Category Archive: Publications

A Time To Reflect (All Those Tears Will Be Lost In Time, Like Tears In Rain)

How many lawyers do you know who truly planned their careers and then have fulfilled exactly what it was that they planned to set out and accomplish?  As a lawyer yourself, are you now doing exactly what it is that you expected to be doing when you envisioned your future at the end of law school? The answer, if we are being honest, is that very few practitioners end up in the role that they anticipated or with the career that they foresaw all of those years ago at university.

A significant portion of lawyers at the beginning of their careers will either roughly identify an area that they think will sustain their interests, or secure any role they can. We routinely meet junior practitioners who, when pressed, do not really know what it is that they want to do as lawyers.  They just hope to get the right role and then things will simply unfold before them, leading to a long and satisfying career.  The problem with hoping that your career will slowly reveal itself is that you have no real control over how your career will develop.  Instead of just trying to secure a role in an area that you “think” might be a good practice for you, take time to do some honest self-reflection.  This will likely provide more focus, to help narrow down the practices or routes that are likely to be more successful for you.  Longevity in legal practice (in either private practice or in-house) comes from engaging in law and work that continues to motivate and interest you.  One imagines that most lawyers would not be attracted to a monotonous repetitive nine to five job.  Rather than seeing your practice as a job simply to pay bills, plan ahead for a practice that will inspire you in the long-term.

Self-Reflection Exercise

As recruiters working with candidates, we commonly encourage lawyers to complete a self-reflection exercise and prepare a career plan to assist them in identifying their goals.

The self-reflection exercise falls into two parts, both of which follow the same format.  Take two pieces of paper (or use the modern equivalent) and draw a line down the middle of both sheets.  The first sheet can be titled “Likes/Dislikes”.  The second sheet can be titled “Strengths/Weaknesses”.

1. Likes & Dislikes Sheet

Starting with the Likes/Dislikes sheet, on the one side the participant should make a list of all of the things that they like and enjoy about practice.  The object, at this juncture, should be to be as broad as one can, to make sure that all the things that have piqued the individual’s interest are included, as well as all of the things that have been enjoyable and exciting experiences.  While we ask the individuals to focus on the practice areas and work environments they may find rewarding as a lawyer, we also ask them to think about their non-law considerations when completing the exercise to make sure that a position will be compatible with their lives as a whole. It is important to understand that a career in law is a very time consuming one. So, critically important factors from one’s personal life must be acknowledged and incorporated into an overall plan.  Obviously, on the other side of the Likes/Dislikes sheet, the individual should similarly list all of the things that they have disliked and not enjoyed about practice.

2. Strengths & Weaknesses Sheet

The second step of the exercise is to complete the Strengths/Weaknesses sheet. The Strengths/Weaknesses sheet should be a candid and accurate account, including feedback that the individual has received from employers, colleagues, friends and family.  The individual should not confuse and cross-populate the Strengths/Weaknesses sheet with like and dislike line items.  The point of this step is not to determine what the individual would like to think of themselves, but to be an honest reflection of what they know they have a competency in and what they struggle with in practice.  Honesty in this step is crucial.

The objective of both exercises is to determine what makes an individual happy in their practice and what makes them unhappy, as well as where their strengths lie. Lawyers that enjoy long, successful and content careers typically identify both the area of law that truly interests them and the style of practice that works for them early on in their career progression.   Having more positives in your practice, while minimizing the negatives is a critical step in wanting to get up each day and get into work, rather than dreading yet another day at the office.

Peer Review

Once both steps have been completed, we recommend that the individual then have at least one or two close confidants review the two lists. The point of this is that if those reviewers know the individual well, they can provide an outside perspective as to whether the individual is being honest with themselves or not.  Caution should be taken if using a close family member to conduct this review. They may be too close to the individual to provide an honest review. They may also inject their own preferences into the process.

Prepare A Career Plan

After completing the self-analysis, we then ask individuals to prepare a career plan based, in the most part, on their self-analysis.  One of the critical components of a career plan is the flexibility to adapt to unforeseen changes.  We strongly encourage candidates completing our process to do some substantive research in creation of their subsequent plan.  It is important not only to identify potential routes for career progression, but also to start to know who, what and where may be part of that plan.

