It can be frustrating when a law firm doesn’t get back to you about your prospects toward an open law firm position.
This happens, though, whether you’ve sent in an application to the firm, or personally interviewed with them.
So what does it mean when a law firm doesn’t get back to you after you’ve interviewed with them, or at the very least, sent them your application?
A Note from Harrison Barnes:
The article below has been edited to remove some content that was offensive, and that I regret thinking, much less writing. I’m very sorry.
The legal industry is changing for the better regarding inclusion and diversity in hiring. I want to take some time to think and learn about what that means for all of us. I’m going to spend some time talking to members of the legal community about how we can better work together to create equal opportunity for all who work so hard to become part of our profession. I have stopped much of my day-to-day work to devote myself fully to this.
I’ll be contacting many of our law firm clients and candidates to solicit their thoughts, but if you want to join the conversation immediately, please write me directly at email@example.com. I believe we will move forward from this process with new energy and new ideas to effect positive change. Please stay tuned.
And once more, please accept my apology for my out-of-date and inconsiderate words.
Summary: Are you waiting to hear back from a law firm about your application or interview? Find out the most common reasons law firms are unresponsive in this article.
One of the most frustrating things for lateral attorneys is applying for positions at law firms and then hearing nothing back from the firms. This can happen when a candidate has sent an application and is waiting for a response, or after a candidate has gone through an interview at the firm. There are many reasons why this happens, and to understand this phenomenon you first need to understand how lateral recruiting is done inside of most law firms.
How Lateral Legal Recruiting Is Done Inside of Law Firms
Law firms do their recruiting in two ways. The first way is through a recruiter or a recruiter’s candidate making contact with a law firm’s recruiting department. The second way is through a recruiter or recruiter’s candidate making contact with a partner, associate, or someone else at the firm that the recruiter or candidate personally knows. If you are applying to a large, important firm, you should almost always use the first way, and go through the firm’s recruiting department. However, if you are applying to a smaller law firm without the resources for a recruiting department, then you should go through someone you know. A resume that goes to the designated recruiting person in the recruiting department will almost always go to a partner anyway.
Law firms with recruiting departments want everything to go through them. Candidates often ask me "who I know" inside of the law firm and similar questions to see if I have any power that can help them and push them forward. The answer to this is that in most major law firms I know partners because they are my candidates and at different stages of the recruiting process I may have placed them or I may be involved in recruiting them. Nevertheless, just because I know partners does not mean it is a good idea for me to call them about given candidates. Most recruiting departments want to be "in control" of the situation when lateral talent is being recruited. Recruiting departments are supposed to be in charge of bringing in lateral talent. The people in these departments fulfill a whole host of responsibilities. They arrange interviews, conduct background checks, do meet and greets, connect with candidates, and more. Going around these people results in confusion and mistakes. It is best to contact the recruiting department in most instances. That is their job.
Certainly, it is important to have a partner send your materials to the recruiting department if you send them to that partner. I know of countless instances where an attorney sent his or her resume to a partner or friend and never heard anything. These candidates then asked me to send their resumes for them and they immediately got interviews—and in several cases hired. The law firm did not have the candidate's resume, and the candidate’s "friend" (for whatever reason) did not forward the resume. You need to be careful about who you approach. Friends may be jealous and competitive with you, or they may simply be disorganized—you do not know. Partners may feel that the firm does not need any more associates in your practice area (they may be competitive with partners in your practice area and not want to help you), the partner may be uncomfortable with you working in the firm due to your personal relationship, or the partner may not like you as much as you think.
One time, when I was younger and a law student, I forwarded my resume to a partner I knew well growing up. He lived in my neighborhood and I was dating his daughter's best friend. After I sent the resume, I called him a few months later to follow up. I expected a warm reception. But instead, he was very cold with me.
“I have nothing to do with this. I sent your resume to the recruiting department.”
Needless to say, I did not get a good feeling from this; however, this is what most partners are expected to do in the most organized of law firms.
