Guest Post: Working with recruiters – Advice for a future you, by Karen Glass

I used to be a City lawyer. It turns out that this particular career choice wasn’t the right one for me (maybe the topic of a future post…) but I am fully aware, it is really right for some. And so I decided to move my focus to legal recruitment and career coaching, where I could help other lawyers find new opportunities, both in-house and private practice, which will give them a new lens on life. Ten years into this recruitment journey, I have brought new opportunities to many lawyers and there is so much joy in that.

Where the joy ends though, begins with the fractured relationship between lawyers and recruiters. I completely get it. Imagine the scene when you start working as a trainee or newly qualified lawyer – you are happy with your choice of current firm or organisation, things are going well and you probably won’t have time in the midst of all the work you have to do, to think about how your career will develop. The last thing you need is another recruiter cold – calling you, trying to sell you something you already have by a different name or trying to tempt you into something slightly different where the grass will be greener (promise!). So, I understand that it is so tempting to put the phone down on the next one who calls, or dismiss them out of hand.

It might be interesting however, to note, that I spend much of my time with senior lawyers, whether Partners, Heads of Legal or General Counsel, counselling them on how to find their next role and my advice is always the same – delve deep into your network, then delve a bit deeper and keep going. I have learned that many of them have a phenomenal network of lawyers, but often less so when it comes to head-hunters and recruiters, who they have stayed in touch with over the course of their career. Those that have cultivated good relationships with certain recruiters will know about new opportunities ahead of time, will have an objective insight into the market and will be good at actively managing their career over a period of time.

I can think of many examples of lawyers who understand the importance of cultivating these relationships. I met one lawyer eight years ago at the beginning of his career – he was interviewing for a junior in-house role and was particularly passionate about the technology sector. Whilst he didn’t get the job, we stayed in touch – he would call me every six months to see how the in-house market was, we would chat about the technology industry generally and I would be interested in how his career was developing. So when I had an instruction to find a mid to senior level lawyer last year for a tech start up, I knew exactly who to call first. He was very interested in the opportunity and lo and behold, was successful in securing the job; but even if he hadn’t have been interested, he knows that I will always keep him informed of roles in the market and he will have first dibs on many of the relevant opportunities I am instructed on. I am on his side and in a competitive market, this can be invaluable.

And on the flip side, I have had lawyers who ignore my approaches, or are dismissive of the opportunity I try to bring to them. This doesn’t bother me anymore, as not only have I developed a thick skin, I genuinely feel that they are missing out on a potential opportunity or at least information about the market, which will help them manage their own career. Lawyers are notoriously behind the curve in managing their own careers and I am on a one woman mission to try and change this! No-one else is going to manage your career for you – if you take one message from this blog, please let it be this!

To be clear, when I talk about making relationships with head-hunters or recruiters, I mean The Good Ones*. Ones who are interested to get to know you, your skill set and personality over time and will know your name when you call for some career advice, or salary advice or a move. And sometimes it is too late for the senior lawyers I talk to to cultivate those relationships over time (with the Good Ones) – but it seriously isn’t for you. It will be really beneficial when you are looking for some true career advice or that first move in-house or even the fourth, if you have good rapport with a good recruiter.

Recruiters are human and we know our clients well and we often feel more at ease shortlisting good candidates who we have known over the passage of time, than those that we have just met. I would whole heartedly suggest that you become one of those lawyers who is well connected, knows your options and  makes career decisions in an informed manner rather than based on panic or discontent.

So, how can you make recruiters work well for you? Find the Good Ones and stay in their network over the next ten years and more. A Good One will probably move companies and so may you over time, but I promise, invest the time – it is sound advice. It is advice for the Future You and in my experience, it will pay off.

Good luck and may the future be with you.

*The less than Good Ones will come and go and to be honest, whilst no-one deserves the phone being put down on them, if they don’t deserve you putting some effort into the relationship over time, then that’s completely ok.

