Summary: If you want to get more law firm job offers than you ever have before, you need to understand how to make yourself desirable to law firms.
Several years ago, a third-year attorney working for the US Attorney’s Office in Hawaii contacted me looking for a position. He had gone to Harvard Law School, had done well there and wanted to return to California. He had submitted his resume to 15 of the best law firms in Los Angeles but had not received a single interview. He was depressed and seemed to think that everything was over.
“I thought it was smarter for me to apply on my own,” he told me.
I got involved and within two weeks he had interviews at 10 of the 15 firms. Firms were so interested in him that they started blowing up my phone to schedule interviews. He ended up getting several offers. He wrote me a long thank you letter and told me how grateful his family was for the work I had done.
What did I do that made all of this happen the way it did? Why was I able to help him when he was unable to help himself? What did I know that enabled me to get him so many interviews when he could not get any on his own?
I am going to answer these questions in this article. I am going to tell you exactly what I did and what I know that got that attorney so many offers. It all comes down to understanding the rules of the game and how to play the game. That attorney got so many interviews and so many offers because I made him seem desirable now and desirable in the past.
The truth of the matter is that most attorneys never get a lot of offers – not when they interview for their first jobs and not when they interview laterally. Most attorneys do not get a lot of offers because they do not understand the importance of desirability or, even if they do, they do not know how to market themselves so they appear as desirable as possible.
There are exceptions, of course, and some attorneys do get a lot of offers. Some attorneys get a lot of offers for very good jobs without trying very hard at all. Meanwhile, most attorneys are bouncing over each other trying to get interviews and feeling as if no one wants them. Many of these lawyers get so depressed they throw in the towel and stop trying.
There are rules to every game and getting a job is no different. Take, for example, something as simple as getting married. Some women are able to get multiple marriage proposals from very desirable men and others only ever get one. The women who get a lot of proposals often seem to not even be that interested in getting them and the same goes for many attorneys who get a lot of offers. What do you think these women and attorneys are doing differently? What is it that they are able to do that others are not?
A year or so ago I was talking to the hiring partner of a large law firm and he said to me: “What is the most in demand practice area right now? What do you have that no one else is going to be able to find me?”
The answer was very easy. “Real estate. Everyone wants strong real estate attorneys and no one can get them. I have lots of strong real estate attorneys and a very good one working a few buildings over from you. If you want, I am sure he would be interested in speaking with you.”
The attorney brightened and asked me to send the attorney right over. “We need one right away! We are dying over here!” he told me.
After speaking with the real estate attorney and telling him a little bit about the firm, I sent him over for an interview. He went and met with a few people and the hiring partner called me as he was leaving the building.
“Everyone loved him. We would like to bring him back for a half day of interviews and to have lunch with some associates.”
Meanwhile, I thought all of this was a bit strange. The law firm was a branch office of a major international law firm and located 750 miles away from any of the firm’s other offices. Moreover, there did not seem to be a single real estate attorney in the branch office and the office did not even seem to do real estate work. I was unclear how the law firm expected to keep this attorney busy.
“You should ask about how they expect to keep you busy without any real estate attorneys in the office,” I told the attorney. “The firm is certainly a better name than where you are at, but you need to be careful.”
The attorney did not ask about where the real estate work was coming from. But he did go back for a bizarre set of second interviews where he met with intellectual property litigators, a few patent attorneys, an attorney who specialized in education law and not a single real estate lawyer.
“I really liked the culture and could see myself fitting in there really well!” he told me.
The day after his second round interviews the hiring partner left me a message that the firm was “extremely impressed” with the attorney and just needed to get clearance from the national office to hire him. I still did not understand what type of real estate work he was going to be doing.
A week went by and then another week and I did not hear anything. The hiring partner seemed to stop taking my phone calls. I started sending emails that were going unanswered. Then, about three weeks after the interviews, I received a short email that said something along the lines of:
I think my enthusiasm may have gotten the best of me – and my partners have been joking with me and giving me a very hard time. We do not have any real estate work in this office. We understand how hot real estate is but it does not make sense for us to hire this attorney when we would not have anything for him to do. That said, if you can find us a partner we could hire with sufficient business to keep them both busy that could work. Can you find us a partner first?
Are you kidding? No. He was not kidding. This kind of thing actually happens all the time to me in my work and life. It happens to me because I know the secret formula to making good things happen. It is a secret that can help you in your professional and personal life. It all has to do with desirability and I am going to share it with you in just a moment.
