9 to 5: 9 Observations Regarding the Legal Job Market & 5 Strategies for New Attorneys Entering the 2009 Legal Job Market – A 3 Part Series (Part 3 of 3)
By Amanda C. Ellis, Esq.
Parts 1 and 2 of this post examined 9 observations regarding the legal job market: (1) layoffs; (2) hiring freezes; (3) pay freezes and bonus cuts; (4) increased bureaucracy in lateral hiring decisions; (5) busy small firms; (6) hot practice areas; (7) geographical variance among practice areas; (8) a slow moving hiring process; and (9) importance of law school grades. For recent graduates looking for jobs or third-year law students who are expected to graduate in 2009 and have not secured permanent employment, I offer 5 strategies in light of these 9 observations.
5 Strategies for Attorneys Entering the 2009 Legal Job Market:
1. Look at smaller firms. Did you notice that 4 of the 9 observations discussed in Parts 1 and 2 applied specifically to large firms? And, did you notice that they were all negative observations? So much of the news we hear about the legal job market is from and about large firms. And, there is so much emphasis (some say too much emphasis) on large firms at the law school level. I am sure the focus on large firms during law school is attributable to the larger firms conducting on-campus interviews and establishing a presence among law students.
However, you must remember that the overwhelming majority of new law graduates do not begin their careers in large firms. The National Association for Legal Career Professionals conducted a study on attorneys who graduated in 2006 and found that only 20% went to work for large firms (defined as law firms with more than 100 attorneys); the majority of new graduates went to work for firms with fewer than 50 attorneys. So, while you may feel like your only employment option is with a big firm, there are many, many other firms out there – and, they are busy (see observation #4). It just may take a little work on your part to find them since they aren’t actively recruiting at law schools. Knowing which firms specialize in the hot practice areas will help!
2. Hang your own shingle. I am amazed at the resources and support system available for attorneys looking to open their own practices, and I imagine a significant number of new attorneys (even seasoned attorneys) don’t even realize they exist. Susan Cartier Liebel maintains the site Build Your Solo Practice and wrote a blog post in October suggesting that now, in a shaky economy, is the best time to start your own business. Susan also runs Solo Practice University, a web-based educational community where attorneys can learn from other solo practitioners, marketing consultants, technology consultants and other business professionals about how to plan, build and grow a solo practice.
Carolyn Elefant is another solo practitioner who blogs frequently at MyShingle.com about what it takes to make the leap to solo or small-firm practice. Carolyn (@carolynelefant), Susan (@SCartierLiebel) and a host of other solo practitioners actively engage in discussions on the social networking site Twitter. If you don’t have a Twitter account, create one (it’s free) and join their conversations! Additionally, most state and local bar associations also have sections or committees devoted to solo or small-firm practice and offer resources, including resources focused on starting your practice. If you have the entrepreneurial spirit, going solo might be a great option for you.
3. Network creatively. Networking is critical in a good economy and even more critical in our current economy. Every job seeker knows this so you must get creative with your networking. For example, if you had a career before entering law school, how can your previous career help you get a legal job? Perhaps you were a teacher or worked in the education field prior to law school? Network with your old contacts in the field and ask them which attorneys represent the school, the district, etc; if they don’t know, perhaps they can put you in touch with someone who does? Market yourself to firms/attorneys that specialize in education/school law and express your desire to continue your work in the field only in a different capacity (as a lawyer).
Another example of creative networking is to engage alumni from your college or high school or hometown who are also attorneys. Many colleges and universities have their own list-serves or networking groups for alumni attorneys; if your college doesn’t, create one! Finally, if you haven’t added social networking to your networking mix, do so now! This is a topic worthy of an entirely separate blog so I won’t go into great detail here. At a minimum, you should maintain a profile on LinkedIn.
4. Consider relocating to another legal market. Consider other legal markets where you have connections or ties; if the other markets are thriving, particularly in practice areas in which you are interested, consider relocating for a few years.
5. Clerk for a judge on a temporary basis. I know several attorneys who recently clerked in a non-traditional capacity. One attorney clerked for a federal judge for a few months while the judge’s career clerk was on medical leave. Another attorney was hired for a specified term (one year, I believe) to serve as an additional clerk to the bankruptcy judges in the Northern District of Texas after the 2005 Bankruptcy Reform Legislation led to a significant increase in consumer bankruptcy filings. It is certainly conceivable that the current increase in consumer and commercial bankruptcy filings could create a demand for similar temporary positions. Keep your eyes open for positions like these. The website for the Federal Judiciary lists employment opportunities in the Federal Judiciary.
In sum, do not let the negative news headlines discourage you. If you entered law school knowing you wanted to be a lawyer, there will be an opportunity for you; it will just take some longer to find that opportunity so be patient. My first-year torts professor (now, the President of the University of Texas) gave our class some advice that I still remember and believe to be true – no matter where you rank in your class, you will be doing something in 10 years that truly makes you happy. He was right! And, I know the same is true for you!