You may, as a result of the exercises, be able to identify an area of practice that excites you, but you should also learn a little about the people and places that are in your region that will help you excel in that field.  Invest some time at this juncture to determine who the key practices and practitioners are, how those individuals and entities gained their reputations and what it is exactly that they do. Clearly identifying which practices most adhere to the path the individual wishes to set for themselves is a necessity.

In addition to identifying the firms and individuals that match the individual’s chosen path, we also encourage candidates to reach out to and try to understand the day-to-day life of lawyers in those practices. While we cannot completely eliminate all of the negatives from our careers (docketing is a necessary part of any private practice, for instance, and rare is the practitioner who relishes docketing), it is important to get an understanding of the day in and day out of lawyers in any given field.  If the individual seeking that specific path thinks that certain aspects of the chosen field would become an issue in the future, it is better to identify that before the individual is too fully invested.

Once the practices, individuals and types of work are identified, the last part of compiling the career plan is to determine the necessary steps and stages of the chosen career path.  What additional qualifications might one need?  What associations should an individual gain membership in to meet and mix with like-minded practitioners?  What experiences would foster a better and deeper understanding of that portion of the Bar?  And what legislation or case law governs the practice as it currently stands?  Identifying the necessary building blocks for the chosen career path allows one to craft the career plan step by step.

Accordingly, the career plan should illustrate the necessary steps, a timeline of progression and the goals that the individual wishes to achieve.  Typically, we suggest identifying six month, two year and five year timelines for the plan, so that the individual has an identifiable road map to refer back to.  Entwined within the career plan, beyond the practical objectives set out above, should be a self-awareness of who the individual is and what they bring to the table for any given opportunity or step.  The career plan then becomes a reference tool (amendable as circumstances change) when seeing how you have progressed from year to year.

Armed with the self-analysis and the career plan, the individual can then assess situations and opportunities as they arise to determine if they will help the individual accomplish their long-term goals and if those opportunities fit with their overall career trajectory.


Having a deeper understanding of who you are and what you want to achieve shines through when you discuss such things with potential employers.  A confident and focused individual is much more of an attractive proposition to any employer or partnership, than someone who appears to lack cohesive direction.

Get to know yourself.  Get to know what you want.  And get to understand what it is going to take to get you there.

Always Be Closing* – networking, building, socializing

*Glengarry Glen Ross


As legal recruiters, we routinely meet individuals who are at a crossroads in their careers and are uncertain of what to do next.  In private practice, a common situation we come across is of a practitioner who has had excellent exposure to their chosen field of practice, worked with fantastic mentors, but then has no book of business of their own.  With in-house practitioners, in a similar vein, we find seasoned lawyers, who have been pivotal in their roles at their current and past employers, but then have no extended network and no access to alternative employers.

Obviously, part of our mandate as legal recruitment specialists is to assist individuals in such predicaments.  Another part of our role, however, is to provide counsel to more junior practitioners as they progress in their careers, to help them avoid the above situations in the first place.

So, how does one end up with no book of business or connections after years of solid and substantive practice?  The answer is usually nuanced.


Lawyers are lawyers, not salespeople

One resounding statement that we hear from juniors through to mid-level and senior practitioners is that they really do not like networking or client development.  They see themselves as lawyers, not salespeople.  They want to do the work, not have to fake and force “unnatural” relationships.  Give them the files, let them work on the legal dynamics and they’ll make clients happy.  Without getting or retaining clients, however, there may be no files in the longer term.  And being dependent on others to supply you with work is a dangerous path to tread.

The truth of the matter is that almost everyone is naturally a salesperson.  In fact, most of us have been doing it since before we can remember.  The difference is that most of us have not realized that we are constantly in sale mode.  When you make friends, you sell yourself as a good companion.  When you enter into a personal relationship, you sell yourself as a compatible individual.  When you try to convince your child or a family member to accept your point of view or decision, you are selling your proposition.

And the same can be said for your career at any point.  You had to sell yourself to the university you attended to gain admittance, you had to sell yourself to your employer to get hired and even now, as lawyers, you have to sell yourself to your internal clients to show that you have both the legal knowledge and the capabilities to get the task done.

Although the setting may be different from a client development perspective, the underlying premise is the same.  Ultimately, you want to convince that client or prospective client that you are knowledgeable, skilled, understand their needs and are an easy person to deal with.

Fundamentally, you should approach networking, client development and peer association in the same way you do naturally with friends and family.  Identify commonality between you and the client, if possible, show interest in what they say, ask questions, answer questions and simply be yourself (within the boundaries of professional behaviour).

