Law Students and Young Lawyers

Advice From The Uninformed

Let’s say that you get arrested and are in deep doo-doo. Would you rather ask for advice from an experienced criminal lawyer or a recent graduate?  The answer sounds obvious, doesn’t it?

And yet, when I was practicing law, I would often see articling students and junior lawyers ask for help from other junior people rather than reaching out to more senior lawyers. Sometimes the more senior people were not approachable or were downright intimidating, but more often than not, the students or junior lawyers were just shy or insecure about approaching them.

I was reminded of this experience when a young lawyer called me recently to ask about dealing with recruiters. It seems that my friend was hearing from her equally inexperienced friends that she was shooting herself in the foot by telling the truth.

The recruiter had asked my friend about her current salary and she had, according to her peers, made the colossal mistake of telling the truth!  What is worse, she had been asked about her salary expectations for her new position and had made the equally egregious error of telling the truth about that as well.

According to the junior brain trust with whom she hangs out, she should have inflated both of those numbers.

My advice was the exact opposite. I told her:

  1. You are a lawyer for God’s sake. You are supposed to be honest and ethical. Do you really want to start your career off by normalizing dishonesty? (I suppose that it is the normal next step for those of you who cheated on the bar exam, but I digress.)
  2. When you tell the truth it is so much easier to keep track of your stories.
  3. Recruiters know the normal salary range for your current position.  They do not want to place liars with their clients. Why would you ruin your credibility with someone who you are looking to for help?
  4. Recruiters know what their clients are willing to pay. By inflating your salary expectations, you may increase the chance that they will not put you forward for the position.

When writing this article, I decided to follow my own advice and ask some experts about lying to recruiters. So, I reached out to two reputable recruiters, Beth Mountford of Smith Legal Search, and Louise Woollcombe of Sterling Legal Search.  

They both agreed that lying to your recruiter about compensation is a bad strategy. There are alternatives, like simply declining to disclose your salary or asking the recruiter to keep it confidential.

What’s more, they both raised the issue of candidates fibbing about having been let go from a prior position, which is also not a good idea.  The better approach is to work on understanding what your part is in whatever went wrong and how you are going to improve, and letting the recruiter help you shape the narrative to be presented to prospective employers.

John Steinbeck said, “an unbelieved truth can hurt a man much more than a lie.” If that is the case, think about how much damage an unbelieved lie can do. 

This article was originally published by Law360 Canada, part of LexisNexis Canada Inc.

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