Our “Top Tips” for Young Lawyers – Your First Job

21 October 2013

As you may have seen in our last blog, we are updating our presentation to the latest crop of students at the College of Europe.  We think that the advice we provide deserves a wider audience, so over the coming weeks we will be presenting a number of our "top tips".

So, what is our first "top tip"?

While this may seem strange for a recruiter to say, we believe that young lawyers looking for their first job should not work with recruiters – even us!  We are always happy to take time to speak with promising young lawyers, to provide advice and counsel, and to point them in the right direction, but we discourage them from actually working with us for their all-important first job.

Why?  Simply put, we recruiters can offer nothing to starting lawyers that they cannot do themselves.

Some recruiters will tell you that you will never get a job without their services; that is simply not true.  They will happily promise you the earth, harvest your details, put them into a database, and spam every law firm and corporate legal department under the sun.

The truth is that law firms want young lawyers to apply directly to them! A number of firms do not work with recruiters for their junior hires, and one of our clients has even said that if young lawyers do not have the "courage" (actually he used another, more colorful word) to make direct application they will never succeed in his firm!

Recruiters operating in this segment of the market are typically working the odds.  They know that if they throw enough CVs into the market, one or two will stick.  It’s a numbers game: the recruiter may eventually win a fee, but the vast majority of candidates are invariably on the losing side.

There will be other times as you progress in your career when you should speak with a recruiter.  Reputable recruiters will not push you to change jobs; rather, they will give you insight to the market, help you determine whether any of existing opportunities are right for you, and allow you to benchmark yourself to your contemporaries.  You may ultimately decide to stay where you are (which is perfectly fine!), but you will have made the decision based on a good understanding of the market and your place in it.

Bottom line: if you are seeking your first job in private practice:

  • do your own research to find firms that look attractive to you (e.g., those that do the type of work you find most interesting);
  • be selective and discriminating (i.e., don’t "bomb" the market);
  • make a direct application to those firms of most interest;
  • customize each approach (e.g., avoid banalities such as "Dear Sir/Madam" or "I really want to work for your highly regarded company"); and
  • make sure your CV is clear and concise (we’ll have more on CV preparation in a future "top tip").

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