It’s not that important

Another common refrain is that the hyper-busy lawyer has no time to attend to lesser concerns, such as maintaining their network.  While this may often be true and many lawyers do work incredibly long hours, it is a mistake to relegate networking and client development to a constant secondary consideration status.

It really does not take much effort to send an occasional email or make an occasional call.  Keeping in touch with a former law school friend, colleague, client or peer takes just a moment every now and then.  The majority of us appreciate that there may be gaps in communications with friends, peers and even family.  Your personal social network accepts the reality that you are busy and so will your professional network.  An occasional note or call, however, lets us know that the writer or caller has made the effort to maintain that relationship.

In a professional relationship, both sides know that it is really a give and take relationship.  It is a mutually beneficial relationship, whereby one provides services to the other.  It has to feel, however, genuinely mutual.  People are less likely to respond positively if they feel that they are only ever contacted in times of need.  Again, this is certainly true in personal relationships and it is also true in professional relationships.

Similar to knowing that there may be communication gaps with our professional contacts, we also know that our professional network is an extension of our work life, not our personal life.    Although our professional relationships are usually collegial, we do not often consider work contacts to be our inner circle of trusted friends and confidants.  Indeed, we do not expect constant attention or contact from those in our networks, nor would we typically want constant communication.  Despite this, we’re still social and behavioural creatures.  If we feel that a contact only ever reaches out to us to ask for something, then we feel as though we are being used.  Such contacts usually end in a polite thanks, but no thanks.

Being cordial and touching base occasionally without an explicit agenda is an obvious way to maintain that relationship.  A brief phone call, an email, a lunch, a coffee will not really absorb an inordinate amount of time.  The advent of social media has made such networking even easier.  You can simply offer an occasional hello, send congratulations relating to a specific event or even just “like” something on a social media network feed to acknowledge that professional relationship.

Although the legal industry has acquired a more business-like approach over the past twenty or so years, as opposed to its more historical “profession” perspective, it bears mentioning that we should all still be respectful of our fellow practitioners and charitable with our time.  If you expect to cultivate your client and peer relationships by maintaining your network, you should equally expect to respond in kind.

Reputation is everything

Often overlooked by many, in addition to just reaching out to clients, one should also consider the maintenance of your peer network. From law school friends to former articling student colleagues to former peers to lawyers on the other side of a file, we usually have a fairly large group of professional legal contacts just by the nature of studying and working.  Being polite and friendly (outside of legal argument) and professional and good at your job is an excellent way to encourage work to flow your way.  The stronger your reputation is, the more peers, colleagues and other practitioners are likely to refer work to you that they cannot accommodate.

You can further extend that network of lawyer contacts by being actively involved in professional development.  Being a member of Ontario Bar Association groups aligned with your practice, attending conferences, joining other legal associations and contributing to CLE programmes are all effective ways of further promoting your name and practice to other lawyers.

If the idea of social interaction still seems a daunting task, there is yet another mechanism whereby junior practitioners, through to senior practitioners can attract client base.  Written articles, presentations, case summaries, etc. all display that the writer is an astute observer of legal issues addressing the bar today and that they are someone to turn to for specific assistance with matters concerning the subject of their work.  Clearly, engaging in article writing is a time-consuming endeavour, but practitioners should always be aiming to improve their reputations as experts in their chosen fields of practice.

One final small thing that lawyers can do and which serves to further improve their reputations is to be responsive. As obvious as that sounds, a failure to respond to a client, a contact, a peer or a colleague for a period of time can lead to frustration on their part, a feeling that you are insouciant and would be considered by most to be fairly impolite.  And this applies to brief messages that may have little value or urgency through to more pressing concerns.  Simply acknowledging the email will purchase a large degree of good will.


Although Branion Williams focuses on legal recruitment, we previously practiced.  Accordingly, we not only recognize the more subtle aspects of career development, but we also continue to abide by our sense of duty to the profession.  While many of our interactions with individual practitioners are obviously focused on assisting lawyers as they transition from one role to the next, we also commonly provide guidance to many candidates on how they are developing their careers.

We feel that it is part of our role in the profession to help more junior lawyers understand what they should be considering as they progress through their careers.  So, don’t be afraid of client development.  In one on one contacts, treat the client or peer with respect and enjoy the interaction.  Do not let the soft skills and your network management slip and take a back seat. Continue to build on a constant basis.

