Some lawyers apply to hundreds of law firms, others less than twenty, most to at least 50. The attorneys in the most common practice areas (corporate and commercial litigation, for example) apply to the most law firms and those in niche practice areas the fewest. Attorneys in the most significant legal markets apply to the most law firms, and those in the smallest markets, the fewer.
The most successful searches always involve applying to more rather than fewer firms. The more firms and opportunities you apply to, the greater your odds of success. It has always been this way. Finding a fit is difficult because there are so many factors involved in whether or not you get interviews and job offers.
1. Your Practice Area
The practice area you are in has a tremendous amount to do with whether or not you will succeed in your job search. Often, your practice area has everything to do with whether or not you will succeed. There are some practice areas where opportunities are few and far between. For example, trademark law is a practice area where there have been only a few opportunities in the country in law firms—much less in a region. If you are in this practice area, it can be discouraging when the market is slow.
Similarly, practice areas go through boom and bust cycles—like corporate. In good economies, there are a lot of opportunities, and in poor ones, there are not a lot of them. Niche practice areas can make your searches easier or harder. If you are in a low-demand practice area, this will make your search much more complex than if you are in a high-demand practice area. Practice areas are affected by issues too numerous to mention—but your luck (or lack thereof) will determine how marketable your area is.
See Related Articles:
• BCG Attorney Search’s Quick Reference Guide to Legal Practice Areas
• How Lawyers Can Change Their Practice Area in a Law Firm
• Economic and Geographic Forces of Practice Areas
2. Your Amount of Experience
The amount of experience you have has a lot to do with your marketability. If you are starting your career and have less than a year of experience, you will not have enough experience to get hired laterally by most law firms. If you have between two and six years of experience, you may be at one of the most marketable points of your career—because you have just enough experience to be an attractive lateral hire and not too much. Most of the lateral law firm opportunities are for midlevel associates. When you have more than six years of experience and no portable business, you become much less marketable, and it becomes increasingly difficult to get a position. Very few lateral opportunities are for senior attorneys with more than six years of experience. Still, fewer are for attorneys with more than ten years of experience. If an attorney does not have business, it becomes much harder for them to find positions requiring more than 15 years of experience in a law firm.
See Related Articles:
• The Degree of Flexibility with Experience Requirements in Law Job Listings
• How to Easily Determine the Best Attorneys and Law Firms: The Five Prestige Levels of Attorneys and Law Firms
• How to Know If You Are Marketable by a Legal Recruiter
3. The Economic and Social Cycle
Different practice areas are more or less in demand during different economic cycles. In low-interest environments, in the expanding regions of the country, real estate might be in significant demand. When healthcare is undergoing massive policy changes, healthcare might be in demand. If data privacy becomes a huge concern because of data breaches, this might become a significant demand. Environmental laws can go in and out of vogue depending on what political party is in control at the local, state, and federal levels. Immigration law can go in and out of favor, depending on the party in power. If the inverse occurs, these practice areas could experience many contractions. Sometimes, these contractions are widespread; other times, they are not. Corporations always get very active during intense economic cycles and contract massively (resulting in widespread layoffs) when the market slows down.
4. The Market(s) You Are Looking At and Not Looking At
Different markets will give you different opportunities. Some markets may be contracting and losing businesses and work. Other markets may be expanding. Some markets may have a few attorneys in your practice area, and others may have too many. For example, markets such as New York City have an overabundance of attorneys and firms. There are plenty of choices; however, there are also more opportunities. Other markets like Saginaw, Michigan have a limited number of attorneys, or opportunities. An attorney's success in a market will be directly proportional to the markets they are looking at. Suppose an attorney in a small law firm in Memphis without powerful experience in a practice area is trying to get positions in large law firms in Washington, DC, New York City, and Miami. In that case, law firms in those markets are likely to be more comfortable hiring from peer firms in those markets. The number of attorneys you are competing with for the same position in your and other markets will determine your level of success. Looking at more markets can increase your success. You are likelier to get a position if you look at a market where you have connections than one where you do not. You are more likely to succeed applying to a market where there are fewer attorneys like you than applying to one without. Some markets may be doing well economically and growing; others may be contracting and not doing well.
