Proven Strategies for Challenging Landscapes

There’s never a “good” time to be laid off. But for attorneys who find themselves seeking a new position right now, the timing can feel not just difficult, but seemingly impossible.

While we indeed find ourselves in unprecedented times, I’ve seen a similarly challenging landscape in the legal industry over the course of 12-plus years coaching attorneys in their job-searching efforts. Recessions, government shutdowns, natural disasters—periodic economic disruptions always increase the difficulty of career transitions.

Yet what my experience has shown me is that attorneys can and do still secure new roles in the most challenging of job markets. Even in the last several weeks, as the COVID-19 pandemic upends the BigLaw industry (and job markets more broadly), I’ve seen clients land new positions—ones that advance their careers and fulfill their professional interests.

Certain strategies have served attorneys with whom I work  particularly well when job searching in a difficult landscape. Examples from a few recent successful placements—all secured under various market hardships—can offer ideas and insights for those searching now.

Network vigorously

Attorneys who cultivate an extensive network within their areas of interest have a huge advantage at the outset of their job searches. Successful candidates reach out to their connections early and often—both to further expand their networks and to gain insight into both open and upcoming positions. Remaining in touch with their networks has helped the attorneys I coach at NB&A secure interviews for the kind of positions they want. Develop a plan for reaching out to your network regularly during your search.

Additionally, connecting clients to recruiters has often been instrumental in supporting success for the attorneys I coach. The right recruiter can be a valuable addition to your network, providing introductions and unearthing new possibilities.

Build an economic case

When decision-makers at potential employers—at law firms in particular—evaluate a candidate’s application materials, they are seeking to understand what benefit an attorney will bring to the firm. I coach clients on strengthening their candidacy by demonstrating the economic value they bring to an organization by developing detailed business plans and prospective client lists. The key is to show employers not just what you’ve done, but what you can do to contribute to the growth of their business.

Cultivate strong references

An important aspect of networking is developing strong relationships with influential colleagues who can speak to your skills. When supervisors tout an attorney’s practice area expertise—as well as their soft skills, like communication and leadership qualities—it makes a profound impression on prospective employers. I encourage attorneys to maintain ongoing conversations with supervisors who are willing to champion them during their job-searching journey. Reflect on the supervisors who could serve as advocates for you.

Enhance your reputation

When your reputation precedes you, you’re ahead of the game from the start. Writing articles for industry publications, giving presentations at conferences, and sharing expertise within the legal community all make a positive impression on potential employers, even before the initial introduction. Continuing such activities (or beginning to do them) while job searching helps you  display your expertise and remain visible in the industry while in transition.

Hone crucial soft skills

One’s practice expertise is a fundamental part of a successful candidacy. But two other key aspects are often overlooked by job seekers: communication skills and emotional intelligence. Attorneys who are equipped with keen emotional intelligence abilities (including self-awareness, self-regulation, and social skills) and a high degree of communication savviness are well poised for a fruitful job search—and further career success once they secure a position.

Taking time to develop greater emotional intelligence and further hone communication skills is an important component of your job-searching activities. When attorneys set aside time to invest in their own growth and look at a transition as an opportunity, they forge a career path that’s truly fulfilling. Seek to reframe your thinking so that you can see your job search as an opportunity to develop such skills.

Perfect interviewing skills

Successful networking and a dazzling resume won’t amount to much if your interviewing skills aren’t polished. In my work with transitioning attorneys, I see excellent results for those who devote time to preparing for interviews. This includes both general interview preparation (such as mock interviews and practicing personal presentation skills) and tailored research on a specific firm/company/government employer once an interview is scheduled. Investing this time can pay huge dividends—one recent client interviewed so impressively that the position was offered on the spot!

Invest in the process

Attorneys are inherently hard-working, driven professionals—and when they apply that work ethic to their job-searching efforts with as much zeal as they would bring to any matter, the results are impressive. I see the attorneys with whom I work truly invest in the career transition process and, as a result, achieve meaningful success when it comes to landing their next positions. While the current global pandemic will add obstacles—both novel ones and challenges familiar from past economic disruptions—the strategies I’ve seen work for clients remain reliable methods for increasing one’s chances of achieving an excellent new position.