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by Vault Law Editors | August 20, 2021


A knowledgeable legal recruiter can be a great asset during your job search, but you must keep in mind the recruiter’s motivations and access to employers—and whether you are in a situation to benefit from their assistance. Most legal recruiters are paid only for successful placements—at the end of the day the recruiter wants you to move in order to get paid. Some searches are “retained” or “exclusive” searches where the recruiter will be paid no matter who is hired. These searches are common for in-house opportunities but less so for law firms. Read on to see when you should work with a legal recruiter, and when you should try other methods.

Track Record

Before you work with a legal recruiter, you should question them on their track record, their background, their connections with firms and markets, and their in-house clients. A good recruiter understands the market well and gives their candidates good advice at every stage of the process, including whether to apply for a position or hold off. The best recruiters see themselves as akin to sports or entertainment agents acting in the best interests of their candidates. A bad recruiter will simply seek to send the candidate’s resume to as many opportunities as possible, hoping one will pay off.


Recruiters should be respectful and communicative and should be generous with their time in offering advice and counsel. They should help you shape your resume and deal sheet based on their extensive experience. If a recruiter has no suggestions or edits to your résumé, they are probably lazy or uninformed, and you would be smart to not work with them.


The best recruiters will tell you if they think that you don’t need their services, and that you should pursue jobs through your college’s career services center, online postings, your network, or through other methods.

Generally, if you are a new law school graduate, unemployed, or a judicial clerk, you should not work with a recruiter. Firms are loathe to pay a recruiter a fee for a candidate they feel they can attract through other means.


If you are looking for a law firm job, you can generally work with a single recruiter as law firm roles are rarely exclusive. You should, however, find a recruiter with strong industry connections. If you are looking to go in-house, you should talk to as many legal recruiters with in-house opportunities as you can because these searches are generally exclusive to one recruiting agency.


Recruiters should send your résumé only to companies and firms you’re interested in and only for positions you’re seeking. Unethical recruiters may send your résumé to companies you’re not interested in or for jobs you don’t want. This can affect your chances of getting hired in the future. Plus, if your résumé becomes widely available at job sites, it may be harder to keep your job search hidden from your present employer. Grill your recruiter on this point and if you find they have violated your trust, immediately end the relationship. A smart recruiter will ask for written permission before submitting a candidate for a job, so they have a paper trail if that permission is disputed later.

Ways Recruiters Can Help—And Ways They Can’t

A good recruiter can quicken or slow down an interview process depending on your needs, and they can reschedule interviews and negotiate on your behalf without making it awkward for you. Be wary of any recruiter promising large signing bonuses—while signing bonuses can sometimes be negotiated, they are not the norm and a recruiter promising such is likely not being truthful.

The Candidate’s Role

It is in your best interest to develop a good relationship with the recruiter. Be completely honest about your professional/educational background and qualifications. Recruiters stake their reputations on the quality of the candidates they present to their clients. If you mislead the recruiter about your qualifications, it will make them look bad and reduce your chances of landing a job. Keep the lines of communication open with the recruiter. If you decide to expand or narrow your job search, tell the recruiter immediately so you’re not wasting their time.

You should never attempt an end run around the recruiter if he or she tells you that an employer is not interested in interviewing you. It’s in the recruiter’s best interest to help you land a job (because then he or she gets paid). Contacting a company directly in an instance such as this makes you look desperate and demonstrates a lack of understanding about the recruiting process.

Take time to consider your background and future needs, and then decide if working with a recruiter is the right step for you. If you’ve decided to connect with a recruiter, choose one you are comfortable with who checks all of the professional boxes.


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