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Using Third Parties to Assist You in Your Job Search

By Carol Kanarek
Career Counseling

Career Counseling

The first category I will discuss is legal search firms, or headhunters.  Many lawyers erroneously assume that this is the primary means by which attorneys make job transitions.  The reality is that these firms provide access to only a tiny percentage of legal jobs, and they are almost always used to find “square pegs for square holes”.  Search firms are not career counselors; they work on a contingency basis, and the only way in which they make money is by finding suitable lawyers to meet the very specific needs of employers who are willing to pay a very hefty “success fee”—generally 20 to 30 percent of the attorney’s salary.  Consequently, if you are seeking a change in practice focus, or are looking for a non-legal job, a search firm won’t be able to help you.

Because search firms are so expensive, they are used only by those law firms and companies that are seeking lawyers with very specific expertise whom they cannot easily recruit through advertising, social media, word of mouth or unsolicited resumes.  Because there is no shortage of lawyers to fill most jobs, the vast majority of employers of lawyers—including most small law firms, many companies, and virtually all governmental agencies, academic institutions, and nonprofit organizations—do not use search firms.  The employers most likely to use search firms are law firms and corporations that require lawyers with sophisticated commercial expertise representing corporations or financial institutions in such matters as mergers and acquisitions, securities and other corporate or banking regulatory matters, complex commercial litigation, and tax.  Most legal employers that represent individuals or small businesses do not use legal search firms, yet those constitute the vast majority of employers of lawyers in the United States.

For most of you, the best source of guidance will be a career counselor or a career coach.  The primary role of a career counselor is to guide you through the process of career planning—including self-assessment and market assessment—with the goal of helping you to identify career options that will be both satisfying and realistic.  A career counselor can also assist in the job search process by providing guidance with resume and cover letter writing, networking strategies and interviewing techniques.   Just as in psychological therapy, a good counselor can help to find answers and explore options, but he or she is not a placement agency.  Indeed, you should be wary of companies that charge a hefty up-front fee (usually several thousand dollars) and imply that they will be able to find a job for you “because they are so well-connected”.  Usually, these companies are little more than very expensive mass mailing services and have no secrets not known by more reasonably priced counselors.  I strongly suggest that you use a counselor who charges by the hour, which allows you to retain the option to spend as much time with that person as is useful to you.

It is important to select someone who has significant experience working with attorneys.  Otherwise, he or she may spend time attempting to discourage a transition, and will not have information on relevant resources and options.  Good sources of referrals to a career counselor are law school career services offices and bar associations. Indeed, many law schools and bar associations provide high-quality career counseling at little or no cost to their own alumni or members.

Career coaching is related to career counseling, but with more of a focus on specific problem-solving as a catalyst for career growth or change.  The ideal career coach is the functional equivalent of a mentor; he or she may serve as a guide, teacher, sounding board, or troubleshooter.  You may wish to consult a career coach if you feel “stuck” in a job that has been generally satisfying, if you are encountering political barriers in your workplace, or if you have received negative feedback regarding your relationships with co-workers or clients.  Coaching sessions are generally highly interactive, with the client summarizing events that have occurred since the previous session, and then requesting advice or assistance in resolving current dissatisfactions or conflicts.  Unlike a mentor from within your own workplace, a coach has no connection with—or obligation to—your employer, so a coach is a much safer confidante.  Working with a coach for a few months may help you to decide whether dissatisfaction you are feeling can be cured by taking a new approach to your current work environment, or whether a more fundamental job or career change is needed.

And, finally, if you find that your barriers to change are due in whole or in part to the expectations of family or friends—that you are “living out someone else’s dream for you”—you may find that working with a psychotherapist or religious counselor is an essential first step to giving yourself permission to make the changes that are necessary to give your work-life balance and meaning.

Carol Kanarek


Carol Kanarek provides career counseling and coaching exclusively for lawyers. She is also a licensed psychotherapist in the state of New York. Carol can be reached at 212 371-0967 or [email protected]