March 10, 2009
"Out of Work Lawyers Gather for Job Hunting Advise 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 Monster.com. (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 post interview.
"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."