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Web-based Recruiting Firm Shuns Cold Calls

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Web-based Recruiting Firm Shuns Cold Calls

LOS ANGELES, June 25, 2006 – Michael Allen had few dealings with legal search companies as a practicing attorney, but they were enough to convince him that he could do it better.

First, there were recruiters’ cold calls, usually two or three a day, which he grew to loathe. When Allen used a reputable Los Angeles recruiter during his own lateral move from Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher to Irell & Manella, the experience left him underwhelmed.

“At the end of the day, it wasn’t really clear that the headhunter knew what he was selling or that he understood the different industries I was looking at,” Allen said. “Yeah, he got me an interview, but it wasn’t really him. It was my resume that did it.”

In June, Allen launched his own legal search firm. Called Lateral Link, it’s a Web-based business staffed by former practicing attorneys who’ve sworn off the recruiter’s traditional staple, cold-calling candidates.

“This is a very unusual model,” said Marina Sirras, the president of the National Association of Legal Search Consultants. “I’ve never heard of anything like it.”

To use Lateral Link, candidates create a profile with basic information, including their practice area, law school, years of experience and geographical location, as well as a resume with identifying information redacted to maintain confidentiality. The candidates can search Lateral Link’s job bank, but company names are also redacted from the listings.

Law firms or businesses looking for in-house attorneys can submit queries based on whatever criteria they choose. Lateral Link then performs a database search, and if any candidates’ profiles fulfill these criteria, the company sends a message telling them that an anonymous firm might be interested, and asking whether they’d like to send a redacted resume.

If the candidates choose to send their resume, one of Lateral Link’s six consultants makes sure the people are qualified before forwarding them. The parties reveal their identities only after serious, mutual interest.

Although posting an Internet profile and waiting for responses seem to define passivity, some candidates seek additional services from Allen, who provides advice and promotes them to firms.

“We’ve centralized the process” on the Web, he said, “but we’re not out of the process.”

So far, Lateral Link has a roster of 190 candidates and relationships with “a handful” of firms and is “in the process of placing four people,” Allen said.

Lateral Link charges the industry-standard recruiting fee, 25 percent of a candidate’s first-year salary. The company, at this point, focuses on placing associates.

But because Lateral Link eschews cold calls to practicing attorneys, some legal recruiters think the company may be at a disadvantage.

Amber Handman, a recruiter at Seltzer Fontaine Beckwith, said the types of candidates law firms are willing to pay the recruiting fee for are the ones who aren’t looking for a job. Often, a phone call out of the blue is the only way to reach them.

“Recruiting companies have to sell their product to firms’ recruiting coordinators, and that will only work if the quality of resume is high,” Solutus recruiter Karen Kupetz said. “So one issue that [Lateral Link] will have to deal with is attracting and retaining top talent, and there’s a question whether it has a means for doing that.”

Rather than cold-calling or sending spam e-mails, Lateral Link is using referrals. By trading on connections from elite law schools and firms, Allen sees Lateral Link as a home for top-notch talent.

The company’s unorthodox business model features one more wrinkle, paying a $10,000 bonus to candidates whom it places.

“Wow. That is definitely against our code of ethics,” Sirras said. “That is a no-no, and I consider it very unethical.”

Sirras claimed that the recruiting-fee agreements of most major law firms stipulate the expectation that search firms will abide by the national association’s code of ethics.

“No employer has suggested that I need to belong to that organization to work with them, and a number of employers have said they’d never heard of the National Association of Legal Search Firms,” Allen said. “At the end of the day, employers want talent, and I’m taking a hit on my profits to provide talent in a more efficient way.”

Allen got the idea for the bonus by looking at how the mutual-funds business operates. The fee also acts as an incentive for associates who otherwise might stay around for their January bonuses.

And although Lateral Link has consultants in six locations nationwide, it doesn’t rent office space, which means low overhead costs. Allen said the company could afford to “pass the savings on” in the form of the bonus.

The bonus was one of the reasons an associate at a major Orange County law firm decided to use Lateral Link, which she heard about from a friend. She met Allen and received personalized service, and although she’s put her job search on hold, she intends to use the company when she resumes her search.

Although the company is only a month old, some firms are intrigued by its unusual model. “We would consider this one of the many emerging tools to start a conversation with good candidates, but we’ll still use existing methods to both evaluate candidates and attract the best people,” said Peter Kennedy, the managing partner of Reed Smith’s L.A. office. “We try to use personal referrals from trusted colleagues.”

