In October of 2000, there was a massive crash in the legal market, and everything came to a standstill. The financing and hopes of countless Internet startups went away, and the crash walloped the legal market. At the time, I was working primarily with large law firms around the country. These law firms stopped hiring and started laying off attorneys, and these attorneys were unable to find positions. I started speaking with attorneys and hearing all sorts of sad stories and found it very distressing.
At BCG Attorney Search, I had a massive database I spent a year developing. In Los Angeles alone, it consisted of over 2,500 law firms; however, out of these 2,500 law firms, only about 20 of them were my clients. What this meant was if someone came to me looking for a position, all I could do was help them look at these 20 law firms. Two decades later, my company had over 150 employees, and hundreds of these law firms are my clients – but back then, we were less than ten people and only had a few clients.
Instinctively, it did not make sense to me that the size of my contact list should limit people. Many of these 2,500 law firms were excellent firms and had all sorts of practice areas. However, these firms were mostly "absent" from the search of most candidates who used me because I did not have relationships with them at the time.
As one layoff and horror story after another started to pour in, I became angrier and angrier. Many of these attorneys had gone to excellent schools, worked in respectable law firms, and had a history of achievement that was suddenly held back by the economy. These attorneys were trying everything to get jobs—employment websites, networking, recruiters, and more—and they were not having any luck. I started seeing people leave the practice of law and go into alternative careers. Some attorneys packed up and left the cities they were in and moved home.
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With 2,500 law firms in Los Angeles, 4,000+ in New York, and law firms around the United States in every market, I knew there was no way hiring had simply ground to a halt everywhere. There had to be work in some law firms—regardless of what I thought of the market.
When I was an attorney, I used to speak with recruiters, and they were all the same. Most knew about openings in large law firms; however, when it came to anything beyond that, they did not have much to offer. When you are looking for a position in an unfortunate legal market, recruiters and job sites do not have much to offer. It is even more difficult if you are in a small market, an entry-level attorney, a senior attorney without business, or have other attributes that can be perceived as a weakness. You look around, speak with people, and conclude not much is going on.
Concluding that there are not a lot of opportunities is one of the dumbest and most serious mistakes people make. People take jobs that pay less, do not have a future, work them too hard, and make them unhappy, which leads to abusing their bodies and minds with food, alcohol, and other substances. When you do not have access to the right opportunities, you are in bad shape. The only thing that is going to change everything for you is information.
When you are looking for a position, the greatest danger you face is others controlling the flow of information available to you. Because others control the information, most attorneys, law students, and legal staff only apply to a limited number of places and, hence, have limited access to opportunities.
When attorneys are in law school, for example, most only apply to firms that conduct on-campus interviews at their school. Limiting yourself like this is insane. These firms most often represent far less than 1% of the law firms out there. If you rely on the information others put in front of you, you are like a lemming being led to potential slaughter.
If you call the average legal recruiting firm and they do not have any openings for you, they will hang up the phone and you will never hear from them again. If this happens, you may believe there are no opportunities in the market. It is simply not the case. It just means this recruiter does not have any openings.
A few years ago, I was working with a graduate of a top law school who was fired from a major law firm and had only a few months to find a position. He lost his job because he realized his law firm was overbilling a client for a legal issue that did not require any more research—they answered the question. When he confronted an attorney in the firm about this, the law firm ended up letting him go.
The attorney called recruiters all over Washington, DC, and every single one of them told him they did not have any openings where they could submit him. He felt terrible and was very confused. Most law firms are not affirmatively seeking attorneys with only six months of experience. I told this same attorney I did not see any issues getting him a position but would need to investigate a lot of law firms for him. I put together a list of over 50 firms for this attorney, got him several interviews, and within a few weeks he secured a position at what was arguably the top law firm in his practice area in Washington, DC. Before he found me, he was interested in giving up the practice of law.
As the legions of laid-off and discouraged attorneys piled up around me, I started inviting them into my office. I explained there were 2,500 law firms in Los Angeles—if they wanted to work there—and over 750 in Orange County and surrounding areas. I told them if we built lists of the firms in these areas and contacted them, this was their best chance of getting a position. On some days, I had ten law students, attorneys, and others in my office, building lists and researching firms. Once we built these lists, we mailed all of the law firms on the lists we made.
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Every law student and attorney who followed my advice ended up getting multiple interviews and offers. People who had formerly been depressed and sad became empowered and in control over their destiny. What they did had worked. They had networked, used job sites, used recruiters, and done everything they could, and suddenly their lives were changed by contacting tons of employers who did not even have openings.