Karen is a Director at Marsden Group and specialises in the recruitment of Heads of Legal and General Counsel into both the Financial Services and Healthcare sectors.  Her clients include banks, insurance companies, hedge funds, asset managers and healthcare companies. She focuses on retained search mandates at the senior level and then partners with her clients to build their legal teams out. 
Karen qualified as a lawyer with CMS Cameron McKenna before moving into Legal Search and Selection over 11 years ago.  She is also a qualified Career Coach and is championing a coaching revolution (especially for lawyers of all levels) so can be found at @ccoachdforever.


How to give legal advice

I regularly listen to barrister Daniel Barnett on LBC on Wednesday evenings at 9pm taking quick fire legal questions from callers – Daniel is unprepared for each call and it’s live.

It’s a brilliant example to students and practitioners of how a lawyer can rapidly (i) narrow down the conversation, (ii) identify the issue and (iii) advise.  And here’s how I think he does it in 4 steps:

1. Daniel starts with ONE open question (it doesn’t really matter what it is: “Why have you called?”  or “What’s your issue?)  and then allows some limited time for the caller to tell their story in their own words.  While the caller is speaking, Daniel is listening hard and forensically sifting the relevant information from the non-relevant.
2. Then (sometimes by interrupting) he asks a series of closed questions, often ending them with “Yes or No”.  It’s like going through a mental flow-chart that he is making up in real time, applying his legal knowledge to the situation.
[A lot has been written about the advantages of asking open questions, but for this purpose, a series of good closed questions is the best way to get to the issue.]
3. Finally, before advising, Daniel asks what the caller (or client) actually wants, or says “What’s your question?”.  The answer is often “compensation”, but there can be a bit more to it – e.g. from whom does the caller want the money?  Do they actually also want an apology?  Do they just want to hear from an expert that they have no claim?
4. Then the advice – straight to the point – nearly always with a view about whether the caller has a claim, and for those that do, a suggestion about how to bring it.  So by the end of what is often only a 1 or 2 minute interaction, Daniel has understood the story, gleaned enough information to have a firm legal opinion, put himself into the shoes of the client and delivered the legal advice.
I know that disclaimers apply, but it does show how effective and helpful good legal advice can be and it doesn’t have to take long.

The importance of having good mentors

I wish that I had learned earlier in my career how important it is to have a mentor.  I remember my first career crunch when I was in private practice, and looking back I realise now that I really needed to talk to someone.  And that someone needed to be neutral, a good listener, non-judgemental and willing to suggest ideas without any agenda.
Instead I called 3 recruitment consultants.
It took me far too long to understand that they are not careers advisers and their interests were not aligned with mine.
So I think that it is good to have developed mentoring relationships with at least 2 people – and the earlier the better, although it’s never too late.  The first conversation should be more of a “chemistry” meeting for both, at which expectations are set and a “contract” can be created.  I find that Skype calls can be just as good as face-to-face after that.  One risk is that after one meeting the relationship fizzles out, so it’s best to schedule a series of calls a few months apart for the first year – after that contact can be irregular.
The other thing is that you don’t need to know the mentor that well – in fact, maybe friends and family are not the best types of mentors anyway.
Anyway, I really enjoy being a mentor of other in-house lawyers, and have had mentees from a couple of organised schemes (MOSAIC and Lexis-Nexis – links below).  I also mentor students from the University of Law and colleagues from my company mentoring scheme.  And I have mentors that I am grateful to have – I also have a coach and coach others, but that’s quite a different.

2 tips for during a training contract

The posts on this site are generally addressed to students thinking about applying for a career as a solicitor, but this one is a bit different – it shares 2 seemingly contradictory thoughts about what to do during a training contract.

  1. Make sure that you do work for lots of people in the department. Not only will this give you a nice range of different experience, it also allows you to receive different types of feed-back – which is offered as a gift by the way, so it should always be accepted with thanks.  In addition to this, it might help you learn about yourself – e.g. the type of work that you like doing and the type of people that you like working with.  But at the same time…
  2. Do make sure that you have a senior sponsor in the department in which you want to qualify. Picture the 6-monthly partners’ department meeting at which they review which trainees should be offered NQ roles.  They will go through the various names in the frame and the number of NQs that they want – the former normally a larger number than the latter, especially in popular departments.  Each candidate might be discussed for a few minutes, with reference to their performance reviews.  This could well be the most important meeting of your career and you are not even in the room.  At that precise moment, you need a senior voice to be an advocate for you being one of the names put on the “offer” list.  And if you have achieved number 1 above, then others in the room will agree.

