter cannot explain their particular style of recruiting to you they may be doing something wrong.  You also may be more comfortable working with one type of recruiter or another.

No method is the wrong way.  Instead, I believe that a combination of each of these ways offers the best method.  When you are working with a legal recruiter it is important to understand what type of recruiter you have.  Your recruiter's particular style will explain the results they are getting for you in your search.

Click here to contact Harrison

About Harrison Barnes

Harrison Barnes is the founder of BCG Attorney Search and a successful legal recruiter. He is extremely committed to and passionate about the profession of legal placement. His firm BCG Attorney Search has placed thousands of attorneys. BCG Attorney Search works with attorneys to dramatically improve their careers by leaving no stone unturned in job searches and bringing out the very best in them. Harrison has placed the leaders of the nation’s top law firms, and countless associates who have gone on to lead the nation’s top law firms. There are very few firms Harrison has not made placements with. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placements attract millions of reads each year. He coaches and consults with law firms about how to dramatically improve their recruiting and retention efforts. His company LawCrossing has been ranked on the Inc. 500 twice. For more information, please visit Harrison Barnes’ bio.

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.

Download the BCG Attorney Search App for the Latest Articles

AGREE/DISAGREE? SHARE COMMENTS ANONYMOUSLY! We Want to Hear Your Thoughts! Tell Us What You Think!!

Related Articles

We've changed thousands of lives over the past 20 years, and yours could be next.

When you use BCG Attorney Search you will get an unfair advantage because you will use the best legal placement company in the world for finding permanent law firm positions.