Common Myths – “Firms Don’t Look at Direct Applications”

by Albert Tawil, Founder & CEO of Lateral Hub

Common Myths in Legal Recruiting – Firms Don’t Look at Direct Applications Without Search Firm or Employee Referral
Some of what we’ll be doing in the Lateral Hub blog/newsletter is debunking common myths in legal recruiting.
Today’s common myth is that firms don’t look at applications if they are not submitted by a search firm/recruiter or through a referral from a firm employee.  That’s not true.
This is often the subject of memes and online forums for lawyers.  I was glad to see a few comments from associates on these platforms that direct applications were actually the easiest way they found a job, so it seems there are some candidates out there who know this is not true (but not enough)!
Before I proceed, I will acknowledge that if you are reading this, you are almost certainly a lawyer and therefore skeptical by nature.  Doesn’t Lateral Hub operate a job board that allows candidates to apply directly to firms, and therefore biased?  
Well, I’m fortunate that I’ve had the chance to speak with many many firm recruiting teams during my initial research for Lateral Hub, at the NALP Conference in April, and during ongoing meetings with firms to join the Lateral Hub Job Board, with my main question being – how do you hire?  The insights expressed here reflect these conversations and are based on real-life examples.
So, why is this myth not true?  Here are four main reasons:
Firms Need Lawyers
This answer is simple.  Law firms with lateral openings are eager to hire quality candidates, especially nowadays in a tight market.  Almost every firm I’ve spoken with over the last couple of months has mentioned they are having trouble finding candidates to fill roles.  (Yes, firms are still hiring with a possible recession coming.)  Firms have no incentive to skip over any applications.
Recruiting Fees Can Turn Into Signing Bonuses
Among all of the ways that a firm can hire laterals, a direct application is by far the least expensive…  By contrast, for candidates that are hired via a search firm/recruiter, firms pay 25% of the candidate’s base salary (~$60K-$100K).  For candidates that are hired via an employee referral, firms pay referral bonuses ranging from $20K-$50K (for a desperate need, some firms may even offer as high as $75K for a limited time to its own attorneys, who then immediately turn into an army of recruiters for a week).
A firm has significant financial incentive to *not* ignore direct applications.  By hiring a candidate directly, a firm can save on those recruiting fees.  Often times, firm recruiting teams have a budget from management to be allocated per hire: for example, $100K to go out and get a midlevel associate for a certain practice area.
Therefore, if a candidate applies directly, the recruiting team then has more leeway to reallocate those funds to a signing bonus for the candidate.  This isn’t just theoretical: many of the firms I’ve spoken to about the Lateral Hub job board mentioned this as the first way they would reallocate funds when they hire a candidate directly through the platform – it’s already been budgeted from the powers that be and is a way to win talent from other firms that may have also extended offers.
In addition to the financial benefits, many firms have expressed that they prefer direct applications for other reasons.  Applying directly shows that the candidate is confident in seeking out the opportunity by herself.  In addition, firms usually have an easier time coordinating with a candidate directly, for scheduling and understanding the candidate’s goals at the firm (for example, to set up second-looks or Q&As with attorneys) rather than going through an intermediary and risking a game of telephone.  This is also why firms love employee referrals.
Doc Review
Many recruiting team members at AmLaw 100 firms have told me in our conversations that, as a matter of policy, they review and respond to every single application that comes in, no matter what.  
For example, a lateral recruiting manager at a large international law firm mentioned to me that this is the firm’s policy, even when it is time consuming or the candidate is missing basic qualifications (some hopeful candidates apply without even having JDs… but the firm still responds, I imagine perhaps something along the lines of… “you don’t have a law degree and we are hiring lawyers”).  And when a candidate does apply directly and the firm is interested in interviewing, the firm follows up quickly to set something up.
I had a similar conversation with the Director of Recruiting of a Vault-ranked top-10 firm.  Despite the prestige and size of the firm, the firm’s recruiting team reviews and responds to every single application.  This was so refreshing to hear.  The Director of Recruiting told me something along the lines of: “We are not some random company.  We are one of the nation’s top law firms known for providing white-glove service.  We don’t think it’s right for candidates interested in our firm to not have their application reviewed or acknowledged.”
Many people put large firms on a pedestal and assume that they are too snobby to review applications unless they are presented on a silver platter.  But it turns out it is the opposite.
There of course may be benefits to applying through other means, especially if your application needs an additional “push” (for example, you are retooling from another practice or with a non-traditional career path).  
But for the large majority of applications with credentials that speak for themselves, firms welcome and encourage direct applications.  And as a candidate, it can give you a leg up by being a less expensive hire for the firm and/or turn into a higher signing bonus into your pocket.

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