There is nothing more dangerous for success than having others limit the number of opportunities you are exposed to and learn about. There is nothing more dangerous than having a mindset that deals in lack and a belief there are no jobs and opportunities out there—that law firms, companies, and others do not have opportunities for you or someone like you. Your mindset should be one of opportunity because this is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
In every economy, there are lots of busy law firms. The largest law firms are not always busy—but there are other active law firms. If the economy is terrible, litigation generally picks up because people sue to get the money they are owed. In a bad economy, companies having issues may have to sell, issue debt, or do other things to generate money. This situation will create work. In bad economies, companies will often cut costs by moving work to smaller firms and firms in more modest markets to save expenses. Legal work is always going on, and there are ways to find it.
Moreover, many law firms do not know how to market themselves and find candidates. Most law firms do not have in-house recruiting departments, and due to this, do not spend a lot of time looking for attorneys—even when they need them. An attorney billing out at $750-hour may be too busy to recruit even when they need people. Law firms often do not take work they could do because they do not have the people. Other law firms have work they could do but are not doing because they do not have the people to do it. They are simply too busy and have needs going unfulfilled.
The process these attorneys followed when applying to law firms, I then extended to companies. In most instances, there 3x as many companies in each city that will be willing to hire an in-house attorney (or already do) than there are law firms that hire attorneys. Companies are even more clueless about how to find and hire attorneys than law firms are. Then there are government offices, nonprofits, public interest organizations, and others who also hire attorneys. The list of people who need attorneys to work for them is endless. I meet people who could use their attorney on an ongoing basis—company owners, very wealthy people with "home offices," and more.
With such a list of people and organizations interested in hiring attorneys on an ongoing basis, the primary thing holding you back from finding what you need is a lack of information, or the inability to find what you need.
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The universe of people and businesses limiting the flow of information to you is astonishing.
Job Sites Control the Flow of Information to You. Job sites will only show you jobs and information from employers who are paying the job site to have positions there. This controlled flow of data means you will almost always only see the jobs of employers willing to pay hundreds of dollars to post a job on a site. Moreover, there are countless job sites where employers can post jobs, and every few years, a new big one comes along. If you are relying on a job site to find a position, unless the site is a genuine consolidator of jobs (like LawCrossing), you are going to be limited in the number of positions you find.
Recruiters Control the Flow of Information to You. Most recruiters will only tell you about places they have openings in and who their clients are, which severely limits the amount of information you have. Most recruiters only work with large law firms, or a few companies they have relationships with at one time. What this means is these recruiters are likely to only have access to positions with a few people. They will tell you this information only if they believe you are a good fit for their clients. Moreover, these same recruiters will not work with law students and most often only work with attorneys coming from the same sorts of large law firms they are recruiting for.
Your Network Will Control the Flow of Information to You. If you have an excellent network and know a lot of people and have done an excellent job developing it, you may learn about a lot of positions; however, if you have not, you will not. Attorneys and law students often do not have the time, or patience, to get out there and network. Active networks can take years to develop and usually are not developed because attorneys are working all the time and do not have the patience or time to develop them. If you are lucky to have a network, the people in your network most often will only tell you about positions if they feel you would be a good fit for what they have.
Rumors and Speculation Among Peers and Others Control the Flow of Information Available to You. You may simply believe the market is terrible; it is not worth trying; employers do not hire people like you and so forth. This belief limits your access to opportunities because it messes with your mind. If you close off your mind to the truth—that there are a lot more opportunities than you are aware of—this will harm you.
Organizations Control the Flow of Information Available to You. Many organizations you may rely on for access to information may also control the flow of information to you. They will only share information they deem you worthy of receiving—and they will time the flow of information to you.
Access to information and control over it is massive power. Facebook, Google, and LinkedIn are as powerful as they are because they act as intermediaries to the distribution of information.
- Facebook influences your communication with friends, groups, and others and turns this communication into an advertiser-sponsored event. They will also ban people from their platform if their information is unpopular, or they do not like the person.
- Google shows all sorts of advertisements first when you are looking for information, and its algorithms determine what you see. They can also ban sites from their platform if they do not like them.
- LinkedIn turns your professional communications into an advertiser-sponsored event and even makes employers and others purchase credits ("InMail") to communicate with you. They will also ban information from you if they do not like you.
Everywhere you turn, there are people, organizations, and others trying to control your access to information and what you learn.
You might as well be aware of something right now before we go any further: You are never going to have access to all of the opportunities you want unless you understand how to find the best information.
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You will have a better career and be happier when you can find information. Getting access to information is hugely important. Information changes everything. It can honestly change how you see yourself.
