Do I Need a Recruiter? What Do They Do, Anyway?

Angela Kopolovich - Legal RecruiterToday, we’ve got a special guest here to talk about what’s a rather mysterious topic for many law firm associates: working with a recruiter.

Angela Kopolovich is the Managing Director of Alegna International, a boutique attorney recruiting firm, and she’ll give you the lowdown on working with a recruiter (and what to do if you really, really hate your job).

Without further ado…

Recruiters call me at work all the time. Is it okay to talk to them? I don’t really understand what they do. Will they charge me for the services they provide?

Here’s an inside look at how the recruiting business works. (Stick with me, it can get a little hairy).

Typically, recruiters are “hired’ by law firms or companies to find the best candidate(s) to fill open positions. Hired comes in many varieties, but in most cases, recruiters work on contingency.

That means if we introduce a candidate to an employer, and the employer hires the candidate, we get a placement fee (also called a commission). If our candidate doesn’t get hired, we get nothing.

Kind of harsh, but the rewards outweigh the risks.

The commission is generally calculated as a percentage of the candidate’s salary, but it is paid entirely by the employer. It does not affect the candidate or the candidate’s salary at all.

All of the services we provide to candidates are completely free. In fact, candidates should never ever agree to work with a recruiter that charges them money. Still with me? Good.

In addition, as a condition of getting the fee, the recruiter must guarantee the placement for a certain period of time. If at the end of the guarantee period, the candidate is no longer employed by the firm, for whatever reason, a recruiter usually has to refund some, if not all, of the commission.

Basically, what that means is, our interests are aligned with yours.

We want you to get the job, because that’s how we get paid. More importantly, we want you to be happy with your new job, and we want the firm to be happy with you, because we hate making refunds.

Employers like working with recruiters because we do a lot of the leg work for them. We steer the process, and act as a buffer to make sure it all goes smoothly. That is why almost all law firms and large companies work with us when they have open positions.

This dynamic system of risks and incentives plays out in interesting ways for you, the candidate. Since we work on contingency, we work with many employers, on many different jobs, at the same time. We hear about most jobs before they become public. We know who is hiring, where, and why, and we have access to the decision-makers. (We can usually pick up the phone and speak directly with the hiring partner about your application).

So when a candidate works with us to find a new position, we can provide her with all the information and access she could ask for…all for free.

We can help her identify opportunities, and compile all the required materials for submission. We can lobby to get her an interview, and then prepare her for the “interview gauntlet.” We can guide her through the offer process and her departure from her current firm. We serve as her job info center, her career matchmaker, and sometimes even her therapist. (The job hunt can make candidates a little loopy, at times).

So yes — we call you, we email you, and we send you messages on LinkedIn.

Be flattered — we do it because we’ve identified you as someone with the skills, experience, and credentials that our clients are seeking.

We are calling to pitch you a job, or maybe several different jobs. That said, we know that some of you may not be looking to leave your firm at this moment, and that’s absolutely fine. You should however, put “get to know a recruiter” on your career to-do list. You will need us sooner or later.

When choosing a recruiter, do a little research. Find someone that you feel is trustworthy, someone who will work hard for you, when the time comes for you to make a move. A good recruiter can answer any career question you have, and guide you in the right direction.

A great recruiter is a resource no girl should be without.

I just started working as a first year associate and I think I hate my firm. How soon can I start looking for a new position? Will moving to another firm at this point in my career look bad on my resume?

That’s a great question, as most first-year lawyers are afraid to even consider the possibility. The brave ones ask about it, but only in hushed tones. So, in lawyerly fashion, let me give you the answer first, and the explanation afterwards.

Conventional wisdom holds that you should try to stick it out with your current firm for one year before making a move.

In fact, switching firms right after your first year is very common, and is not considered a negative on your resume. But the question you actually asked is when should you start looking. The answer to that question is a bit more complicated.

Before we get into the details of what’s involved, let me back up for a second and say this: It is really important that you take the time to consider what it is that’s making you unhappy at your current firm.

What is the impetus for your move? (I always ask my candidates this question when they first call me). Is it the firm? What about the firm, specifically? Is it the partners? Is it your practice area, or the type of work you’re doing? What is prompting you to want to leave?

Before you consider switching to another firm (which can be a difficult process), you have to identify the problem, and make an effort to resolve it with your current firm.

(I’ll defer here to the other Girl’s Guide experts. Conflict resolution is not really my strong suit.) If leaving is really the only answer, then you should start looking several months in advance of your intended departure date. (A typical transition takes at least eight weeks. Take that into account when setting up your time frame).