See Related Articles:
• Why Every Attorney Should Look at Multiple Legal Markets When Doing a Job Search
• Why Relocating to a Different Market Is the Greatest (But Little Known) Way for a Law Firm Attorney to Get Ahead in the Legal Profession
• Know Your Legal Market
5. The Competition within the Markets You Are Applying To, and Number of Other Applicants Law Firms Are Likely to Receive for Their Openings
Some markets have very high levels of competition for positions, and the law firms in these markets can hire exactly what they want. A major law firm in New York City that wants a third-year associate with bank finance experience can almost always get that. A Baton Rouge, Louisiana, law firm might be happy with a first through eighth-year associate. Law firms in major cities can often be more or less discriminating depending on the number of attorneys competing for the same positions in the market. Bars are much higher or lower depending on the markets you are applying to. Suppose there is more competition in the market. In that case, it will be much harder for you to get a position, and law firms will discriminate against perceived weaknesses in your background, which they might not have in a less competitive market. For example, in New York City, the largest and most prestigious law firms will rarely hire unemployed attorneys because of the perceived risk of doing so. Because so many attorneys are applying for the same jobs that are not unemployed, they do not have to make these hires.
6. The Number of Jobs You Have Had and Perceived Employment Stability
Law firms have a preference for hiring attorneys that look more stable as opposed to less stable. If you switch positions infrequently and appear stable and committed to jobs, you will get more interviews than if you appear uncommitted and likely to leave any firm you join. Law firms are more likely to hire people they believe they will not have to replace than those more likely to commit to them.
7. The Amount of Business You Have or Are Likely to Have
If you are a lateral attorney candidate with more than six years of experience applying to law firms, having significant portable business may be necessary in some firms, or or not in others. Many law firms require several million dollars of business at the partner level. Large law firms in major markets require more business than smaller firms, or law firms in smaller markets. Large law firms with a ton of work at the partner level and not enough attorneys may not require business and hire senior associates, counsel or income partners; however, these positions may not be stable. Most law firms require business from senior attorneys. Because senior attorneys need business at most firms, they often will give up on law firms and go in-house. Despite the limitations, we generally always are able to get senior attorneys interviews in most markets if they commit to our process.
8. How Long You Search for a Position
The longer you stick with your search, the more likely you will succeed. To find a law firm interested in someone with your background, you may need to apply to law firms and openings for months or longer before finding one interested in you. Once you find a law firm interested in you, you need to get hired—and so on. Your applications to law firms must hit them at the right time and place. Over time, the odds always will go in your favor the longer you search. Many people give up on their careers because they do not understand that giving up is the only way to fail.
9. Whether or Not You Appear to be Moving Upward, Sideways, or Down
When a law firm reviews your resume, they are looking to see if it looks like you are have previously moved upward (to better firms or opportunities), are moving to a similar firm, or moving down in terms of the quality of the firm you are trying to work for. More law firms prefer attorneys with a history of moving to better firms and getting better experience because these attorneys are more likely to work harder and be excited about the opportunity. If you have a good story about why you are trying to move to a given firm—and it looks like a significant improvement that better fits your goals than where you are currently working—then law firms are more likely to be interested in you if the reasons you are moving do not make the law firm a strong fit for your career motivations.
10. The Quality of Your Resume for the Law Firm’s Positions
Resumes are highly personal to attorneys. The quality of your resume has a lot to do with the success you will experience in your search. Your resume needs to be focused and speak to the type of law firm and positions you are applying to. It needs to make it appear that your priority is working in a law firm and that you do not have other priorities. The quality of your resume and what it says and does not say will determine how successful you are likely to be. If you make your resume into a socio-political statement, you are going to have a much harder time getting a position than if you do not do this. If you are applying for a position in a single practice area, you will be much better off if your resume speaks only to that area rather than several others. Your resume will be stronger if you do not say anything about your law school grades than if you write down that you got a 3.1-grade point average.
11. The Number of Firms and Jobs You Are Applying To
If you apply to more firms and jobs, you will receive more interviews and get more jobs than if you do the opposite. You increase your odds every time you apply to more places rather than fewer. When you apply to more law firms, they can consider whether they can make money by hiring you. Law firms often will only realize the opportunity you represent once they receive your application.