Maybe it’s hard to combine these 2 conflicting pieces of advice, but I don’t think so – even your sponsor will have quiet times when you are not needed and, if they are sensible, then they will understand that it’s best for your career to become known for good work across the group.

Positions of responsibility at University

With a few weeks to go before the big end July deadline for many firms’ TC applications, I have been thinking about how to present positions of responsibility on those application forms. I’m talking about positions such as the President, Treasurer or Social Secretary of a Society at University.

I don’t think that it’s enough to just list them – much better to tell some very short stories about what you achieved.

In fact I think that it is worse to just list those positions than to leave them off. Why? Because it is usually an elected position, meaning that someone else could have done the job and the winner of the contest has a responsibility to use the position to do something. And if you don’t list some achievements then the person reading your application form might conclude that you didn’t make the most of it – no law firm would want to hire someone who doesn’t make the most of an opportunity.

So have a think about what aims / targets you had at the beginning of the academic year, and assess how you met those: for example tell short stories about (i) an event that you organised that achieved a record attendance or (ii) a target of having 4 external lawyer speakers during the year being beaten with 2 extra and all seats were taken, or (iii) an initiative that encouraged involvement from non-law students raising numbers by 20%. By the way, you don’t actually have to occupy the specific position to play your part in any of these.

Presenting legal work experience on a cv

In November, I took a day off to give a talk and review cvs at the University of Sussex in Brighton; and then did the same thing after work in February at Brunel. The cv reviews were tightly organised involving up to 18 people in a row (each for a frustratingly short ten minute slot, but that was the only way). So after the first 2 minutes with each student (in which we explored the standard interview questions, such as “Why do you want to be a lawyer?” and “What sort of role / firm?”), it only left 8 minutes to go through the cv – a good discipline for me to cut to the parts that I thought needed the most attention.

And it was mainly the way that Vac Schemes and other legal work experience were presented.

Of course the main objective of any work experience is to help students decide whether a particular career is the right one, and to do that it is really important to talk to lots of people and learn about the work. But I’d like to see something on the cv / application form about output.

Any reader of a cv knows that during a 2 week vac scheme at a law firm, it is unrealistic to expect a student to be running files and advising clients, but it’s good to see the impact of students’ contribution. For example, to do some legal research is not of any use for its own sake – better that a supervisor read it and gave some comments; even better that the lawyer used it to prepare an advice memo; better still if that memo was sent to a client; and the best would be for the client to have read and used that advice.

Another example is the first draft of a contract or some meeting notes – again it serves no purpose on its own; it is of some use if it is reviewed by a lawyer; but the ideal is that it was used as a basis for a document that is sent to a client and used.

So I think that it is important to show that a student’s contribution, however small and indirect, made the life of a lawyer a little easier and even helped a client of the firm.

One more paralegal role will do it

This is about the possible value of consecutive paralegal roles with respect to landing a training contract.

I received a speculative application for a job recently with a cv + cover letter, with a follow-up phone call. It was from a candidate who had had a succession of eight paralegal roles at both (i) large brand law firms (including 3 top 10 firms) and (ii) large corporates (including the legal departments of FTSE-100 companies) and was looking for another similar role.

This candidate thought that the more big brand legal employers’ names on his cv, the better the chances of winning a training contract (at a firm of any size). So the focus of his efforts was at the expense of applying for training contracts for the next year or so.

We discussed this for a bit and the fact that there are fewer training contracts around. We also discussed the diminishing value (even detriment) of more and more short term paralegal contracts on a TC cv. So I hope that he is now applying for some training contracts at smaller firms as well, even if in the short term they might be lower paid than the next large firm paralegal role.