Who Exactly is the Legal Recruiter “Working For”?

Although recruiters are paid by law firms, the role of a recruiter can best be described as a dual-agent — helping you, the candidate, as well as the employer. The best legal recruiters are able to simultaneously assist candidates with achieving their desired outcomes while also fulfilling the needs of the employer.

It may be instructive to remember that the particular lens through which a recruiter views a candidate and opportunity depends on various factors and circumstances. Although the below discussion lists two lenses recruiters can wear (candidate lens and employer lens), the purpose is to highlight for you a distinction that many candidates don’t consider. It is usually not a one versus the other approach, but a blended candidate and employer orientation that facilitates the ideal outcome. 

Candidate Lens 

Here are circumstances in which a recruiter may be operating primarily through a candidate lens: 

  • The relationship initially begins with a partner contacting the recruiter to help “quarterback” a search. 
  • The recruiter may cold call you to discuss your career goals, even if the recruiter does not have a specific opportunity in mind; this may or may not mature into a search or a job change, but the recruiter takes time up front to understand your short and long-term goals and advises on strategies to achieve your goals. 
  • The recruiter spends time identifying employers that may match your professional and personal goals. 
  • The recruiter develops a list of possible options. 
  • With your authorization, the recruiter contacts firms on your behalf and assists you with each stage of the hiring process with each firm. 

Employer Lens 

A recruiter is operating through an employer lens when the recruiter has been asked to conduct a targeted search on behalf of a specific firm. Here are characteristics of this dynamic: 

  • The law firm contacts the recruiter for help with a specific search, and the recruiter has extensive conversations and meetings with the law firm and relevant partners regarding the position. 
  • The recruiter spends time researching and contacting potential candidates via cold-calling, emailing, etc. 
  • At the onset of the relationship, the recruiter is more invested in the needs of the employer, and how you, as a candidate, may fit into the employer’s requirements. 
  • The recruiter will advise and help you with all steps of the process as they pertain to that employer’s search, but the recruiter might not look at the market more broadly and suggest other firms for you to consider.

Both Lenses at Once

As mentioned previously, skilled recruiters are simultaneously able to wear both lenses. For example, if a recruiter initially contacts you about a specific position, this does not mean they will be less responsive to your individual needs and goals. In fact, they should be equally invested in helping you with a broader search if the particular employer they are contacting you about may not be a fit, or if you wish to explorer a wider range of options. At the same time, if the recruiter’s interest in you is limited to how you fit into the particular search at hand (and you feel as if you are being “screened” with not much focus on your particular interests), this is a signal that the recruiter may be too narrowly focused and and only approaching you through the employer lens. 

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Picture of Author: Dan Binstock

Author: Dan Binstock

Dan co-owns Garrison & Sisson, where he focuses on lateral partner and practice group placements. He has consistently been recognized as one of the Top 100 Global Legal Strategists and Consultants by LawDragon, and authored "The Attorney's Guide to Using (or Not Using) Legal Recruiters." Dan is the Immediate Past President of the National Association of Legal Search Consultants (NALSC), where he also served as Chair of the Ethics Committee. Visit here to learn more about Dan, or contact him confidentially with any questions at (202) 559-0492 or dbinstock@g-s.com.

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