working with a legal recruiter

Here’s the 411 on working with a legal recruiter

By Barbara Levenson Schweitzer

We live and work in a world driven by metrics. In the world of attorney placement, numbers are an important factor, but not the dispositive factor. Every top university or law school could fill their entire class with students who graduated #1, and yet, they don’t. Every top law firm could fill their ranks with attorneys who graduated #1, #2 or #3, in their class, and yet, they don’t. Why don’t they?

Graduating in the top of your class from a top law school is the “golden ticket," but only up to a point. Most of you have read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory—or have seen the movie. One of the reasons that generations have loved this book is that the characters are archetypes of people we come across every day: Veruca Salt is a spoiled and entitled brat; Augustus Gloop is greedy and selfish; Violet Beauregarde is disrespectful and obstinate; Mike Teevee is obsessed with tv; and Charlie Bucket is disadvantaged and very kind. Finding a golden ticket gives them all admission to the chocolate factory. Once the gates of the factory open, the real test begins…

Law firms and companies aren’t paying a premium for mediocrity, and top attorneys have many options. That said, having the “right stuff” does not automatically make you the right candidate or the right employer.

Unlike Mr. Wonka, my clients do not have the time to figure out if you’re a “Charlie” or a “Veruca.” That’s my job. How you treat me will determine whether or not I want to introduce you. A good reputation takes years to build and I’m not willing to risk mine. The way you treat me is the way I assume that you’ll treat my clients. Taking that one step further, I have had clients tell me that they will ask their receptionists how the candidate treated them when they arrived. No one wants to hire a candidate who doesn’t treat everyone with respect. Conversely, if when I’m assessing whether or not I want to recruit for your team, I need to know that your firm or company is a great place to work. I’m very protective of my candidates and the way you treat me is the way I assume you’ll treat my candidates. I encourage my candidates to see if the staff looks happy. Chances are, if the staff looks happy, the attorneys are happy.

I have been a legal recruiter for 31 years. I can’t recall a single person ever telling me that they would be willing to work for someone who is very difficult in order to make more money. In fact, it’s the opposite. A significant number of attorneys would consider a position with lower pay in exchange for a better working environment, including work-life balance. Make no mistake, there are firms paying top compensation that are great places to work. My point is that unless someone is being significantly underpaid, money is rarely the primary reason for their job search.

Top tips to get a legal recruiter to want to work with you:

  1. Be selective. If you are working with someone you like and trust, don’t start working with other recruiters. You don’t want to be treated like a commodity; legal recruiters don’t either.
  2. Don’t let a recruiter twist your arm or manipulate you into working with them. What does that say about them? If you capitulate, what does that say about you?
  3. Forge a good working relationship. Transparency is key. Don’t lie to your recruiter by commission or omission. If you want your recruiter to go to the mat for you, you need to be willing to do that for them.

Candidates: After you have authorized a submission, never ask your recruiter to withdraw that submission so that another recruiter or a personal contact can submit your materials instead. Also, if your recruiter tells you about a position and you are interested, it’s with the understanding that your recruiter will submit your materials. I’m not telling you about positions so someone else can submit your materials.

Clients: Let your recruiter know why a candidate is being rejected (assuming of course that the candidate meets your objective criteria.) The more feedback we get, the better we can do our job. If your team receives résumés from a recruiter whose approach is to “throw everything at the wall in the hope something will stick,” stop accepting their submissions. If a recruiter can’t be bothered to send you candidates who meet your standards on a consistent basis, why would you pay them for shoddy work?

Red Flags: Why Would a Recruiter Turn You Away?

The top three reasons that give a legal recruiter might decide not to work with you:

  1. You’re a job jumper. If you are looking for your fourth job in four years, that raises a major red flag. You may have compelling reasons and mitigating factors for your moves, (you followed a partner to several law firms, you moved cities, client conflicts, billing rate issues) but you will need to convince me that I can trust that the fifth job will be the charm. If you can’t convince me, I’m not going to be able to advocate on your behalf with my clients.
  2. Your law firm or company has massive turnover.This is the client equivalent to a candidate being a job jumper. If your team has constant turnover, that is a big problem. Why would I encourage someone to take a job with a team that is constantly looking? As the employer, you have the power to correct the problem. I need to make sure that I’m encouraging my candidates to accept jobs that will advance their careers.
  3. You don’t respond to my phone calls or emails.You’re not the only candidate or client that I’m recruiting for. I pride myself on promptly responding to your messages. In fact, I am often complimented on how quickly I respond. Communication is vital to my success and to yours. I know that you’re busy and I respect your time. Please do the same.

My role in the hiring process is to bring people together. I want this to be a win-win experience for my clients and my candidates.

I want to make your job search easier. I want to make your hiring process easier. When I place a candidate, I want them to be happy. When a client hires one of my candidates, I want them to be happy too. If I’m going to do outreach on your behalf, I need to be a valued member of your team. If I’m going to help you find a position, I need to be a valued member of your team. We share the same objective. Let’s work together.

Barbara Levenson Schweitzer is a Principal with Levenson Schweitzer Attorney Placement. She has been a legal recruiter in California since 1989. Barbara can be reached at:

Barbara Levenson Schweitzer

Barbara Levenson Schweitzer

President, Levenson Schweitzer, Inc.

A California legal recruiter with 33 years of experience.