Ultimately, all of the steps outlined in this article to build and maintain your network are designed to increase your reputation and your book of business. Effectively, the sum of those efforts is a combined sales pitch as to why clients and peers should choose you for their next matter.  By neglecting to work on the client and network development, you are significantly decreasing your chances of securing your own work.  Take the opportunities to get in front of your client at every stage.  Remember: Always Be Closing.

Even if you are not looking to make a career change at this time, we’re always happy to meet new lawyers, so please, feel free to reach out to us to discuss your career trajectory.

Common Mistakes in Job Applications

Common Mistakes in Job Applications

As a legal recruitment company, Branion Williams is keenly aware of the Canadian legal job market. Ever since the economic downturn in the late Noughties, there has been a change in the legal landscape.

We now see two increasingly common phenomena: an abundance of qualified lawyers out of work for lengthy periods; and, employed lawyers frustrated with their career trajectories.

The frustration for the employed lawyers often stems from a recognition that the route to partnership or a senior title (in-house) is becoming ever more unattainable or a realization that the writing is on the wall for them with their current employer.

In such circumstances, both the unemployed lawyer and the frustrated practitioner frequently act out of desperation and, therefore, make bad choices. Unfortunately, while the lawyer can only think of securing the next role, come hell or high water, this desperation and poor decision-making typically leads to less attractive career advancement opportunities.

Invariably, in many of the situations we have encountered, the practitioner would fare better by taking the time to reflect and analyze their needs. Adopting a strategic approach to the next career transition will secure a position that gives you what you actually require in order to progress and have job satisfaction.

We understand that it is easy for us to say that. Despite the fact that it may take some time to find the right role for you, in the long-term, it will pay greater dividends. Too often, lawyers come to us after having already acted out of desperation and made a bad career choice. In most instances, this makes it more difficult for a recruiter to help that practitioner.

Below are some examples of lawyers acting out of desperation. We also identify why such approaches can have negative consequences.

1. The Serial Applicant
A classic example of “one size fits all”. While we have seen this approach numerous times over the years, it seems to be on the rise. In this scenario, a single candidate applies for multiple advertised positions, either simultaneously or over the course of a short period of time, when those positions are advertised by one recruiter (or sometimes even one employer). In addition to often not being appropriate for any of the roles, such candidates will usually apply again and again for slightly different positions. Typically, the candidate even uses the same résumé for all of the positions, rather than tailoring it to match each role and demonstrating why they should be considered.

More often than not, the impetus for “serial applicants” is an underlying dissatisfaction with their current career direction or an uncertainty as to what direction it should take. Commonly, when pressed, such candidates come to realize that they are actually hoping that they will eventually “land” on a good career path if they simply keep trying something else.

The Serial Applicant approach is inherently flawed. A client of ours, that engages in their own frequent recruitment drives, recently discussed their increasing frustration with serial applicants. Their opinion, with which we agree, is that applying for so many roles shows a significant lack of thought. Even if you are appropriate for one of the roles, applying for multiple and inappropriate roles demonstrates a lack of focus. By applying for those inappropriate roles, you are diluting your credibility. This obviously leads to an unfavourable opinion being formed about you by the recruiter or employer and they will quickly lose any confidence in you, particularly if you continue to send them your materials.

2. The Hail Mary
The Hail Mary shares many of the same traits as the Serial Applicant. This scenario involves a candidate applying for just one position, but it is patently clear that they are not qualified. Applications of this nature typically begin with a phrase such as: “Despite your requirements…, I believe that I would be an excellent candidate.” In most cases, they are not.

Although they may be great lawyers, these candidates often lack substantive experience or they may be too junior or senior for the parameters of the advertised role.

To illustrate the Hail Mary approach, we can use a real life example. Branion Williams recently ran a campaign for an international company looking for a mid-level corporate counsel position. The company gave us a specific set of substantive criteria for the candidates, which included between 3 to 7 years of industry-related experience gained at a comparable organization or leading law firm. We posted an advertisement for the role and received well over a hundred on-line applications.

Of the many candidates who applied, only about 25% could have fit within our client’s set criteria. Those that did not fit within the parameters were not appropriate for the role for a number of reasons. In some instances, candidates were not even called to the Bar or were international lawyers unable to practice in the jursidiction. Additionally, some candidates were incredibly senior, whereas others were too junior. A substantial number of candidates certainly did not practice in those areas identified by the client as being conducive to the requirements of the job.

