The Talent

March 10, 2009 12:16 PM

Out of Work Lawyers Gather for Job Hunting Advice as Layoffs Continue

Posted by Nate Raymond

As law firms continued to shed jobs, more than 125 lawyers gathered in New York City on Monday night to get tips on how to find a new job.

At the offices of the New York City Bar Association, recruiters and job search executives tried to counsel the room of lawyers on how to get the few jobs remaining in this dismal economy. On a day when law firms ranging from White & Case to K&L Gates laid off 300 lawyers, the well-timed session was particularly bleak. Some of the lawyers in the room had been laid off from firms themselves.

"What we are going through is unprecedented," said Sharon Mahn, a recruiter at Major, Lindsey & Africa. "The good news is it's not going to last forever. The bad news is we don't know how long it will take."

Without a portable book of business, out-of-work lawyers will have a tough time finding jobs in the New  York City market, the panelists generally agreed. Zelda Owens, managing director at legal staffing firm HireCounsel, suggested lawyers in the Big Apple consider a move to another market that has been less affected, such as the Midwest. Other suggestions included giving up on big law firms in favor of smaller or more regional shops.

"Big firms aren't going to be an option for most people," said Diane Costigan, who coaches lawyers on how to get a job and is the former director of professional development at LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene & MacRae.

Some areas are still hiring, panelists said. Corporations will likely need to beef up their compliance teams in the wake of the Bernard Madoff scandal, Mahn said. Along with bankruptcy as an obvious area, Costigan also suggested lawyers look at insurance and intellectual property.

Given how broad the layoffs have reached--the Labor Department reports that the U.S. legal sector has lost 33,500 jobs since the recession began in December 2007--panelists said the lawyers who've been recently let go should not take their firing as the scarlet letter it might have been seen as in years past.

"This is a different market than we've ever seen before," said Marcia Shannon, a principal at outplacement firm Shannon & Manch. "This is a time when the old rules are thrown out."

When the panel began taking questions, arms shot up quick. A woman considering taking a job as a temporary contract lawyer asked whether she should let her employer know she would continue looking for permanent work. A man asked if it was worthwhile to post to (Probably better to apply straight to individual firms, panelists agreed.) An older lawyer asked if she should delete the year she graduated law school to hide her age. (No, the employers will figure it out via the Internet, panelists said.)

Law students were also worried. A female law student remarked that "there are those of us looking for an entry-level position when the law firms aren't hiring" and asked for advice. Another asked how she could indicate to employers she was flexible regarding pay.

Much of the talk focused on the nitty-gritty of how to get a job. Resumes should emphasize recent experience and how a lawyer contributed to his or her previous firm's revenue, such as examples of major verdicts won or deals handled. Networking should become a top priority, and attorneys should follow up with firms postinterview.

"A passive job search strategy will not work in this environment," Shannon said.

Some of the more traditional tools for aggressive searching, though, may not be effective, such as relying on recruiters.

"Unless you have a book of business, search firms aren't as useful as they used to be," Costigan said. "And we're not even talking that long ago, maybe six to eight months."

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Is the legal profession suffering because of the greater use of associate lawyers and the merging of barristers and HCA solicitors in the UK?

Whatever the size of the organisation whether it be high street firms, corporate organisations or public sector departments resources are tight and jobs do suffer.

Is the legal profession held in as high esteem as it used to be and if not why not? If not is that partly contributing to the tough times that lawyers are experiencing now?

Traditionally law firms couched layoffs in terms of a failure to meet the highest quality work standards of the firm. The economy is now so bad firms are behaving like the big companies they service: a layoff is just a layoff due to insufficient work. That is better on a lawyer's psyche than the old message of "you didn't make the grade."

The current job layoffs in the legal sector leaves a sour taste in the mouth.The economy for lawyers is in dire state,i wonder what hopes if any foreign LL.M students have in getting into big law firms in NYC.

I'm not sure the "old rules" are ever thrown out. Those of us laid off in the wake of 9/11 faced months and months of unemployment. When the interviews came, the interviewers at law firms and corporations alike seemed to find the reasons for the "gaps in employment" suspect and the reasons for taking lower paying jobs unrelated to my previous practice unconvincing. In a year from now, the hiring managers will have "forgotten" the economic climate we're in.

All thes laid off attorney should regroup and open their own law firm!!! you have so much potential to do all this.. it just takes energy and willpower!.

In addition to meeting with recruiters, out of work lawyers should focus on marketing their skills. Out of work lawyers today range from new associates to partners. All have appropriate levels of legal skills but may not have the marketing/business development skills necessary in today’s climate. Regardless whether you want to go back into a law firm, go solo, or other, you need business development skills.

Skills needed (and most likely you already have some of this, but may not be practicing it or it needs polishing) include:

▪ Networking (who do I know; who can introduce me; who can refer me?)
▪ Relationship building (this is not short term; relationships take time and effort and giving)
▪ What area is my expertise? Think industry. How can I learn more about the industry, meet people, and understand its issues/problems?
▪ Spend some time with a marketing consultant/coach. This is an invaluable investment. Many consultants can work with you by phone as well as in person. Invest in yourself. choose 3 websites where job seekers got the best results - (networking for professionals) (aggregated listings) (matches you to the perfect job)

For those looking, good luck!

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