So, the important first step is to send your application to the right place: the Recruiting Department. However, even if your resume is in the right hands, you still might not hear back from the firm for days, weeks, months, or ever.
The times that you hear silence are as follows:
You Apply (on Your Own, Through a Recruiter, or Friends) and Hear Nothing
When this happens, it is generally due to the following reasons:
The Firm Never Reviewed Your Application and May Not Have Received It
I hate to say it, but many times when you ask a friend at the firm (or a legal recruiter) to send your application, the firm never receives it. In fact, this is such a common occurrence that I would say it may be near crisis proportions because far too many candidates get rejected and do not get the jobs they are seeking because firms never see the applications coming in.
First, the legal recruiting coordinator may be so disorganized that he or she never showed it to people in charge of making hiring decisions. This happens all the time. Things get lost. Recruiting coordinators do not show the application to partners. Who knows? This happens all the time.
Second, when you have a legal recruiter send your resume to a law firm, the law firm also may never receive it. These days, recruiters send a ton of spam to the law firm, and because there is so much spam coming in, IT departments block their emails. Law firms thus miss tons of applications because their recruiters are blocked. To avoid this issue, we always send applications by email, fax, and letter and have a 5+ person IT department that makes sure our IPs are always white-listed with law firms. These resources give us (and our candidates) a major edge.
Legal recruiters also are the salesman and often do not send applications when they say they are going to. They may have a better applicant for the position, or may simply be working on something that is more high priority for them. Working with legal recruiters can be frustrating for many attorneys. To address this issue, we always make sure that we send our candidates a weekly report that discusses the status of their applications. In addition, we keep internal records to indicate whether or not the applications were received and opened. We also create an online profile for our candidates that is specific to each law firm and private that they can view online and that we track.
I have worked with countless candidates throughout the years—and encounter them almost every week—who thought they had applied to a given firm through a legal recruiter but found out the recruiter never sent their resume when I or our recruiters got involved. You need to be careful whom you trust with your career.
When you submit your resume through a friend who works at a firm, or someone you know at a firm, the odds are not as much in your favor as you might think. The issue with this is that friends are often competitive with one another and, as such, do not pass along the resume when they say they will. Even when they do pass along your resume, they may add a touch of information that does not put you in the most positive light to protect themselves. Finally, you never know how your friend is viewed by the law firm. For example, the friend may be having issues at the law firm, and this will end up harming your chances because the law firm knows one upset person will infect the other.
The Firm Reviews Your Application and Is Interested But Hesitant
This is common. The law firm may see a need for you in the future but does not have one now. In this case, the law firm will put your application in a "later" file and may or may not respond later. In most cases, the firm will not respond. The firm might be interested and may bring you in later if it has the work or the need, but not right now.
The law firm may not be sure about your application because:
Your qualifications are good, but not outstanding. This simply means the law firm is going to wait to see if it gets someone with a better fit in the future.
The firm is waiting for more work to come in and thinks it will need additional people. The law firm may be expecting things to pick up. The firm’s attorneys are not overworked at the moment, but the firm anticipates this may occur in the future and will wait.
The firm is already in the process of hiring and interviewing people and wants to see these people through first. Law firms like to jump at the first people who apply. The firms bond with these people. We try and get our candidates out to new positions within hours of them becoming open for this reason.
The Firm Reviewed Your Application and Did Not Want to Reject You Because You Might "Come Around Later," and the Firm Wants to Leave Open the Potential for a Relationship Later
This is extremely common. If you have the sorts of qualifications that make it look like you could work in the firm in the future, the law firm will not reject you. It will not want to upset you and it will want to leave the field open for you to apply again. You should not worry about a law firm delaying and not responding to your application for this reason. If you have good qualifications, this is often the reason why.
The Law Firm Is Already in the Process of Interviewing Someone—or May Have Made Another Offer—and Is Not Ready to Interview Anyone Yet
When a law firm has an opening, it typically will interview the first people applying. The firm will interview these early people and bond with them. This means that applications that come later often get less attention (or ignored altogether). People are humans and bond with other people, and when this occurs the firm is often in the position of deciding between different people it already knows and likes.
