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Sooner or later, in today’s legal profession, most junior lawyers at least consider changing jobs (and many actually do change jobs). When they do consider changing jobs, many junior lawyers will have their first experiences with legal recruiters (colloquially known as “headhunters”). Not all headhunters are the same; and not all experiences with headhunters are positive. This article aims to outline a few basic principles for working with headhunters. First principles When considering a job change, devote the same degree of care and attention to the process as you would to serving a client. A job search should command your full attention, and should be done in an orderly and strategic manner. A headhunter cannot help you if your commitment to the process is casual, sporadic or wavering. The headhunter will assume that you have a genuine desire to explore reasonable alternatives. That does not mean that you will necessarily change jobs, but it does mean that you will act maturely, and forthrightly, at all times. Select the headhunter you work with carefully. This person will represent you to potential employers. You will want to repose confidence in your representative that the work will be done responsibly and effectively. Ask for referrals from friends and acquaintances. Ask for references from prospective headhunters (especially someone you know and trust, like a former classmate). And check the credentials and experience of the prospective headhunter who may represent you. Be wary of poor communication. If the headhunter just does not seem to “get you,” despite your genuine efforts, or persistently fails to respond appropriately to your inquiries, move on. This should be a relationship of trust. Although some associates do not even take the time to meet a headhunter before working with him or her, a personal meeting is highly desirable. Such a meeting sets the stage for later communication. A face-to-face meeting, moreover, can help you assess whether this headhunter relationship is right for you. It is almost always preferable to use a headhunter from a well-recognized, established firm. Such firms generally enjoy a wider range and greater depth of contacts with prospective employers. Beware the start-up headhunter, who may proffer what appear to be several “choice” positions. Some of these positions may not really be available to you. Look for search firms that are members of NALSC, the National Association of Legal Search Consultants. Those firms are governed by a Code of Ethics for search firms. Moreover, many (major) law firms now include a provision in their fee agreements with search firms requiring that each search firm abide by the Code of Ethics. Recruiters who do not comply with the Code cannot work with those law firms. Getting started Think carefully about your goals for a new position, and share your views fully with the headhunter. Complete information is essential for a recruiter to make thoughtful and appropriate recommendations. Make a list of your priorities, and try to describe your ideal job position. Identify the characteristics of prospective employers that you know would be unacceptable. Conversely consider the range of options that you would realistically consider. Let the recruiter know your timing for action. How long are you willing to wait? How much time do you have to devote to the process? Your recruiter needs to know. Terms of the relationship Make sure that the headhunter understands and commits to you that he or she will not send your resume or identify you to any prospective employer without your express prior authorization. The reasons for this restriction are obvious. There may be firms where your application could create conflicts or where it would be awkward to approach the firm for other reasons. Without that commitment from the recruiter, you may have little control over the process. Some headhunters may simply use your resume as filler, to demonstrate to firms that they have a large selection of candidates available. And some may send out your resume indiscriminately, hoping to press you, if the opportunity arises, to accept offers for positions that may not truly suit you. Make sure to keep careful notes as to the law firms for which you have authorized the headhunter to make introductions. If you work with more than one recruiter, do not allow multiple submissions to the same law firm. Such activities can only lead to misunderstandings, controversy and resentment, none of which can help you in starting a relationship with a new law firm. Ask your headhunter to outline and describe the process fully and to help you prioritize the steps in the process. Timing can play a significant role in managing the process. For example, your desire for an immediate change may result in a different form of search than a circumstance where you have more patience, and a keener sense of exactly what types of jobs for which you are willing to wait. Work with your recruiter in preparing for interviews. A good recruiter will provide you with insights into lawyers at prospective employers, and provide you with background information regarding the firms. Keep up a good information exchange with the headhunter. Allow the recruiter to work with you in a collaborative and consultative manner. Maintain a good dynamic of give and take, and full sharing of information, to allow the recruiter to work on your behalf most effectively. Working with the right recruiter can enable you to have the benefits of his or her experience, provide you with good information about prospective employers, and arm you with practical advice as to how most effectively to conduct a job search. Steven C. Bennett is a partner at Jones Day in New York City, and the author of “The Path To Partnership: A Guide For Junior Associates” (Praeger 2004). The author gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Eric Sivin, a principal of Sivin-Tobin Associates. The views expressed, however, are solely those of the author, and should not be attributed to anyone else, including the author’s firm, or its clients.

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