We toil away our law school lives (ostensibly) towards the goal of becoming a lawyer, studying hard to hopefully end up a heroic legal iconoclast, shaping and making the laws of our world… or at the very least, an exceptionally well-paid hired gun. But what if your job was to hire the hired guns?
“Like many young lawyers working in mega-firms, I was working long hours and not really loving it,” says Jason Elias, who founded his own legal recruitment company, Elias Recruitment in 2000. “It was prestigious, a great firm and had the potential to pay well, but day-to-day, I was not excited to draft documents. My uni job was as a Club Med entertainer, so I found the change to legal practice enormous. I was always more of a people person.”
Elias’s road to recruitment is echoed across the industry.
Andrew Taylor, a legal recruiter for Naiman Clarke, observes that most of his fellow legal recruiters are also ex-lawyers – from big city law firms to suburban practices. After an aborted shot at corporate clerkships, a stint in the Aboriginal Legal Service (and a brief flirtation with a career in criminal law), Taylor answered a job ad on Seek’s legal/human resources section. “As they say, the rest is history!”
“Good recruiters are the ones that ‘run’ to the recruitment profession rather than ‘run away’ from law,” says Taylor. Surely hidden in this observation is another – drafting legal documents is a world apart from sitting in cafes talking promising lawyers into new roles for a firm-paid commission. So what skills do you need to make the leap from lawyer to recruiter?
“Like any sales job, you need be tenacious and persistent to best represent your clients and candidates,” says Elias. “Recruitment is more art than science. A good ‘gut feel’ is important in matching candidates to the right job and workplace culture.” Sincerity also factors high for Elias. “You have to genuinely want to help the people you represent to really succeed in recruitment.”
The attractions of making the switch are obvious: work-life balance, earning potential and a vastly different daily grind. Recruitment is ideal for those who thrive on interacting with others. “Many recruiters enjoy the autonomous nature of the role,” Taylor observes. “They want to be able to use their legal knowledge without having to fill out a time sheet.”
Recruitment also offers flexibility, says Elias, a father of three, all under six years old. “My colleague, also an ex-lawyer, has worked with me for five years part-time to coincide with school hours and study commitments.”
Rebecca Smith has taken a markedly different route to recruitment. Founder of Bizelaw, an online career site for the Australian and Asian legal industry, she recently ditched her corporate M&A career. After seven years, she had reached the crossroads of the partnership path or trying something else entirely. Young, talented and tenacious to a tee, she struck out with her own venture in May 2012.
“Throughout my legal career, I often wondered why the legal industry did not have its own career site. I found applying to firms directly quite time-consuming as it involved checking the websites of many law firms – so I invented an alternative.”
However, Smith was inspired as much by the lure better work/life balance as pursuing the big idea startup. “While I really enjoyed M&A law and actually got a buzz from working long hours on big deals, I felt that I was missing out on time with family and friends and doing things that I wanted to do outside work. It was also the point in my career where I needed to make the decision to work towards partnership. After returning from a stint in Asia, it felt like the right time to pursue something new.”
To law students submitting countless CVs (claiming, yet having little idea of what the five or 10 or 20 year plan might look like), Smith advises self-reflection.
“Law is a demanding profession so you need to have at least one good reason for pursuing a career as a lawyer. Give it a proper go – you’ll gain useful skills and incredible experiences. But you’ll only get as much out of it as you give – and, yes, this can mean foregoing work/life balance.”
Changing professions, like any big shift, takes time. “While it’s never too late to leave the law you will need to be on the look-out. You may need to create your own opportunity.”
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