At BCG Attorney Search, we make a huge deal out of new openings and do everything we can to get our candidates into these openings as quickly as we can. We immediately alert them with emails and a formal request for them to approve the firm. Nothing is more insane in your job search than sitting around and thinking if you want to apply to a given firm. This is a recipe for not getting a job.
You Speak with Someone on the Phone (a Phone Interview) and Then Hear Nothing, You Have a Screening Interview and Hear Nothing, You Have One (or a Series of Live Interviews) and Hear Nothing, or You Are Told You Will Receive an Offer and Hear Nothing
This happens to attorneys all the time. When this occurs, generally it is for the following reasons:
The Firm Needs to Discuss You and Has Not Yet
In many cases, law firms go through very formal processes when discussing who to hire and bring in for interviews. Firms need to arrange meetings, discuss individual candidates, and get everyone together. Sometimes this process can take some time, and law firms lose a lot of good potential candidates in the process of arranging all of this. When this occurs, there is not much to worry about—unless it goes on too long (more than three or four weeks).
Needs and Work May Have Changed
This is extremely common as well, and there is not much you can do about it. A law firm’s needs can change very quickly when (1) a case (or series of cases) settles or (2) a major client is lost. Law firms will “go dark” and may not say anything because they are embarrassed and also because they hope the work will come back. You simply cannot do much when this occurs other than hope the work will come back.
The Attorney (or Attorneys) You Spoke with Do Not Want to Reject You
The attorney you see initially may be someone you know socially, or in some other capacity, or bonded with during interviews. Rather than reject you, the attorney is hoping you get another job in the interim, so he or she does not have to reject you. They will delay and delay so they do not have to give you the bad news. Alternatively, they know you might be considering positions in-house or elsewhere in the future, and they very much want to remain on your good side in case you can perhaps one day send them work. If you know them socially, or in some other capacity, they do not want to spoil that relationship either.
The Firm Is Considering Other People
After you interview, the law firm is still receiving applications for the position. If a better applicant comes along, the firm may bring that person in as well. That person may even get an offer, and the firm will wait for the other person to respond before rejecting you. In the alternative, you could be brought in as the better candidate and then an even better candidate shows up. You need to understand that you are not the only candidate the law firm is considering and, as such, this can create a delay.
The Firm Has Concerns about You and Wants to Take Time to Figure Them Out
This is also very common. While there are multiple concerns that the law firm might have, one of the most common concerns is that you may have been fired from your existing job. Law firms want to hire people who are currently employed. This suggests commitment and that the attorney is doing good work and not experiencing problems. If a law firm sees any warning signs you may have been fired from your job, the firm will often delay for weeks or months to see if you are still there. This sounds strange, but it happens all the time.
Firms will also delay pulling the trigger if one of your interviewers did not like you or there are other concerns. If there is anything you can do about those concerns, then you should do your best to do so. In one case, I had a candidate that the law firm reported to me on a Friday did not seem that interested and that “in all probability” the firm would be rejecting him on Monday.
I had the candidate come into my office on a Saturday and we worked on a series of letters to the people with whom he had interviewed, telling them how important a job with the firm would be to him. We worked from 10:00 am until 2:00 am on a series of drafts to each person. It worked. Instead of getting rejected by the firm on Monday morning, he got an offer.
The most frustrating thing for attorneys applying to law firms is hearing nothing. While there are countless reasons for this, it happens to everyone. My best piece of advice for candidates is to make sure to apply to as many places as possible. While you cannot control individual law firms and their recruiting departments, you can control how often this happens to you. Because this tends to happen so frequently, you are best having more rather than fewer options.
What are some other reasons law firms might not respond to your application? What are some strategies you use to follow-up with law firms tactfully? How can enlisting the help of a legal recruiter help in following up more easily with law firms?