12. The Practice Setting You Are Coming From
Most law firms prefer to hire people from law firms—and preferably peer firms. If you work for a corporation, the government, or a public interest organization, you may be used to different demands than a law firm. Working in another practice setting also demonstrates a lack of commitment to the law firm practice setting. If you are not from a law firm, getting a position will almost always be more challenging. Law firms will only hire from other practice settings when they do not have enough applications from attorneys from law firms or you have unique skills and experience they could not find otherwise.
13. How Quickly You Approve Job Openings You Are Sent
Most law firms hire from among the first applicants they receive. When a law firm has a job opening, they lose money not getting work done. When qualified resumes are received, most employers will start interviewing. Because of the work involved in interviewing early candidates, later applicants are often not reviewed after the process starts with the initial candidates. Because attorneys beginning their job search often apply to jobs that employers have already started interviewing for, they may begin succeeding in their search and getting interviews once they apply to new positions where they are among the first applicants.
14. Your Willingness to Look at Firms and Jobs You May Believe are Not as Prestigious or Do Not Pay as Much as Your Current Position
Many attorneys will only move law firms if they are as prestigious or pay as much as their current positions. I have seen attorneys refuse to continue practicing law in a law firm when they cannot stay at law firms as prestigious as where they are currently working. If the markets the attorney is trying to do this in do not support this objective, the attorney may need to move to law firms that pay less or are less prestigious. It is common, for example, for senior associates from major law firms to move to smaller firms that may pay less when they cannot become partners in their law firms. Similarly, some practice areas need to be faster, making this the only option for many attorneys.
15. Your Current Title
If you are searching for a position as an associate, counsel, or partner, you will be far better off and marketable to law firms if you have one of these titles. Working as a staff attorney, law clerk, and other less-than-permanent titles will make it very difficult for you to get a lateral position if you compete against others with these titles.
16. Your [Perceived] Reputation in the Legal Community
Your reputation can be built based on the organizations you belong to, leadership roles, important cases and transactions you have participated in, books, press accounts of your activities, talks you have given, political offices you have helped, and much more. A more substantial reputation can make law firms more or less interested in you.
17. The Time of the Year You are Applying to Jobs
There are more openings in law firms in January than in November and December. Law firms interview more people in the Spring and Fall than in the summer. When you apply to law firms, it has an impact on the success of your search,
18. Your Ego and Ability to Persevere
When a law firm chooses to interview and hire you, it is a business decision—they either believe they can make money from hiring you or not. They are not passing judgment on anything other than whether they believe they can make money from you more quickly than not hiring anyone (they do not want to spend the money) or hiring someone that better fits their business objectives than you. Who cares? Law firms do not remember you applied or even care. Applying and getting no response or rejection is not a reflection on you—it is just economics. You can leave your ego aside when you stop believing the economy has much to do with you. A television advertiser or a company that sends an offer to you through the mail does not feel bad and takes it personally when you do not respond. Neither should you—you make an offer, and a law firm is uninterested. Who cares? There are tens of thousands of law firms, and you should never take it personally—the economy has nothing to do with you.
19. Your Commitment to Your Search
If you dabble and apply to a firm here and there, you will get different results than if you commit to your search and make it a priority. If you are committed to your search, you will search for opportunities, approve as many as possible, prepare for interviews, perfect your resume repeatedly, and not give up. If you are as committed, your results will be better than if you are not committed.
20. Your Commitment to Your Practice Area
Suppose you appear committed to your practice area and have been doing it for some time and are not interested in doing something else. In that case, you will have a better chance of getting a position than if you do not appear committed and are dabbling in many different things. Law firms hiring lateral attorneys hire people for their training and expertise in one thing, not a variety of things. A law firm has minimal incentive to hire people who do not know what they want to do or cannot commit. Most law firm clients also want specialists. When you are specialized, you do not need to learn on the job and can better solve client problems. You are not required to on-the-job training or to have your hours written off by the firm.
When I started in the legal placement business over 25 years ago, law firms had difficulty finding patent prosecution attorneys. They frequently got a lot of interest from law firms. Because they were marketable, we often encouraged them to apply to large numbers of firms in many locations. These patent attorneys would get interviews and job offers in almost all cases.
