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When Law Firm Partners Should NOT Work with a Legal Recruiter

Aug 7, 2023 | Law Firm Candidates, Law Firm Clients

Legal recruiters provide invaluable benefits to law firm partners considering a move to a new firm as discussed in our prior post on When Law Partners Should Work with a Legal Recruiter. However, in some circumstances, the assistance of an attorney recruiter is not necessary, and you may get better results handling the job search on your own.  Yes, a headhunter just said that!

If you fall into one of these categories, you probably should NOT work with a legal recruiter:

Your practice area and/or the work you do is not sufficiently distinctive.

This is difficult to express to partners and can be quite humbling. The reality is that law firm partnerships at top firms are competitive, particularly in practice areas where there may be a glut of partners. This happens frequently with “hot practice areas” that eventually fizzle out, leaving a sizable number of attorneys looking for a new firm. No one wants to feel like they are a dime a dozen, but it’s all about supply and demand. Even if you are highly qualified, it may still be challenging to find a position if your competitors are also equally qualified and there are few open opportunities. 

In the book “The World is Flat“, author Thomas Friedman exemplifies how an attorney can establish a unique and specialized legal practice in a globalized and interconnected world. To address this issue, you must find a way to differentiate yourself or you will not stand out from the crowd. Perhaps, you have experience with certain types of clients or issues, or relationships and contacts that may benefit the firm or clients. One of the best examples I can think of is ANDA IP Litigators that specialize in particular pharmaceutical molecules or “public to public” M&A attorneys because they are both quite unique and often in demand. The point is to identify something special about yourself that will catch the attention of desirable firms and legal recruiters.

You don’t have a book of business.

Law firms are usually looking for partners who can bring clients to the firm, generate revenue, and effectively serve their clients’ needs. It becomes less probable for a law firm to consider hiring an individual partner or group, when you don’t have a book of business, particularly when they are also responsible for covering a placement fee to a recruiter. For the firm’s bottom line, they’re taking on a financial risk that your practice will pan out, so if your practice and book of business is not to the level that elevates profits, then the firm needs to hire a partner that is dilutive (what does this mean?). Sometimes firms are willing to do this when they need service partners for overflow work, as described in the above example (what example?), but it’s far less common and firms generally don’t want to use headhunters to find them. When legal recruiters can’t make a case for their candidate’s ability to drive revenue by either bringing in clients or providing services that fill a gap for existing clients, legal recruiters will find it very difficult to market that candidate effectively and it may result in a lot of wasted time for the candidate and recruiter alike. 

The exception to this is, as mentioned above, that you have a unique skill set or practice that would attract a new set of clients to the firm when coupled with their existing capabilities. Transactional tax attorneys and/or ERISA attorneys serve as excellent illustrations of partners who possess distinctive practice areas and can secure positions without relying solely on their existing client base.

You are working in-house and seeking a position with the law firm that represents your current employer, or vice versa.

In this situation, you already have information about the firm where you would like to work as well as contacts there. Therefore, a legal recruiter will provide limited extra value. You should simply reach out directly to discuss opportunities at the firm. Notably, if the firm does have the ability and interest to bring you in, they are unlikely to work with a recruiter representing you and you’ll save time by approaching them on your own. 

Alternatively, if you’re working with a firm and a client is seeking in-house counsel, using a headhunter won’t likely benefit you. Carefully leveraging your own client contacts will get you a lot further than introducing a third-party recruiter. If you express your interest early in the process, the client could avoid engaging a headhunter at all, and you’ll start your time with them by saving them money.  

You are seeking to move to a law firm you worked for previously.

One of the advantages of working with a legal recruiter is that they have information and knowledge about the firm and its partners that are not accessible to you. However, if you are looking to go back and work for a firm where you’re an alumnus, you likely already have much of that knowledge and can reach out directly to the right contact person. Again, in this case, a recruiter won’t be adding significant value to your job search.


The bottom line is, recruiting services are incredibly helpful to firms looking to grow and attract top talent, but engaging our services does require companies to allocate financial resources. Working with a reputable headhunter carries with it some prestige when we demonstrate that you are a unique asset and don’t bring with you a commoditized practice.  If you have a friend at the firm but you want to speak to multiple firms, you SHOULD utilize us because we will be objective on your behalf to represent you like a sports or entertainment agent would. Always keep your marketability top of mind, and when you’re ready for a change, skilled headhunters, and the firms they represent, will be interested in your candidacy. Which is a win-win-win situation for all parties involved. 

WARNING:  Because we may have now steered you away from our services, this blog will self-destruct in 30 seconds.



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