I graduated from law school in 2009. The Great Recession that began in 2008 led to some of the highest recorded rates of unemployment and home foreclosures in the U.S. since the Great Depression. In the summer of 2009, post-graduation, I remember going to bar study classes and hearing that people were either being laid off or told they would not start coveted firm positions until 6 months later, on in some cases a year later. It wasn’t an easy time to graduate from law school. After thinking about the current economic climate we are in, I write this not to scare anyone but to provide some helpful tips that are applicable in a challenging economy for lawyers and non-lawyers.
I did not graduate from law school in 2009 with a job. When I got my bar results in November of 2009, I found out I would have to take the bar again. I registered to take the bar in February of 2010, after failing by 20 points. To read that story click here. Spoiler Alert: I passed the February bar in 2010. I received my results in May and was excited to join the ranks of other attorneys. And once the joy subsided…I wondered what next? And that is the subject of this blog post.
During law school you are focused, as you should be, on graduating and finding a job. Some are blessed to have a job before graduation. However, many law students across the country will have to look for and find employment. And to be honest, even if you have a job, there are no guarantees. We do not really know what will happen with the economy. However, this article isn’t going to focus on what we cannot change, it will solely focus on what is in our sphere of control. So here are my tips on navigating the job market in an uncertain economy, geared toward lawyers, but the tips are helpful to any job seeker. If you have additional tips, please feel free to share in the comments.
1) Create or develop a Linked In page- A LinkedIn page is a useful tool for professional networking. Networking is important. What isn’t often talked about is the power of connecting virtually. I think going to networking events is great, but it is vital that you connect virtually with your classmates and with others in the legal field. In fact, it’s a good idea to network with individuals who are not in the legal profession as well because you never know what job leads or helpful information they may have for you.
2) Update your resume- It is always a good idea to update your resume as you develop in your professional career. If you are currently in law school, a recent graduate, and even if you have been out in the legal profession for a while, you can start with career services at your law school. The career services department usually has the best resources on what is currently acceptable in terms of resume format. HOWEVER, if you are not pleased with the career services department at your law school, want to apply for opportunities where a non-legal resume is needed, or if you want to get additional advice I suggest reaching out to HR professionals or utilizing career resources in your city or county. If you cannot find free resources consider paying a professional to update your resume. I have done this before and it was quite helpful. In fact, it helped my resume get through the rigorous electronic scanning that goes on in job selection at companies.
3) Be open to new opportunities– This message applies in law school and after you graduate. Lawyers have the unique gift of learning how to think through things differently. Whatever area of the law you are in, you can apply that knowledge to another area of the law. I know you may not want to learn a new area of the law but your willingness to be open to opportunities will keep you employed or help you obtain a new job. This openness has allowed me to work in various areas of civil and criminal law and gain lots of experience.
4) Let others know you are looking for work- If you are a baby lawyer or a seasoned professional, you have to let people know that you need work or even a job, so they can help. Often lawyers think we are the only person who can make something happen. The reality is that people are busy handling their own lives and sometimes need to know that you need help and what you need help with. In my opinion, the best way to go about asking for help is to not make a demand. Instead of a demand, ask if you can help someone out with work they have or in the case of job opportunities, ask someone if they can point you in the right direction. When you approach someone with a question, it provides the opportunity for them to partner with you and your result is much more favorable than when you call someone and demand a job. If someone lends a helping hand, please remember to say thank you. (If possible, through handwritten communication.)
5) Learn something new- Continuing legal education is something that many attorneys dislike doing. When you are busy, it can be difficult to think about doing extra legal education on top of your work. However, continuing legal education can provide the opportunity to learn new areas of the law, help you develop new skills in your current area of practice, or assist you in becoming a subject matter expert. In a challenging economy, it is always wise to find ways to distinguish yourself and CLE’s are an excellent and easy way to do that. Additionally, due to the pandemic, many law firms and other organizations are offering FREE or reduced-cost CLE’s for attorneys. (Bonus Tip for Texas law students: If you are a law student who has a student bar card you can earn CLE’s, in the state of Texas, before graduating. This is a great way to accumulate CLE’s before graduating from law school.)
6) Be willing to fail at something new- Now this is a follow up to the previous tip because being open to something new is only half of the battle. Usually when we take on a new endeavor we aren’t experts. We have to risk making mistakes and/or failure, over and over again before we gain a level of proficiency. Be willing to try something new and potentially make mistakes along the way. This sometimes gets harder as we grow in our career but through the process of learning we discover new skills and abilities. Failure is often perceived, because if something is learned, we have gained knowledge that will undoubtedly help us in whatever we seek to pursue. 7)Accept that change is a part of every career- I have read books on change and felt I was pretty good at dealing with changes, until I became a lawyer and if I’m completely honest when I entered law school. I was constantly faced with changes, challenges in my career, setbacks, and even failure. Through it all, I have realized that every career, and life, will involve a measure of challenge and failure. Challenges provide an opportunity to adapt and transform, which is a gift. The better we are at processing and dealing with change, the more open we will be to the gifts we receive from the changes we endure.