1. Can you get the facts?
This might seem like a no-brainer, but getting all the information you need from your clients (often law firms and companies) and your candidates (attorneys searching for a position) is not always easy. A candidate may hold back critical information about himself; for instance, he may have weak relationships with the partners at his current firm and/or is about to be let go, he may be getting married soon and will disappear next month, and so on. Similarly, clients may not be as forthcoming about their needs as you would like them to be; recruiting coordinators often lack details about their firms' openings, partners usually fail to provide feedback on why they reject candidates, and so on. To be a good recruiter, you have to be persistent without being pushy. You have to try as best you can to get all the facts.
2. Can you motivate people?
Like many, lawyers are often loath to move once they get comfortable at a firm, even if they are unhappy. Many intelligent associates tell me that they intend to "play their firm card" when something better comes along, yet have no intentions of actively seeking that better opportunity. As a recruiter you have to distinguish between those who stay at a job because they are fulfilled and those who stay because of inertia. The latter group requires some prodding - whether it is gentle or firm depends on your read of the candidate and the likelihood that you will be able to improve his or her situation should you get involved.
3. Do you have rhythm?
As a former dancer I believe that timing is everything. Just how every dance has a beat, every conversation has its own cadence, every search its own pace. When I first became a legal recruiter, a colleague advised me that I had to "take control" of the intake interview (the first meeting with a candidate). I found her suggestion difficult to implement literally, but then I figured that another way of taking control might be to match the rhythm that your candidate sets and then tweak it gradually, as needed. If your candidate talks quickly and checks his watch during your first meeting, you may want to speed up the conversation and "cut to the chase" (provided you have enough information to do so). Conversely, a candidate who lingers after what you think is a substantive conversation that covers all the salient points might have something important on his mind that he wants to tell you, but wants you to elicit from him. Good timing is synonymous with good communication and goes hand-in-hand with building trust. Without it, your deals are likely to fall apart before they get off the ground.
~4. Can you remember names, numbers and dates?
If business is good and you are receiving lots of calls to meet with your clients and your candidates, you will quickly find yourself bombarded with lots of names (key partners, benchmark associates), numbers (numbers of attorneys at firms and in various practice groups) and dates (growth of firms over the years, dates of mergers and openings of offices). You can and should take copious notes during your meetings, but there is no substitute for having a good memory for pertinent facts. Unless you are naturally gifted at this (which I am not), it's a skill that only comes with time. Having a few relevant, objective facts at your disposal for every situation provides you with instant credibility, especially when you have limited time to make an impression.
5. Are you ethical?
This is the most important factor and for some the most difficult, since doing the right thing will require walking away from money in certain situations. I recall nervously hoping that my clients would not cancel their interviews with my candidate when I notified them that, subsequent to sending them her resume and transcript, I learned that her then-current employer had fired her. I was pleasantly surprised when the firms told me they were still interested in seeing the candidate and, under the circumstances, viewed her departure as an opportunity for them to recruit a great talent. It doesn't always go this way, and recruiters who are unwilling to be forthcoming at the risk of losing a fee will see their relationships crumble much faster than they can build them. In a profession where relationships and reputation is all one has to go on, that's simply too high a price to pay.
Do you have these skills? Then you may have what it takes to shine in a career as a legal recruiter.
Carrie A. Mandel is Vault's newest law expert, and she's ready to answer your questions about careers in the law. Send your questions to In Carrie's Court. All inquiries will remain anonymous.
Carrie A. Mandel is a Managing Director in the New York office of Major, Hagen & Africa. She earned her J.D. cum laude from Harvard Law School and her B.A. summa cum laude in comparative literature from Princeton University, where she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. Carrie practiced as a litigation associate, focusing on intellectual property, at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett and Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler.
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