Employers are often frustrated with applications from candidates clearly outside of the scope of the role. It is also a waste of the candidates’ time. If you are applying for a role, be certain that you meet the employer’s criteria. Law is a particularly risk averse profession. By not demonstrating your compatibility for the role, you simply will not be selected for an interview.

In the current legal environment, it is a buyer’s market. When a single job posting is flooded with applicants, only those that are truly strong for the role stand a chance of proceeding to the next stage. By sending in materials that patently exclude you from consideration, you are not doing yourself any favours. Should a subsequent role arise with that employer or recruiter that actually fits your profile, then similar to the Serial Applicant, you will likely have already created a negative impression for that employer.

3. The Resume Flipper
Ah, the Resume Flipper. A Resume Flipper is a candidate who submits their resume and cover letter on-line, without having first taken the time to review them. Often seen for relatively non-descriptive entry-level positions, it is even more disappointing to see instances of the Resume Flipper when the candidate would have otherwise been a strong contender for the actual role applied for. As a practicing lawyer, attention to detail is critical. Unfortunately, in today’s electronic age, many communications have become faster, often at the expense of form and content. As a result, we frequently see candidates work themselves out of contention due to inattention to the role itself.

If a position is worth applying for, it is worth the effort of making your application perfect. With the competition in the market place, the only way to ensure consideration is to appear flawless and better than the majority of applicants.

Too often, we receive generic resumes and cover letters from candidates, commonly sent through in haste, without appreciation for the particular employer or opportunity. If we are advertising for a securities lawyer and you discuss your interest in real estate, we know you did not make the effort. Law, as a profession, is all about the details. If you are not able to pay attention to the details in your own application, do not be surprised when you are not considered for the role.

4. The Over-Sell (aka The Fiddler)
If you put something on your resume, you should be prepared to back that statement up. Law is a profession of utmost integrity. Harking back to first-year law, beware of mere puffs, as the reader of your resume will likely take such statements as fact. If you over-inflate your experience, such as implying that you had ran a multi-million dollar deal as a junior Call, the employer will test you on that assertion. Similarly, even a statement in respect of your hobbies and interests which has been over-played can trip you up and undermine your credibility when the employer asks for more details.

We recall all too well the instance of the candidate who fiddled with his resume. Listing “violin” as one of his hobbies, the candidate was caught out when on an interview, the partner had a violin in his office and asked him to play.

In a slightly more egregious example, one candidate applied for a role for which they appeared to be a fantastic fit. Given their relatively junior Call, the employer also required the candidate’s law school transcripts and grades. The candidate promptly provided them to us. Unfortunately, the candidate had previously applied for a similar role the year before and had provided their transcripts at that time as well. In reviewing the candidate before finally presenting all of their materials to the client, we noticed that the recent version of their transcripts showed a marked improvement from the transcripts they had previously provided.

Simply put, given the ethical standards of our profession, overstating, misstating or providing outright false statements will quickly kill your chances for any given opportunity.

5. The Rolling Stone
One of the saddest trends we have seen as recruiters is the continual movement of some candidates from role to role to role (the “Rolling Stone”). Typically, a candidate is so frustrated with their current role, that they don’t take the time to find the right career path for themselves. Instead, unable to bear their current position any longer, they leave for a new role, which, without planning, invariably ends up being equally unsuitable.

If you are looking to leave your current employer, remember that the pain you are experiencing will likely end as you walk out that door. Do not be in so much of a rush that you do not plan your next step.

Take the time to consider what it is that you want to do. Take the time to consider what would make you happy in the practice of law. Take the time to research the appropriate steps you will need to take in order to achieve your goal. This requires a significant degree of self-analysis and due diligence.

In applying for a job that will help you accomplish your career trajectory, make sure that the role fits you rather than vice versa. If it is not helping you further your career progression it is likely not the right job for you. There are many jobs that you could do, but, the question is, do you actually want to do them?

While we are sensitive to the pressure that individuals face when circumstances are less than favourable, we consistently provide the same advice: remain true to yourself and know your motivation.

For the Serial Applicant, the Hail Mary, the Resume Flipper, the Over-Sell and the Rolling Stone, understanding your own motivations and having a degree of forethought will serve you best.

When you know who you are, formulate a proper plan of career progression, identify the steps you need to take to reach your goals and then pursue that path.