But before we turn to the secret, I must briefly digress and tell you about another experience I had with a candidate. I was unable to help this candidate, for reasons I will explain, but the story of his candidacy illustrates the larger point I am making in this article. The candidate was a junior partner at a major law firm and was working with me and with another recruiter.
The other recruiter, it would turn out, was (along with this junior partner) engaging in a “scam” related to the junior partner’s alleged book of business. This type of scam has been going on in the lateral attorney market for as long as I can remember. Most large law firms fall victim to this scam at least once every five or ten years—as long as it takes for the institutional memory of the scam to fade. Law firms all over the country are taken in by this scam each year.
When a law firm makes a junior non-equity partner, the firm generally does so with the hope that the attorney will bring in business and become an equity partner within a few years. The title of “partner” is given so that the attorney can leverage this title to attract clients and so forth. However, a good percentage of attorneys who become non-equity partners never get sufficient business to become equity partners. If the law firm has sufficient business to keep these attorneys busy, they can often continue working in the law firm indefinitely. But the more likely scenario, unfortunately, is that the attorneys do not get sufficient business, the law firm does not want to share work and the attorneys end up getting pushed out a few years later.
That is what was happening to this junior partner candidate. Like many other junior partners in his shoes, he soon learned that his options were limited to (1) going in-house, (2) getting business, or (3) finding a law firm that did not require him to have business. This junior partner, like so many others, went for a fourth option (which is unethical and not really an option at all, but is done all the time), which was to simply “make up” a book of business and shop that around to new firms.
This junior partner had no business and was being pushed out of his current firm. He was interested in moving to a large, prestigious firm and started throwing around names like “Skadden Arps; Simpson Thacher; Sidley & Austin; Gibson Dunn” and other prestigious firms. Given his years of experience working for top law firms and his top pedigree, he hoped to remain part of this club.
“I cannot get you a partnership in those firms without any business,” I told him. “They will not be interested in you without at least several million dollars in business.”
“Well, I might be able to bring some of the firm’s clients over and if I do this it will be at least several million dollars of business a year.”
“How realistic do you think this is?” I asked him.
“It would be extremely difficult – but I could tell them I would be bringing these clients and see what happens.”
I refused to participate in this ruse. This ruse is as old as the hills. What typically happens is a firm will hire a new attorney because the firm thinks the attorney has a bunch of business. When the attorney gets to the new firm the attorney explains that he or she cannot get “his (or her) clients” to move but reassures the firm that he or she will simply build up the book of business again. After about 18 months or so of no new business, the firm pushes out the attorney – and the cycle starts again. This sort of thing is playing itself out in every major city in the United States at the moment.
When it came to my junior partner candidate, instead of getting him interviews with law firms requiring $3-million+ books of business, I was able to get him interviews with smaller law firms that did not require business and had a need for his world class training and skills. Unfortunately, he was not interested in any of these firms and he told me that his other recruiter had been able to get him interviews at firms like Skadden, Sidley and others.
From instinct and a long history of watching this sort of thing, I knew exactly what was going on: He had gotten a legal recruiter to represent that he had an incredible amount of business and that firms all over Los Angeles were competing for him.
Ultimately, this candidate took a position in a major American law firm in Los Angeles. To my astonishment, I saw all sorts of articles in major publications about how he had been hired and represented major clients. There were quotes from the head of the firm and so forth in these publications bragging about how pleased they were that the attorney and his clients were coming over. I am pretty confident that this attorney increased his take home pay from about $300,000 to over $650,000 through the sorts of misrepresentations that he made. I knew it would not last for long.
I spoke with a recruiting coordinator at another major law firm where the attorney did not get an offer. I asked if she saw the news story and if her firm was interviewing him too (which I already knew, but did not let her know).
“Man, that other recruiter had them thinking he walked on water,” she told me. “They flew him business class out to our New York office, took him out to dinner with his wife. It was amazing. They simply really wanted to believe he had all of this business and all of these firms were interested in him.”
She proceeded to tell me that when they got very close to making the attorney an offer that she insisted they contact some of his clients and see if he was the originating attorney for the work. When that happened the attorney turned hostile, told them he was now looking at other options, and the charade began to unravel. While this request was unusual, it made the law firm “gun shy” enough that they decided the odds were he really did not have the business.
The legal recruiter involved, of course, was burning a bridge, but his formula was simple: “I’ve got this guy with between three and five million dollars in business. Everyone wants him. I may be able to interest him in your firm. Are you interested? He will not last long!” The legal recruiter made the junior partner seem so desirable that firms were falling over themselves to hire him.