Not too long ago, I was speaking with a partner in a major law firm in Texas. He had been in an unhappy marriage for some time, and I mentioned to him I was going through a divorce. Like me, he had never really been single since he was about nineteen years old (he married at a very young age). He told me he had been very depressed when his divorce started. He grew up in a small town in Texas and met his wife in college. He thought it would be impossible to meet people, hard to get out, and so forth. He had been in an unhappy marriage where his spouse questioned his worth and made him feel undesirable for over twenty years. He explained he was never meeting people because he had been working and supporting a family for so long. In short, he did not recognize or even understand his desirability in the market.
He figured he would be resigned to meeting people through his church or friends, but he was not enthusiastic about it. He lived in a suburb of Dallas and commuted and did not have the opportunity to meet a lot of people. Someone he knew told him he should look at dating sites.
He listened and joined some sites. Within a few weeks, he had been on many dates, and all of the women were interested in him. He realized he had never really been compatible with his wife, and there were countless opportunities for him to find someone and be happy with them. He was meeting all sorts of people, and they liked him and wanted to see him again. Having access to information from single women changed his life. He realized he had value and did not need to tolerate poor treatment, being taken for granted, or ever feeling sorry for himself again. Knowing that other opportunities were out there changed the direction of his life and what he thought about himself. He said he had been on something like 85 dates in three months and had to find reasons to eliminate people because he had so many opportunities.
He told me this story right before I went on a trip to India for work. I was in the middle of a divorce and not exactly happy about my situation, either. However, I downloaded a dating app when I was in the airport out of curiosity, created a profile, and then forgot about it. By the time I landed in Dubai for a two-day stopover on my trip to India, I had a ton of messages from people. I had not been in Dubai for more than 30 minutes, and I started getting countless messages from women working and living in Dubai because I had "geotargeting" or something turned on. I could not believe how much activity there was. My typical way of meeting someone and asking them out would usually have taken weeks; however, I realized there were countless opportunities available to me I often would not have. I honestly could not believe how easy it was to meet people.
My typical way of meeting a woman would have been something like this. I would have joined various organizations. I would have introduced myself to her. I would have tried to go to events where she was. I might have made mutual friends and asked for an introduction. I might have tried to find some reason to meet her outside the organization as an excuse to become more informal. All of this would have taken months. It would have been a long process. Along the way, I would have had to rely on the organization's schedule and others to push the process along of meeting her and asking her out. Moreover, I could have joined several organizations and not have met, or seen, a single person I was interested in.
When I landed in Dubai, there were over 25 women who wanted to meet. These were all potential opportunities I would not otherwise have had.
When the typical law student, or attorney, is looking for a position, they may be in a situation similar to the Texas attorney or myself: They may not realize the number of opportunities out there. The reason for this is they are working for a paradigm where they see only a few possibilities in the market because they are relying on limited information.
You absolutely cannot rely on limited information in your career and job search. You need access to more information if you are going to punch through. You need to understand where the opportunities are and how to find them.
When you go to the typical legal recruiting firm, they are going to have a list of the largest law firms with openings. These are the firms everyone has heard of. They may also have relationships with a few smaller law firms as well and get opportunities from them. They will send you to these law firms as well. The universe of places they will send you to is tiny compared to the number of opportunities and potential places you could work in the market. The reason for this is simple: There are simply too many places to monitor the openings for and too many relationships they will need to form to be effective at their jobs. As a consequence, the typical attorney using a legal recruiting firm will only be exposed to large firms everyone knows about anyway. If the recruiting firm does not have any openings, the candidate will simply be out of luck.
This limitation is one reason I am not a fan of most legal recruiting firms. Instead, I am a fan of something called legal placement. Legal placement means that for each person at our firm (BCG Attorney Search) who interacts with candidates, we typically have at least six people researching and finding opportunities, updating databases, and making sure we have as much information as possible. There is a tremendous amount of information available in the market related to current opportunities.
You are often going to be hostage to others trying to control this information. Your ability to punch through this and find information on your own about where you can work can change your life and career.
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The number of people out there trying to control the information you see is profound, and this happens in the course of every job search.
Years ago, I worked for an attorney who supposedly had never lost a case. He would do work for people and companies accused of all manner of terrible things. He would be presented with a fact pattern for his client and immediately start doing all sorts of research.
I worked on a case with him at one point, and we spent months researching every single aspect of the case. We looked at every angle, and I spent hundreds of hours writing memos and researching ridiculous things (in my opinion). For example, while researching a law, we would look at not just case law but the legislative record and debates about why the law was passed and what it meant. We might even interview people in the state legislature who had proposed the bill.