We should have done this for attorneys in other practice areas. Law firms also always appreciated the opportunity to review patent attorneys back then—and today—because they often have unique skills. Patent attorneys were also willing to apply to many firms when they did their searches. Scientific in their backgrounds, they realized that the more opportunities they gave themselves, the better they were likely to do. Their egos were also not hung up on rejections or lack of interest. They understood that if there were a need and a business case for hiring them, law firms would do so.
Given the success of this search method, patent attorneys are our most marketable types of attorneys and always have been. They get more interviews and jobs than in any other practice area. Most "buy in" to apply to many places and get interviews and jobs.
In contrast, attorneys in other practice areas do this less. Their egos get involved, fear rejection, and are more guarded. Those who buy in often do well, like patent attorneys, but it depends on many factors beyond their control.
Attorneys using BCG Attorney Search will conduct their job searches with various levels of enthusiasm.
- Some will apply to very few firms and give up if they do not get any traction.
- Others will try more firms and then give up if they do not get any traction.
- Still, other attorneys will go "all in" and approve almost every firm and opportunity.
- Others will never pull the trigger and put off starting their job search for months or years.
Many attorneys conduct their job search based on their emotions or egos. Still, others need to understand the process and bring in preconceived notions of how the search should work. Still, others trust the process and follow our recommendations. There is no right way for everyone, but you need to do what is best for you. You must understand that the number of interviews you receive will depend on factors outside BCG's control.
About Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes is a prominent figure in the legal placement industry, known for his expertise in attorney placements and his extensive knowledge of the legal profession.
With over 25 years of experience, he has established himself as a leading voice in the field and has helped thousands of lawyers and law students find their ideal career paths.
Barnes is a former federal law clerk and associate at Quinn Emanuel and a graduate of the University of Chicago College and the University of Virginia Law School. He was a Rhodes Scholar Finalist at the University of Chicago and a member of the University of Virginia Law Review. Early in his legal career, he enrolled in Stanford Business School but dropped out because he missed legal recruiting too much.
Barnes' approach to the legal industry is rooted in his commitment to helping lawyers achieve their full potential. He believes that the key to success in the legal profession is to be proactive, persistent, and disciplined in one's approach to work and life. He encourages lawyers to take ownership of their careers and to focus on developing their skills and expertise in a way that aligns with their passions and interests.
One of how Barnes provides support to lawyers is through his writing. On his blog, HarrisonBarnes.com, and BCGSearch.com, he regularly shares his insights and advice on a range of topics related to the legal profession. Through his writing, he aims to empower lawyers to control their careers and make informed decisions about their professional development.
One of Barnes's fundamental philosophies in his writing is the importance of networking. He believes that networking is a critical component of career success and that it is essential for lawyers to establish relationships with others in their field. He encourages lawyers to attend events, join organizations, and connect with others in the legal community to build their professional networks.
Another central theme in Barnes' writing is the importance of personal and professional development. He believes that lawyers should continuously strive to improve themselves and develop their skills to succeed in their careers. He encourages lawyers to pursue ongoing education and training actively, read widely, and seek new opportunities for growth and development.
In addition to his work in the legal industry, Barnes is also a fitness and lifestyle enthusiast. He sees fitness and wellness as integral to his personal and professional development and encourages others to adopt a similar mindset. He starts his day at 4:00 am and dedicates several daily hours to running, weightlifting, and pursuing spiritual disciplines.
Finally, Barnes is a strong advocate for community service and giving back. He volunteers for the University of Chicago, where he is the former area chair of Los Angeles for the University of Chicago Admissions Office. He also serves as the President of the Young Presidents Organization's Century City Los Angeles Chapter, where he works to support and connect young business leaders.
In conclusion, Harrison Barnes is a visionary legal industry leader committed to helping lawyers achieve their full potential. Through his work at BCG Attorney Search, writing, and community involvement, he empowers lawyers to take control of their careers, develop their skills continuously, and lead fulfilling and successful lives. His philosophy of being proactive, persistent, and disciplined, combined with his focus on personal and professional development, makes him a valuable resource for anyone looking to succeed in the legal profession.
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.