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How Do Firms Find New Associates? A Look at Law Student Recruiting v. Lateral Hiring
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Summary: What is the difference between law student recruiting and lateral hiring?


When law firms want to add associates, they either recruit law students or hire headhunters to help them find lateral hires. Both processes are time-consuming and expensive for the firm, but finding the right candidates is so crucial that the firm is willing to make this investment. Unlike in some other industries, new hires at law firms are expected to stay long-term, and their attitude and skills affect the overall culture of the organization.

“The quality of hiring determines the quality of the firm over time and, to a great extent, the shape of its future,” said Harrison Barnes of legal placement agency, BCG Attorney Search, which has helped thousands of attorneys find lateral positions throughout the country.

Most firms have summer associate programs that allow them to assess a law students’ talent before offering them a full-time position. Traditionally, firms find summer associate candidates through on-campus interviewing, but some firms have begun ditching that method because of the high costs. Nowadays, some firms make summer associate decisions based on direct resume submissions or through law school career service offices.

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Barnes explained what law firms seek and assess when it came to law student hires.

“When you are looking for a position as a law student, you are competing with roughly 30,000 other second-year law students for one of 4,000 or 5,000 summer associate jobs in good-sized law firms,” said Barnes. “Then, the only thing the law firm has to evaluate you on are factors such as (1) the quality of your law school, (2) your law school grades, and (3) your personality.”

The second way firms fill positions is through lateral hiring. While firms offer generous referral bonuses to lawyers who bring in other qualified attorneys, it is often tough using that method to find a match for the firm’s need. According to Barnes, it is different and far more difficult to snag a lateral position than a summer associate opportunity.

The difference between law student recruiting and lateral hiring is that a lateral hire allows firms to find attorneys who match their practice area needs. While firms would like to avoid the cost of a headhunter or placement agency, the benefit of hiring a company such as BCG Attorney Search is invaluable.

“A good legal recruiter can increase your odds of getting a position because a good legal recruiter has the market knowledge to locate law firms (in every city) that have an “untapped need” for someone with your qualifications,” Barnes said. “They know when a firm is growing in your practice area, and they know what firms will always have an interest in candidates with your background. Being a good legal recruiter is an age-old matchmaking skill.”

For more information about BCG Attorney search, check out their website.


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