Not happy with your current law firm job? Are you thinking about working with a legal recruiter, but are not quite sure how to make yourself valuable to a larger law firm? There are many pieces to large law firm hiring, which makes working with a legal recruiter very attractive. But for those of you who are just starting out, keep in mind that there are still things you should do to attract the right recruiters and opportunities to you.
1. Develop a skill in a unique practice area.
The more “niche” an attorney’s experience, the better their chances are of moving up or lateraling.
Think about it:
In the first year of law school, everyone takes a property law course; in the second year, some students will take a real estate course; in the final year, even fewer will take a Federal Indian Law course.
Now we all know that many law firms have real estate practices. A law school graduate who developed a unique skill set is more likely to be viewed as valuable to that law firm. Everyone has taken property; real estate law will give candidates a leg up over those who only ever took property; but the additional insight gained from Federal Indian Law stands out, as it signals potential that a candidate might contribute to or start a regulatory and compliance practice for the firm’s interactions with the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Education and development does not stop after law school. Take the initiative to build your skills, and seek unique experiences that will help you develop your ability to contribute to a unique practice area. If you are passionate about a certain area of the law, get involved by writing articles and speaking on panels. Ensure that the legal community is aware of your affiliation with the topic or cause. Not only does this help you develop a book of business, it also increases your chances at being hired by your target law firm.
2. Play well with others…especially with opposing counsel.
We all know that it is important to be professional, civil, and respectful. But sometimes we forget to play nice with opposing counsel (they are opposing us, after all).
Now I am not saying you should take it easy against the other side at the expense of your client; but I am saying that you should establish a professional, civil, and respectful relationship with opposing counsel.
In law school, we see law firms that hire students who were on law review and were high up in the rankings—out in practice, however, we start to run into attorneys at large firms who were hired after impressively representing the opposite side. Attorneys who not only perform well against, but also play well with attorneys from large law firms develop a crucial reputation and important relationship that can lead to a successful lateral placement.
3. Pay attention to trends.
The market does not always obey predictions or your passions. An attorney’s ability to develop business or work for the largest and most prestigious law firms are products of time and place, supply and demand. Opportunities occur or fizzle out in accordance with economic circumstances.
During the recession, for example, bankruptcy practices were on the rise while mergers and acquisitions declined. As technological developments continue to disrupt markets, intellectual property and patent practices grow. More recently, as we start to recover the recession, we are starting to see growth in the economy again, which means practices in ERISA, corporate law, real estate, banking, and transactional law start rising again. Pay attention to what is going on, and plan your practice accordingly.
4. Location, location, location.
Some markets will always be in demand to hire laterals, while others are able to afford a longer waiting period before interviewing anyone. That is because certain locations will not have enough work, while others always have too much work. Understand the market you are currently in, and study the markets you want to be in. Then, determine your actions based on where the opportunities are.
The best thing to do is go to places where firms are looking to fill in more slots than there are attorneys who want them. Do not overly fixate yourself on a particular geographical location. The more flexible you are to different locations, the more likely firms will respond to that adaptivity.
5. Be profitable.
Attorneys who generate business are always welcome at a large firm. Your ability to generate business and bring in clients is one that will always capture the interest of larger law firms.
But how do you get there?
When you first start off in your career, you want to focus first on developing your core competencies and developing your basic skills. As you become more confident and competent, take the initiative to seek out more challenging projects and developing skills in unique areas. Once you are no longer a rookie, you will face the challenge of continuing to provide excellent legal analysis while simultaneously improving the business of your practice.
Certain characteristics make it easier to be successful at bringing in business. Attorneys with strong interpersonal and social skills tend to be who we think about off the top of our heads—but more important is your reputation of being personable, trustworthy, and professional. An attorney with a large book of business is always employable. If you are not quite there yet, you want to start thinking about how you will get there, because law firms want to see that you have the potential to generate business.
The bottom line: if you can bring in a significant amount of business and clients, you will be very desirable to any large firm.