Every time I worked on a case with this attorney, something incredible would happen: We would find a small point that changed everything and end up winning. The research changed everything. No one ever looked at things as closely as this attorney did. Looking at things as closely as possible always paid massive dividends. It won cases.
I have always assumed the answer is there and available if you look closely enough. It is like this with finding positions. The more places you look at, and the more research you do, the more opportunities you are likely to have.
- Small law firms are breaking off from big law firms almost every day around the United States and need people.
- Law firms are getting new types of work they need help to do every day.
- People are leaving law firms and leaving vacancies every day.
There is an astonishing amount of work in the market which you can find if you have the skill.
Presumably, you went (or are going to law school) because you believe you have legal skills that will benefit your clients. In my opinion, the most fundamental legal skill a quality attorney has is the ability to research the market and understand what is out there. In addition to examining the market, an attorney should know how to make a case for themselves (as if they were a client) and face rejection if necessary.
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If someone came to you to be represented (they were your client) and you had to do whatever it took to get them a position, what would you do? Would you simply send them to a few openings in the market or, if paid for your time, would you research every possible place they could work? It would mean finding all directories you could of attorneys, finding lists of these firms, researching each firm to see if they did the sort of work you wanted to do, reaching out to them, and then telling them why you believed your client would be a good fit. You would do this research because it was necessary, and you would do so in a way that would guarantee your client would win.
This is the sort of work we have done at BCG Attorney Search for the last 20 years to improve continually. We do whatever we can to understand and identify every law firm in the market and help our candidates reach them. The only thing that ultimately holds most people back from getting a position is their unwillingness to look at more firms and put themselves out there.
Attorneys make all sorts of assumptions that limit them. They believe things like:
- Only large firms pay well (when plenty of small firms pay well)
- Law firms will not consider them if they apply and there are no openings (they will)
- They know all of the law firms in their market (they do not)
- There are no opportunities in their market (there are)
- Law firms only hire people more junior, more senior, or with different backgrounds (they do not limit themselves)
The number of assumptions that hold back most attorneys in their job searches is nothing short of amazing. Most careers are limited by what attorneys do not believe is possible—not by what happens when you get out there and market yourself correctly.
I hear stories all the time about people being held back by a lack of information and overcoming it.
I was speaking with one of the founders of the law firm Quinn Emanuel just 48 hours ago, and he was telling me a story I thought was funny. He said many of the law schools Quinn wanted to interview at each year tried to control access to the attorneys with whom they spoke. They had the practice of allowing firms to interview students in September one year, October the next and November the year after. Law firms would rotate years. The benefit of interviewing first was they would get the first crack at the best students and the opportunity to make offers to them first and get them accepted.
Quinn allowed itself to be controlled by law schools for several years until it occurred to them the only students they wanted to interview were on law review anyway. So all they did was research who was on law review at each school, contact them at the law review offices and through LinkedIn, and invite them to a hotel in early September of each year for a reception and interviews. They did this before other firms interviewed, made offers before other firms, and got the students they wanted all without others controlling who they could hire and when. They stopped using on-campus interviewing entirely and hired the best students.
You can get the best jobs when you do your research and apply to places that do not have openings. When you apply to law firms that do not have formal opportunities, there is no competition for the job you are applying for except for you. With no competition, all the law firm needs to do is bring you in and make you an offer. The law firm does not need to post jobs online, and it does not need to hire recruiters. It does not need to do anything but bring you in.
Law firms are also flattered when people reach out directly to them and apply to work there—this is especially so when it is a smaller law firm that may not be widely known or a law firm in a smaller market that does not frequently receive a lot of applications. If you apply to a law firm that does not receive a lot of applications, they are going to be excited to hear from you and that you are writing to them.
There is a final point about how law firms perceive the way you to contact them. You can reach law firms by emailing them, of course, but the best way of reaching someone is through a letter. If you send a letter through the mail, people go to the trouble of opening it and looking at it. They will take note of the sort of stationery you use and other aspects of your communication. They will often put the letter on their desk while deciding what to do with it, or hand it off to someone else in their firm to look at, or put it in a file. It is much harder to discard something when it comes in a letter than when it is an email, or through an applicant tracking system. A letter takes time and shows you are serious and want to get someone's attention. Applying to positions via other types of methods is less likely to get attention.
At BCG Attorney Search, we always send applications for our candidates via email, fax, and printed letter. Sending application materials in different ways pays huge dividends because it gets the attention of law firms, and they know our applicants are interested in them. You should always send letters to law firms with your application material.
In many, many cases, others will try and control your access to opportunities and the market. When you are looking for positions and trying to find out what is going on in the market, it is imperative not to be limited by appearances. What appears to be there is almost always only a tiny slice of what is available in the market.