Lateral Link’s business model is unusual and unproven, but recruiters indicated today’s robust legal job market is a welcoming place.

“I have no problem with one more means of people finding a job,” Handman said. “There are certainly plenty of jobs out there.”

~ Robert Iafolla, Daily Journal

Finding A Job As A Junior Attorney In An Economic Downturn

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Finding A Job As A Junior Attorney In An Economic Downturn

By Lynn W. Harwell

With the declarations that we are in the worst financial crisis and economic downturn since the Great Depression, many U.S. workers have been hit hard. Though economic slowdowns can prove catastrophic for some industries, the legal profession generally weathers the storm. When corporate work is down, litigation or bankruptcy work thrives (or vice versa). But with the recent dissolution announcements of major San Francisco-based law firms such as Heller Ehrman and Thelen, the impact of the economy and ongoing credit crunch is being felt by even the top-tier law firms.

Highly credentialed lawyers are learning that the profession of law is now the business of law, and that they along with their law firms are feeling the pinch.

One of the major problems is that no one knows how bad it will get or what is going to happen next. So a large number of law firms have put a hold on lateral and incoming associate hiring until there is a better ability to assess the market. Both law firms and in-house counsel positions have become scarce, particularly for junior attorneys at the bottom of the pyramid structure. Basically, there are too many mouths to feed. In years past, many law firms’ strategies were to grow into mega-firms with hundreds of attorneys – now these same firms are looking to reduce redundancies (i.e. layoffs).

Heller’s dissolution announcement and subsequent layoffs caught many attorneys off-guard and sent them scrambling to find other jobs. For the first time, many attorneys had the rug suddenly pulled from underneath their highly credentialed shoes and were in the throws of finding a job like so many others. With first-year associate starting salaries of $150K-plus, finding a position with comparable pay wasn’t as easy as it used to be, as other firms looked to reign in their costs.

So amid all the doom and gloom, are there still avenues for recent JDs to find a job? Here are a few steps for junior attorneys to approach finding a job in this down market.

Be RealisticGone are the days of having multiple offers from law firms for everyone in the top half of the class. If you get a job offer – take it. Also, for law students who may already have secured full-time employment post-graduation, stay in contact with the employer to determine if your job is still secure. Showing continued interest and persistence proves your desire without bothering busy professionals. You may be alerted to issues early enough to take action. Also be willing to make concessions if necessary (that signing bonus can be foregone if that means saving your job).

Refocus and Be FlexibleNow may be the time to redefine one’s career focus. Job seekers typically focus on three aspects for their ideal job – geography, industry and function. Ideally, you can get two out of your three preferences, but these days just getting one of them is realistic. Traditionally, markets such as New York and San Francisco are instant draws for most new attorneys. But given the slowdown for these markets in particularly practice groups, many attorneys focused on a particularly over-exposed practice group should consider other nearby secondary markets.

Compared with experienced attorneys who have built their expertise in specific practice areas, younger attorneys may have the ability to move more rapidly toward another practice group or change their specific focus (i.e. from capital markets to corporate restructuring). So attorneys should work on updating their resumes to provide a full and detailed account of their representative matters and accomplishments. Firms now have the leverage to be extremely picky, so you have to provide information to garner their attention.

Another potential avenue is to look toward smaller regional and boutique firms. Though these firms are similarly trimming costs, they have new business development and recruiting opportunities as many corporate clients look to reduce their outside counsel legal fees. These smaller firms provide great opportunities for attorneys, as they too want to find highly credentialed lawyers who may not have known about them or given then a second look coming out of law school. These smaller firms are ripe to pick up great, interesting work. Also, law students who are willing to delay their entry into the large law firm legal market can venture into other paths, such as various fellowship programs, clerkships, NGOs and government positions. They won’t pay six-figure salaries, but they do provide valuable experience that firms will be interested in later when the economy rebounds.

Network, Network, Network|This is one of the key aspects of any job search. Though most attorneys may not have actively networked at this point in their career (which is one lesson lawyers can learn from their business counterparts), they do already have an established network. It’s important for attorneys to utilize their networks and reach out to all of their contacts – alumni through law and undergraduate school, prior jobs/affiliations, professors, recruiters, family, etc. Though law students have in the past relied almost exclusively on their schools’ career services office, it’s a good idea to talk to others in the outside world as well regarding their career development. Ask practicing professionals how they landed perhaps not their first but their second or third jobs to garner ideas and contacts who you may not have considered previously.