I do this same thing with my candidates – except without the unethical conduct. I find truthful aspects about an attorney that make that attorney seem as desirable as possible and this makes firms want to interview and hire that attorney as quickly as possible. These attorneys seem so desirable that firms want to hire them even when they do not even do the kind of work the attorney practices, as illustrated by what happened with the real estate attorney.
Here is another example: Several years ago I was working with an insurance coverage attorney in Los Angeles. She was senior and had at least 10 years of experience. There were no jobs for her at the moment, but I had been able to arrange a few informational interviews for her with high-level insurance coverage partners around the country. These conversations were generally limited to “We do not have anything right now for you, but if we do we will contact you.”
One afternoon I was sitting in my office and a law firm called to reject her. The woman calling was a recruiting coordinator and her tone was very flat. “We’re passing on her,” she told me in a matter-of-fact way.
“That’s crazy! You cannot pass on her. You have a good insurance coverage practice. This attorney is speaking with law firms all over the country and there are very few good insurance coverage attorneys like her anywhere who have experience with the same insurers. You cannot afford not to interview her and may never have this opportunity again. Please reconsider and at least let’s get her in there for a screening interview with the head of your insurance coverage practice. She could get other offers within a week and you need to move fast.”
Sure enough, thirty minutes later the firm called up and was in a hurry to bring her in. They brought her in and then called and asked me what other firms she was considering. “She is speaking with everyone,” I told them. “If you move first and make an offer first, I bet I might be able to get her to stop her job search and accept. I’m not making any guarantees, though.”
I created a buzz and the buzz was about her. This insurance coverage attorney was now trending and the hottest thing around!
Within a day or so she got an offer. The law firm aggressively recruited her and called her a few times over the week as she “considered” the firm’s offer. She had nothing else; however, the firm certainly did not think this and I was able to create an opportunity for her where none existed. She ended up going to the firm, doing well there and is still practicing with people from the firm (but at another law firm). She was not marketable when I was working with her, but she became marketable because a law firm thought she was marketable and in demand.
People, law firms and groups will do the strangest things when they think something is in demand and popular. People will become interested in people, places and things simply because it is the “cool” thing and in demand. People will wear things they do not like simply because it is fashionable. In fact, when people think something is in demand they will do almost anything to possess it or be part of it.
People are “tribal” animals who are motivated by what other people believe and feel. We are like this because it is easier to make decisions based on what others believe than it is to make decisions based on what we ourselves believe. We follow the crowd because it is safe. If everyone wants to be friends with someone we do too. Law firms want to hire someone when they think that every other firm is interested in that candidate.
The worst thing you can do when searching for a legal position is give law firms any sort of indication that you are not desirable and that other people do not want you. You need to appear the opposite. You need to appear incredibly in demand. The more in demand you appear the better. The attorney who appears in demand always gets lots of offers and the attorney who appears unwanted never gets lots of offers. If you appear desperate and needy, law firms will not want to hire you. It is no different from the kid who sits alone in the school cafeteria; very few people are willing to take a chance on someone who does not appear in demand.
Why are law firms unwilling to hire attorneys who really need jobs? The reason is because firms are interested in self-preservation and in keeping the group strong. If an attorney appears desirable, then the group is strengthened because that attorney will strengthen the group and make the group look stronger to outsiders. If the attorney does not appear to be desirable, then the group is weakened because that attorney will weaken the group and make the group look weaker to outsiders. To survive, groups need to feel like they are growing stronger and not getting weaker. Groups (especially desirable groups) want the people who join them to be perceived as highly desirable and valuable.
This phenomenon is not limited to job offers. Over the past year I have seen people suddenly start drinking green juice because it is the popular thing to do. Even people who smoke and could care less about their health are slurping the stuff because they are ostensibly concerned about their health. Similarly, plastic surgery is popular in certain circles and golf is popular in other circles. People want to do it because everyone else is.
Last week I spoke with an attorney on the recruiting committee of a major law firm who was familiar with my work and wanted me to help him with his job search. The attorney contacted me and said: “I already know where I want to go. I just want you to set up the interview and arrange it. I know that if you are involved you will make me seem in demand. I’ve learned that we seem to only want to hire people who are in demand. I want the firm to think that I am applying to a lot of places and will choose the firm that appeals to me the most.”
The Harvard attorney from the US Attorney’s Office I mentioned earlier did not get a single interview when he applied on his own because (despite his credentials) the law firms only saw his weaknesses (no law firm experience, coming from Hawaii, no California Bar). The letter the attorney had sent to firms said things like “I would be honored to interview” that made him sound pandering and like he really wanted a job.
