The Work

October 9, 2008 5:45 AM

Where Do I Send My Resume Now?

Posted by Brian Baxter


With many firms nationwide cutting back on offers, trimming ranks, or collapsing outright due to the ongoing economic malaise, many Am Law 200 lawyers are in a panic.

"I have never seen more resumes across the board," says Dan Binstock, managing director of BCG Attorney Search's Washington, D.C. office. "I've had far more requests for partner-level searches and partners [themselves] are much more open to talking, even if that's as far as it goes."

Associates are on the move as well. Given the state of the markets, Binstock says stealth layoffs are occurring more often. "Firms feel more justified [in doing so] than they did in the past," he says.

While much of the news is bad, there still are opportunities for those inclined to rework a resume and expand a job search beyond U.S. borders.

The Am Law Daily examines some alternatives for the legally unemployed.


The downturn has hit the world financial centers in New York and London the hardest. And with emerging markets like Dubai and Singapore (pictured above) quickly gaining ground as leading financial centers, many out of work lawyers are setting their sights on the Middle East and Asia.

"I've been just as busy this year as last, but now there are four times as many candidates looking to go overseas from the U.S.," says Evan Jowers, managing director of the Hong Kong and New York offices of Kinney Recruiting. "A big part of it is the market slowdown in the U.S., London, and other Western places, but another reason is that many firms with offices abroad were already looking to expand."

Speaking from Dubai while on a "half-pleasure, half-business" trip to check out the legal landscape, Jowers says U.S. and British law firms in Hong Kong, China, Japan, Singapore, Moscow, and the Middle East are busier than their Western counterparts. But that doesn't necessarily mean firms in those regions have more jobs.

"More people are looking overseas but I don't necessarily think that more are going," says Kinney Recruiting's founder and president, Robert Kinney.

The reasons? For one, greater selectivity.

Just being an associate at a major New York firm won't cut it. "[Hiring partners in Asia] are looking for the best of the best on paper: top 10 law school, top grades, and all the languages that they used to not care so much about, now they care," says Jowers.

Jai Pathak, partner-in-charge of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher's Singapore office, echoes the point. "Among the younger crowd whom we don't know, training and pedigree are paramount, and to a lesser extent, but equally important, is sensitivity to the culture and nuances of the local environment," he says. (Gibson Dunn opened offices in Dubai and Singapore within the past year.)

Also, rather than recruit new talent, many large firms and multinational corporations are relocating current employees, says Mark Anderson, managing consultant of the Dubai office of U.K. legal recruiter Laurence Simons International.

"If you've got people in other jurisdictions who are serving an area like the Middle East, from Europe or America, there might be a time when you eventually need someone on the ground here," Anderson says. "[W]hy not move someone internally rather than go on a recruiting spree, especially in tough times like these?"

In fact, Kinney's Jowers was in Dubai partly to help law firms with nascent Dubai offices set up expatriate packages--employee perks, including housing allowances and other COLA-related expenses. (Several of the recruiters we spoke to for this article say Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker is one example of a firm sending underutilized U.S. associates abroad; Paul Hastings did not respond to requests for comment.)


That's not to say global opportunities have dried up. Gibson Dunn's Pathak sees a constant stream of resumes cross his desk from jobseekers in both the U.S. and Europe.

"I've noticed that a number of banks have moved some relatively senior people who would normally be based in the U.S. or London to places like Hong Kong and Singapore within the past year," Pathak says. "In part, I think that's because the two big economies in India and China are gaining in importance, not just because of the current crisis."

Pathak acknowledges that the current economic crisis will eventually reach Asia (some might argue, given this week's market volatility, that it already has). "This crisis has just hit the West, so people in the East are hunkering down, wondering when the tsunami is going to hit them," he says.

While Pathak predicts a decrease in business for firms in the region, he doesn't expect any doomsday scenarios like the ones the Asian market faced in 2001 or with the currency crisis of the late nineties.

"The Chinese and Indian economies have a tremendous need for investment and capital along with a huge amount of domestic consumption and demand," Pathak says. "The irony of all this is that while the valuations of companies on the Indian and Chinese stock exchanges will become more accurate, the private equity and hedge funds that would normally be interested in buying those companies might [be deterred by] the lack of liquidity in the market."

The Middle East also is a draw for Western legal talent.

"There's a pull and a push factor working here as well," says Laurence Simons's Anderson. "To give you a recent example, we just worked with a large private equity firm in Dubai that took two private equity specialists from Simpson Thacher & Bartlett in New York for both legal and non-legal roles."

Dubai has been a popular destination for Am Law 200 firms over the last few years. Even firms not tied to traditional oil and gas practices, like Gibson Dunn, Latham & Watkins, and Weil, Gotshal & Manges, have set up shop there. Now the need for Western legal expertise is expanding to other emirates like Abu Dhabi. (Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld announced the opening of an Abu Dhabi office on Wednesday.)

"Dubai's been running on all cylinders for three years, and places like Doha in Qatar have still got two to three years to go before they have a main financial hub that's up to speed," Anderson says. "Abu Dhabi is doing its own thing with government-based wealth--it isn't trying to attract international banks, commerce, industry, or multinationals. Instead it's seeking legal services for the sovereign wealth funds there that need advice on what to do with the money they already have."

As Anderson sees it, many of the large Middle Eastern sovereign wealth funds are waiting until the dust settles after the market bottoms out before they sweep in to Western markets picking up banks, financial services, real estate, and retail holdings.

And Anderson isn't worried about the price of oil dropping from $150 to $100 a barrel. The sheikhs figure they need to keep plenty of lawyers employed to make the most they can from it.

"These guys have deep enough pockets and they've got lawyers on the ground in Abu Dhabi doing [energy] diversifying work so they can develop nuclear power over here," he says. "Sure, they've got oil, but if it's only for the next 200 years, they don't want to use it all themselves but sell it to us!"


Bob Kinney has also noticed another trend--legal work originating in foreign markets finding its way back to U.S. shores.

"Some of the best Islamic finance lawyers can be found in Houston because you've got inbound financing activity from the Middle East investing in offshore oil development," he says. "So Texas continues to be pretty busy, and while I don't want to overplay that because we're [based] here, by comparison New York, L.A., and D.C. have really slowed down."

The economic rescue package signed into law last week also figures to provide work for lawyers, says John "Jack" Horan, a government contracts partner with McKenna Long & Aldridge in Washington, D.C. Unfortunately the newly-minted Office for Financial Stability does not have plans for a governmental hiring spree of in-house lawyers just yet--it will operate under the guise of the Treasury Department and hire outside contractors.

"The traditional role of government contracts lawyers will still be useful and I can see counsel advising those financial institutions that eventually are selected," Horan says. "But it's unlikely that lawyers will respond to [Treasury's request-for-proposal] directly because it has asset requirements and provisions for prior experience."

Worst case scenario, if Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Singapore, or Houston don't pan out, this might be the moment to reconsider your career choice and take the time to explore other work that you've always dreamed about but never had time for.

"For some, this slowdown has a silver lining," says BCG's Binstock. "It provides the chance for attorneys to step back, breathe, evaluate their career satisfaction, and determine if they want to continue in the same direction, or whether a more satisfying path exists."

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Tough times indeed but what about the young associates and the 3rd yr. law students. The prior experience requirement and the dwindling opportunities put them at a serious disadvantage.

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