5 Tips for Job-Hunting Lawyers

5 Tips for Job-Hunting Lawyers

 If you've been keeping an eye on the legal industry, you've probably heard about the recent wave of layoffs taking place in law firms. These layoffs, whether carried out discreetly or in the open, have caused quite a bit of anxiety among legal professionals. The uncertainty about job security is real, and it's got many folks reaching for their phones and setting up coffee meetings.

Now, it's essential to acknowledge that not all legal jobs are at risk. Most of the layoffs have hit the big law firms with oversized payrolls. These firms had ramped up hiring in sectors that were flourishing during the pandemic. Some might argue that this is simply a return to business as usual, a bit of "rebalancing" and strategic streamlining. But the fact remains that annual reviews are looming, budgets are due, and the tide seems to be going out. You've probably heard the saying about low tide and pants.

So, whether your job is secure or not, there are steps you can take to safeguard your legal career.

1. Treat Your Job Search Like a Job

Before you find yourself in the unfortunate position of losing your job, take some time to process the situation. Review your employment agreement to understand your rights. Set clear goals and tasks for your job search, much like managing a project. Wendy Werner, a respected legal career coach, recommended creating a "search strategy statement." This statement should outline the type of position you're seeking, your primary areas of expertise, and if possible, specific firms or companies of interest. It's crucial to do this before a job loss occurs.

Moreover, research not just where you want to work but also how you want to work. Is it time to explore in-house positions or delve into a different area of practice? The evolving work landscape, characterized by remote work and the gig economy, has opened up new career possibilities, including roles as contract lawyers with ALSPs, technology companies, and "legal companies." Dave Galbenski has outlined some of these options in his article, "Silver Lining of Lawyer Layoffs: Reinvent Your Legal Career."

Reconnect with your network of friends, former classmates, and colleagues. Share your search strategy statement with them and arrange meetings to discuss your approach and how they can assist.

Leverage job sites and consider using tools like ChatGPT to assist with research and crafting compelling cover letters. Explore resume-building platforms as well, but always adhere to ethical practices.

2. Maintain an Experience Database

Most career advisors suggest updating your resume and LinkedIn profile annually. While this may not be the most enjoyable task, it's far less painful than putting it off indefinitely. To make this process more manageable, refer back to your search strategy statement and maintain an "experience database." This database should include a list of the cases, projects, skills, volunteer work, recognitions, and awards you've accumulated over time.

When it comes to performance reviews, having a "done list" can be invaluable. It enables you to provide context to the hours you've billed and advocate your own value effectively. It's vital to understand where your time and skills have been invested, whether in document review, writing dispositive motions, or preparing for depositions.

Business development expert Sally Schmidt also underscores the importance of maintaining an experience database. It can help you stand out by showcasing the specific deals you've worked on, including the number of deals and the aggregate dollars involved. This data is compelling to potential clients and employers.

Consider creating a spreadsheet, using Google Docs, or a Dropbox folder (with your personal account) to regularly update your career history. This not only aids your career progression but also boosts your self-esteem.

Pro Tip: Update your experience database and resume before your annual self-evaluation and performance review, even if you feel secure in your current role. It's a valuable practice that helps you assess your progress and remind reviewers of your history and contributions.

3. Be Prepared

Losing a job is never easy, and the shock can be devastating. However, there are steps you can take to protect yourself before facing a job loss. Review your employment agreement, especially the sections pertaining to severance pay and benefits. Take meticulous notes during meetings and exchanges with senior colleagues. You can't have too many notes in this situation.

Regarding physical possessions, thanks to hybrid work arrangements, fewer personal items are kept in the office. Therefore, you needn't worry about being escorted out with a box filled with hastily packed family photos and a lonely office plant. The reality is, job loss notifications often arrive via video conferencing, and you may not set foot in your office again. Your concern should be centered around the fate of your electronic data. What happens if the firm suddenly locks you out of your laptop and phone?

4. Network

If your job search is limited to job websites, you're missing out on a significant portion of the job market. Networking, though it may seem daunting, is critical. Here are some strategies:

If you have a specific firm or company in mind, see if you know someone there. Ask if they'd be willing to pass your resume along with a recommendation.

Don't restrict your networking efforts to lawyers or people you're already acquainted with. Expand your horizons and consider reaching out to new connections on LinkedIn.

Conduct "informational interviews." This allows you to gather leads, inform potential employers and contacts about your skills and career objectives, and possibly secure a referral, all while encouraging people to talk about themselves—a win-win situation.