When I got involved it was a different story. He became a hot commodity.
His various promotions at the US Attorney’s Office were brought into the equation. (“He has recently been promoted again and feels that if he does not get into a law firm now he may never make the move.”) MESSAGE: He is in demand at his current employer and they do not want him to leave.
I introduced deadlines into the equation. (“He will be travelling here the week of March 15 to interview with a few select firms and his schedule is filling up quickly …”) MESSAGE: Lots of other firms are interested and if you want to be part of this you better move quickly!
I told each law firm that wanted to interview him I would “have to check” because there were other interviews. MESSAGE: So much is going on right now! I need to check and see if I can fit you in!
I stated how there had been 500 applications for the US Attorney’s Office job that he got. (“This job had scores of applicants from Yale, Stanford, Harvard and other law schools—how many attorneys are hired by the US Attorney’s Office right out of law school? This is a great opportunity to get the best litigator imaginable that is very, very strong!”). MESSAGE: Someone really saw something in this guy in the past and you will too!
I let law firms know that someone like him did not come along often. (“He has trial experience, is only three years out of law school and has an Ivy League education”). MESSAGE: If you do not act now you may never see an attorney like this again for some time!
All of this (and much, much more) was memorialized in an eight-page pitch letter that made it seem as if this attorney walked on air. It worked! He got many interviews and offers. His job search was a success because I made him seem desirable and like (1) highly desirable groups have wanted him in him the past, and (2) other highly desirable groups want him now.
SO HERE IS THE KEY TO GETTING LAW FIRM JOB OFFERS:
Make It Appear as If You Have Been in High Demand Before. The reason the law school you went to and the law firm you are working at are so relevant to other law firms is because it shows that other, highly competitive groups have wanted you in the past. If you can show how competitive and difficult it was for you to gain acceptance into other groups in the past it is more likely you will make the cut with groups of similar elite stature now.
Make It Appear as If You Are in High Demand Now. If a law firm believes you are in high demand right now and that prestigious and highly competitive groups are competing for you right now, then they are going to be more interested in you.
This, of course, is the secret to getting a law firm (or anyone for that matter) interested in you: They must believe that you are in demand and others want you. If you seem like you are in demand and the law firm will not be able to find someone else like you easily they will “bite” and be eager to hire you and bring you in.
If a law firm believes you are in demand, the firm will often try and hire you without even having a logical reason to hire you. The law firm that almost hired my real estate attorney did not even have a real estate practice, or any work for my attorney. Nevertheless, the firm still tried to hire him because it thought that everyone else wanted him and needed him.
The law firms that believed the junior partner had millions in business and was being courted by every firm in the city were eager to hire him because every other law firm wanted him. The law firms that were going bananas trying to hire the non-equity partner were so desperate they were not even asking the right questions or investigating whether he even had the amount of business he represented.
Ultimately, in order for you to get an offer from multiple firms you need to come across as someone who is extremely in demand and, ideally, has always been in demand. You need to make law firms think that you have marketable characteristics and that they need to move fast to get you and will be very lucky to get you.
Yesterday I was in an appliance store looking for an oven. I have a 25-year old subzero refrigerator that I would like to replace sooner rather than later because it is ugly, outdated and energy inefficient. While I was in the store I asked about a new one I saw on the floor. Over the course of the next 45 minutes I was able to negotiate a price of $10,000 for a floor model of a fridge that normally cost $18,000 and is never discounted. I was told:
They only sell floor models once every 4 years when then new models come in.
They have never discounted a floor model so much.
If I did not purchase it today someone else would the second I walked out of the store.
I found myself starting to sweat. I did not want to spend $10,000 and doing so made no sense because I did not really need a new refrigerator. But I wanted the good brand. I wanted a newer one and the best one. I wanted something that I knew if I did not buy someone else would. I wanted something that was desirable.
Finally, I said “Fine” and they started printing up a sales contract for me to sign. Then I stopped myself right before I signed it.
“What if it does not fit?” I asked.
“Then we’ll give you store credit,” they said. “You can use it to buy something else.”
“But then I lose my negotiation leverage,” I told them.
I thought about this and then asked the appliance people to follow me to my house and measure before I spent $10,000. Sure enough, it did not fit. I had been sold based on something that (1) other people had wanted in the past (a popular brand), and that (2) I was led to believe others wanted now. Who knows if they will sell the fridge in the near future – something tells me they may not.
You too need to create a brand that appears as if it has always been desirable. When you are searching for a job, you too need to seem in demand right now. This is the key to getting offers and a fast job search. It works every single time.