There are two issues that you’ll need to consider when planning a move:

  1. the legal job market is tough and fiercely competitive, finding a job it might take longer than you think
  2. if the problem(s) are serious, you shouldn’t stay just for the sake of timing

On point number one, good jobs are hard to find. (This is not news to you, I know). While you might be ready to start submitting applications, the firms on your wish-list might not be hiring. Or, if they are, you might not get an interview right away. So, while you can start looking whenever makes sense for you, give yourself plenty of time. (You won’t know how marketable you are, until you actually start submitting resumes). After a few weeks, evaluate your progress and adjust your plans accordingly.

On the second point, workplace issues are highly flammable. Office drama can escalate very quickly, particularly in a law firm setting. If the reason you’re looking to leave is serious, you shouldn’t stay and run the risk of getting a bad review…or worse (i.e. getting laid off/fired). Don’t stick around just to hit some arbitrary deadline. If you have the opportunity to leave and you can avoid potential further damage — do it. Don’t worry about how long you’ve been there, or what it will look like on your resume.

Years from now, it will be a lot easier to explain a short tenure at a firm, than it will be to explain a layoff or termination.

Could you talk a bit about what you do in an average day at work and how it’s similar to (or different from) what you thought you’d do when you started law school?

You know, Alison, I went to law school because I wanted to serve as a pillar of my community… upholding the rule of law, and the sanctity of what makes our legal system, though flawed, the model for all fledgling nations. I wanted to give something back and make a difference. Is that an impressive answer? I’ve never been able to come up with one that didn’t make me gag.

The short (read true) reason I went to law school, is that I watched too much Law and Order, and I thought being a prosecutor would be the coolest thing in the world.

Angie Harmon and Elisabeth Rohm made it look so chic strutting in and out of the courtroom. That…and I wanted people to call me “Counselor.” Whatever. Before you start judging me, the economy was very different back then, so going to law school on a whim wasn’t a big deal.

When I got there, I genuinely fell in love with the law, and it seemed that I was good at it — whatever the “it” is that good grades are supposed to indicate. Throughout my second and third year, I couldn’t wait to get out into the real world and start actually practicing. But, when I started working at the firm, I quickly realized that it wasn’t what I thought it would be. (Girl’s Guide readers have all heard this story before…right?)

I felt isolated, really really isolated. Sitting in my office for hours on end, with LexisNexis and my Bluebook, was slowing driving me mad. The occasional deposition, or retail therapy binge, wasn’t enough to break the monotony. The worst part was that unlike the internships and externships in law school, none of the work I did in the real world was particularly rewarding.

My transition to attorney recruiting was sort of an accident.

I called a recruiter to help me find a new position, and instead she offered me a new career. I made the leap. Having been a recruiter for some time now, and having experienced both sides of the industry, I can say that I have found my real passion. I’m still “in the law,” I get to talk to people all day — which I love, but more importantly (and this is going to sound so cliché) this job allows me to help other attorneys change their lives for the better. And that, I find, is very rewarding. I never intended to run my own business or be my own boss, it just sort of happened that way. I feel rather lucky that it did.

It’s difficult to describe what my days are like. I spend most of them in meetings, or on the phone (and in my email inbox), talking to clients or candidates. I work on resumes, cover letters, and writing samples. I schedule interviews and prep my candidates, so they know exactly what to expect. Then I cross my fingers, hold my breath, and wait. When the offers come in, I negotiate the terms, start dates, and finalize the process. I stay in touch with all my active candidates, I meet with new candidates, and I check in on the folks I’ve placed, to make sure that they’re still happy. I try to stay on top of everything that’s going on in the world of law.

I’ve also recently taken up an active role on Twitter, which I’ve come to love. (Are you following me? You must follow me!). I spend about 85% of my time “recruiting,” and the other 15% running the business. The days go by very quickly, punctuated only by a few short hours of sleep. That’s when I get to dream about topics for my next blog post…

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

— – —

Thanks, Angela! Do you have questions about using a recruiter? Leave them in the comments!

Angela Kopolovich is the Managing Director of Alegna International, a boutique attorney recruiting firm. A former practicing litigator with a large global law firm, Angela now specializes in placing attorneys with law firms and corporate legal departments, around the country and abroad. She can be reached at or via Twitter: @Recruiter_Law.


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  1. A lot of people seem to be struggling right now in this economy to even get that first firm job. Do recruiters work with people like that, or only people who have already been lucky enough to get in the door somewhere?

    • Hi Ella,

      Unfortunately, permanent placement recruiters (which is what I described above) can only begin working with candidates after they’ve had at least one full year of experience (not counting a clerkship). Because firms invest so much time and money in their own “entry level” recruiting programs, they won’t accept new graduate resumes from recruiters (for which they’d have to pay a placement fee). There are exceptions, but it’s generally the rule.

      On the other hand, although not ideal perhaps, legal staffing agencies (which employ attorneys and send them out on contract/project work) do often work with new graduates. They operate in a slightly different arena and don’t have the same constraints.

      I hope that helps.


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