Join the various alumni and professional networks – the Internet has provided much easier access to make connections. Though unsolicited resumes may not lead to positive results (in fact, expect lots of rejections), attorneys may be surprised that a “warm” call through one’s contacts (known as the strength of weak ties) can lead to opportunities and result in better odds of getting a foot in the door. When some opportunities come about, employers want to make efficient decisions, so being in the know can help an attorney move very quickly. Make finding a job your primary job – leaving no stone unturned can lead you to finding and getting a job offer.

Though finding a job in this climate won’t be a cakewalk, with perseverance, a positive attitude and flexibility, junior attorneys can find employment.

Lynn W. Harwell has a JD/MBA from Harvard University and is currently a director with Lateral Link Group (laterallink.us) in its San Francisco office.


Gloria Cannon In The Daily Journal

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Gloria Cannon In The Daily Journal

APRIL 8, 2010 | LAW PRACTICESummers Receiving Fewer OffersBy Kari Hamanaka

Daily Journal Staff Writer

Summer associates at law firms suffered a dramatic decline in the number of full-time job offers they received last year, and that trend is expected to continue in 2010, casting major doubt on the recruiting prospects for aspiring lawyers in California and the rest of the nation, according to new figures from the National Association for Law Placement.

“The main take away from the [NALP] Perspectives report is that 2009 marked an unprecedented constriction in legal recruiting volume, the sharpest constriction we have seen since NALP began collecting this data nearly 20 years ago,” said the group’s executive director, James Leipold. “If we had data going back far enough, it would probably show the sharpest constriction in more than 50 years.”

Nationally, offers made to summer 2009 associates fell 21 percent from the year-earlier period, the study found. Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Jose area firms all reported double-digit declines in the number of offers they made to their 2009 summer associates.

The rate of job offers to Los Angeles area summer associates was 78.5 percent, down from 90 percent a year before. In San Jose, 73.3 percent of summers received offers, down from 94.7 percent in 2008. The most dramatic plunge was in San Francisco, where only 55.8 percent of summer 2009 program participants received offers, falling from 91.9 percent in 2008.

In Los Angeles, one firm, Allen Matkins Leck Gamble Mallory & Natsis LLP, said it planned to keep its 2010 summer class the same size as last year’s. A spokesperson for Latham & Watkins LLP declined comment on its summer 2010 program plans.

It appears firms throughout California are cutting the size of their summer programs. Firms in the Los Angeles area averaged nine summer associate positions in 2010, down from the average of 16 positions in 2009 summer programs. In San Francisco, summer 2010 offers totaled an average of 8, down from 19 for the 2009 program.

Seth Weiner, president of Loyola Law School’s Day Student Bar Association and a third-year student, said his peers who graduated in the last couple of years are managing to find work, if not their legal dream jobs.

“At the same time, I hear over and over again that this is a job market that people have not seen in maybe a generation and it is a lot harder to find work,” Weiner said. “I have seen students who have been accepted at very respected, competitive firms who are offered positions right away, but then were given deferments.”

He said students in the most recent graduating class told him their start dates were pushed back as much as a year.

“Even though the economy seems to show some minimal recovery, law firms are not in the lead in terms of hiring back, and they’re going to be very cautious,” said Jill Levin, principal at Levin & Associates. “It doesn’t mean that they don’t need to bring in new associates to train, but the numbers will be smaller.”

Levin said she anticipates little change in the short term.

“I don’t expect a big uptick in young associate hiring this year and I don’t know what next year will bring,” Levin said, “but I imagine next year will be slow.”

With the reality being that job offers are diminishing, others said the real number to focus on is start date deferrals.

“If you were a 2009 grad, it was definitely a very tough year for those associates because, for many of them, offers were rescinded,” said Gloria Noh Cannon, director of Lateral Link Group LLC. “A lot of associates were deferred.”

For summer 2009, 57.1 percent of offers at Los Angeles area firms had deferred start dates, according to NALP. In San Francisco, 59 percent of offers made had deferred starts.

“We are hearing from quite a few [firms] where the associates do have offers to return, but there are firms still pushing back or rescinding [offers],” Noh Cannon said. “It’s a mixed bag at this point.”

She said as firms come to grips with hiring budgets they will be able to reassess their business models and move forward with job offers. But she also said openings at firms in the coming years are unlikely to resemble numbers seen in the past.

“It’s such a competitive market right now because the talent level is nothing like anyone has seen,” Noh Cannon said. “Firms can be very picky right now and they’re being very deliberate in their hiring process as they should be.”