If you're still employed, start collecting personal email addresses and phone numbers from your colleagues. People often lose touch when they change jobs, and having their contact information readily available can be a valuable asset. Plus, it's wise to keep personal communications on personal devices.

Attend conferences and events in person and make an effort to engage with others. Always remember to express gratitude; it leaves a lasting impression.

5. Don't Panic!

One common mistake during times of uncertainty, according to career coach Roy Ginsburg, is the rush to network with everyone as quickly as possible. It's essential to give your mind time to process the situation. Your best interactions will occur when you're in the right frame of mind. For more advice on navigating job loss, Roy has valuable insights in his article, "Yikes, I've Lost My Job! Now What?"

Remember that even partners aren't immune to lawyer layoffs. While it's uncommon for partners to be affected in the initial rounds of law firm layoffs, it's not impossible. If you're a partner only in name and are considering leaving the firm for any reason, attorneys Daniel O'Rielly and Dena Roche offer valuable advice in their article, "Departing Your Law Firm Partnership." In both scenarios, understanding your rights and obligations to the firm and clients is crucial.

In conclusion, these strategies can help you navigate the ever-changing legal job landscape. Whether you're proactively seeking new opportunities or preparing for unforeseen changes, taking these steps can help you maintain control over your legal career.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Navigating Legal Career Uncertainty

What is the current situation in the legal industry that's causing job uncertainty?

Many law firms are experiencing layoffs due to various factors, including overhiring during the pandemic.

Are large law firms the primary target for these layoffs?

Yes, most of the layoffs are occurring in big law firms with large payrolls.

What should I do if I'm concerned about my legal job's stability?

Take proactive steps to safeguard your career, even if your job is secure.

How can I effectively manage my job search?

Treat your job search like a project by setting clear goals and tasks, and consider creating a "search strategy statement."

What is a "search strategy statement"?

It's a document that outlines the type of legal position you're seeking, your primary areas of expertise, and specific firms or companies of interest.

Why is it important to start preparing before losing my job?

It's crucial to have a plan in place and start networking before facing unemployment to ensure a smoother transition.

What are some alternative legal career options I can explore?

Consider in-house positions, different areas of practice, or roles as contract lawyers with ALSPs, technology companies, or "legal companies."

How can I leverage my network during a job search?

Connect with friends, former classmates, and colleagues, sharing your search strategy statement and arranging meetings to discuss your approach.

Should I only network with people in the legal profession?

No, expand your horizons by reaching out to new connections on platforms like LinkedIn.

What are "informational interviews," and why are they important?

Informational interviews help you gather leads, inform potential employers about your skills and career goals, and potentially secure referrals.

How can I ensure that my resume and LinkedIn profile are up to date?

Regularly maintain an "experience database" listing your cases, projects, skills, volunteer work, and recognitions.

What is a "done list," and how can it benefit me?

It's a record of your accomplishments that can be useful for performance reviews and advocating your value within your firm.

Why is maintaining an experience database important for my career progress?

It helps you stand out by showcasing your specific achievements, which can be compelling to prospective clients and employers.

When should I update my experience database and resume?

Update them just before your annual self-evaluation and performance review.

How can I protect myself before a potential job loss?

Review your employment agreement, particularly the sections about severance pay and benefits. Take thorough notes during meetings.

What should I do if I lose access to my work devices after being laid off?

Be prepared by using personal devices and cloud storage for personal business to avoid losing important data.

Why should I collect personal email addresses and phone numbers from coworkers?

It ensures you can stay in touch with colleagues even when job changes occur.

Are physical layoffs common in today's remote work environment?

No, most layoffs are conducted remotely via video conferencing, so personal items in the office are less relevant.

How can I ensure my networking efforts are effective?

Attend conferences and events in person, make an effort to engage with others, and always express gratitude.

What common mistake should I avoid when networking during times of uncertainty?

Rushing to network with everyone as quickly as possible can be counterproductive; it's essential to give your mind time to process the situation.

Are partners in law firms also at risk of layoffs?

While less common, partners can be affected in law firm layoffs, especially if they have the title but not the client base.

What should departing law firm partners be aware of?

Partners should understand their rights and obligations to the firm and clients, whether they're leaving by choice or other reasons.

How can I stay informed about industry changes and career advice?

You can access relevant articles and resources provided in the original discussion to stay updated on legal career strategies.

Is it too late to start implementing these strategies if I'm already concerned about job security?

It's never too late to begin taking steps to safeguard your legal career, even if you're currently facing uncertainty.

Where can I find additional guidance on navigating legal career uncertainties?

The legal industry is constantly evolving, so stay informed through articles and resources provided by experts in the field and professional organizations.