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.