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Summary: What is the best way to submit your resume to a law firm? Find out in this article.
Question: Should I submit through a recruiter, a referral, or on my own?
A: Let’s start with submitting through a referral. Submitting through a referral is, of course, better than submitting on your own. If the referral is an associate or, better yet, a partner at the firm that you’re hoping to land at, or even if the referral is simply a friend of a partner at the firm (an extra degree of separation), submitting through a referral can be advantageous because if the referral is currently at the target firm, he or she is risking his or her professional reputation by referring you as a candidate, and therefore the referral carries weight. This sort of referral is comparable to a general reference from a lawyer with a strong reputation in the legal community, because the person is known to the firm and so their word matters. Furthermore, I suspect that firms like receiving candidates through referrals who are currently associates or partners at the firm because it is likelier that the person will get along with other attorneys at the firm and will therefore fit in with the firm culture. However, if you are going to submit through a referral, be sure that the person will give it their all – as much as a recruiter would give it, in terms of a proper introduction to the Recruiting Manager or Hiring Partner of the firm, and sufficient follow-ups as well.
Submitting on your own is, of course, another possibility. Submitting directly to very small firms, for example plaintiff-side Labor & Employment firms, is actually often a good idea, because these sorts of firms often don’t use recruiters (although they sometimes do!). In the case of Big Law firms, I only suggest submitting to Big Law firms on your own if a) your recruiter does not have an established relationship with the particular firm and b) you are a top, top candidate (think, Harvard Law School, 2-6 years out of law school, federal clerkship, currently at a Big Law firm, etc.). If you are not this type of top candidate and are submitting on your own, you may find yourself taking the time to draft endless cover letters, to tweak your resume for each open position, and submitting into a black hole, never to hear back.
In particular, if there is something a bit clunky about your background – you are not 2-6 years out of law school, you did not go to a top law school or undergraduate school and get strong grades there, or you are not currently at a Big Law firm or a reputable mid-sized firm – it can be especially advantageous for you to use a recruiter. Recruiters are generally the way to go for the following reasons:
We have access to all open firm positions within your geographic area of interest and your practice area.
We can apply you broadly, doing the heavy lifting for you.
We have strong relationships with Recruiting Managers and Hiring Partners, and this can help to get your materials to the front of the pile.
We can follow up with firms repeatedly once we do submit you, and get you the inside scoop on where your application is in the process.
Once you do get an offer, we can negotiate on your behalf in terms of base salary, benefits, relocation package, etc.
Even if you are hesitant about using a recruiter, it’s a good idea to find a recruiter whose background you like (ideally someone who went to law school and practiced law in the past), and speak with us to get an idea of what sorts of positions we are recruiting for and which geographic areas we focus on. If it’s a match, you may find yourself coming back to your recruiter in the future for all of your lateral law firm searches!