So you’re happy at your firm? That’s great! It’s possible you’ll continue to like it so much that you’ll spend your entire career there. But it isn’t likely. Firms change over time and so might your priorities. Maybe personal circumstances will cause you to move to a market where your firm has no presence. Maybe your most valued mentors will retire or switch firms. You never know.
If in the future you find yourself ready to lateral, you will be well advised to consult a skilled and trustworthy recruiter. Do you know who you’ll call? If not, now is the time to start preparing.
Many lawyers adopt a blanket policy of ignoring all recruiters. I get it. Dealing with recruiter spam is no fun, and it’s tempting to think you can always start replying once you’ve become dissatisfied with your current firm and are ready to leave.
This mindset is understandable, but it’s a mistake. Calling a recruiter when you’re ready to move is definitely better than going it alone. But if you wait until that moment, you’ll find yourself behind the 8 ball. You’ll feel pressure to move ahead quickly and will end up choosing a recruiter without much information. You’ll also be at the mercy of whatever opportunities the market presents at that particular moment. In contrast, if a well-connected recruiter is familiar with your profile ahead of time, she will be actively looking out for the most suitable roles and may be able to create opportunities specifically for you.
A relationship is important
Why does a relationship with a recruiter matter? And what does that even look like?
You probably consider your career to be one of the most important things in your life. Just as you wouldn’t go to a random doctor to address a serious health concern, you shouldn’t assume that all recruiters will be equally effective in helping you shape your career. The best recruiter is one who has listened to you and taken the time to understand your priorities. You want to work with someone who is happy to speak with you even though you aren’t looking to move. That’s a good signal that the recruiter cares about you as an individual and isn’t simply trying to fling plausible candidates at open roles.
You should make it a regular practice to call your recruiter once a quarter. These calls are an opportunity to find out what’s happening in the market and to place your firm in context. Even assuming you determine that your current firm remains the best fit, the conversation will be valuable. And through these regular interactions, you will develop a feel for whether the recruiter is someone you trust. You will have greater confidence in the advice and feedback you receive from a recruiter if you have known that person for years.
Choose one recruiter
You are not under any obligation to work with the first recruiter you come across. By all means, speak to a few and get a sense of who seems most competent and trustworthy. But after you’ve done that initial diligence, it’s in your best interests to choose one to work with exclusively. Working with a single recruiter enables you to maximize trust and rapport.
How should you choose your recruiter? Interpersonal rapport is critical. If you don’t feel a connection, you probably shouldn’t trust that recruiter with your career. Pay close attention to whether the recruiter is truly listening to you and is supportive of your goals. And watch out for red flags. A big one is pushing you to move immediately even if you have already made clear that you’re happy at your current firm. Another is promising to achieve something far out of the ordinary. A skilled recruiter can help you negotiate a better deal, but there are limits. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
A little advance planning will pay real dividends when the time comes to lateral. Don’t wait until you find yourself in a bad situation and are feeling pressure to move reactively. If you decide to switch firms, you’ll want it to be an intentional, considered, career-enhancing move. A strong relationship with a trusted recruiter can make that happen.