We all know that the pandemic has hit most industries hard, including the legal industry. Top law firms imposed pay cuts, layoffs, and furloughs. Most corporations engaged in similar belt-tightening in their legal departments, and law school graduates were often left in limbo. Yet, law firms are starting to turn the trend around as their revenues are increasing. Indeed, the fact that the legal industry has been adding jobs since the summer shows that the legal industry is likely in a slow but steady recovery.
That is great news for those who want to engage with a recruiter to move their career forward in the short term. Even in this climate, people are successfully moving to new career opportunities. However, don’t forget to think about the long term. A pandemic might be a once-in-a-century event, but there will be economic downturns in the future. That is the nature of the market.
That means that we need to consider what you can do to protect your career from major disruptions not only in the next few months but over the course of your whole career. In other words, we need to consider how to make sure your legal career is “recession-proof.”
In this article, we are going to talk about some strategies you can employ to do just that. While there are no guarantees, employing these suggestions in your own practice could both increase your marketability and keep you relatively safe during market disruptions.
- Diversify Your Legal Portfolio, a Little
Just like Wall Street hedges its bets in case a bear market is on the horizon, you would be wise to protect the investment in your law career by doing a little hedging yourself. What does that mean in practical terms? That means that you want to diversify your practice a bit.
Conventional wisdom tells us that when the economy is good, the legal practice areas that do well are those in which people want to buy things, such as real estate law and business law. Conversely, when the economy is bad, the legal practice areas that do well are those in which people want to protect what they already have, such as bankruptcy law and estate planning. There are also a few practice areas that tend to remain relatively stable regardless of the economy, such as labor and employment law, and health law.
Does that mean that you need to be a general practitioner or try to have your hand in a bunch of different, unrelated practice areas? Not at all. It does mean, however, that you might want to have something more in your toolbox than one single practice area.
So, if you are an IP professional, then consider helping with something having to do with labor and employment. Larger businesses tend to drive intellectual property matters, so do not be afraid to help an IP client when the business comes up against a labor issue. Again, this is not a call for you to pursue two entirely unrelated specialties. But if your IP practices grinds to a halt because of an industry shift, your limited labor and employment experience might well become the skill that keeps your work flowing.
- Think Pro Bono
A great way to sharpen certain competencies, like client relations or courtroom appearances, is to do pro bono work. As you know, pro bono work puts you in a different setting than your law firm and puts you in charge of your own cases or transactions. That ability to stretch your wings a bit, run with a case or a deal on your own, and do some tangible good for a client who really needs it is a great investment of your time.
In fact, having a few pro bono experiences might just broaden your legal repertoire enough to show your current employer that they will get a bigger bang for their buck by keeping you on staff if furloughs are being considered. Similarly, it will show a potential employer that you bring a depth of experience that others in your class lack. In sum, doing pro bono work is a classic win-win. You give back to those who need it, all while improving your own legal practice.
- Tend to Your Network
Any relationship is like a garden. You need to water it and tend to it. If you don’t maintain it, then it will wither and become harder to revive. So, another way to stay as recession-proof as possible is to nurture your network both outside and inside your firm or organization. By constantly building existing and new connections, you strengthen your chances of landing on your feet if your current organization decides that major downsizing is the only way to survive a downturn.
So, volunteer your time to be on committees. Ask others how you can help them. Raise your hand and let your employer know that you are open to helping in new areas. As they say, “you only get what you give.” Give to your fellow lawyers, your organization, and your community. Such activity will raise your visibility, will create mutually beneficial relationships, and will provide a solid support system if your current employer is impacted by a downward shift in the economy.
- Develop Your Own Book
As you well know, no one teaches young lawyers how to get clients. You need to develop business opportunities all on your own. And, as you also know, having a book of business is the great differentiator in the law firm practice.
So, unless you are already in-house, you raise your value by marketing yourself and getting your own clients. Once you start to make a little traction with client development, your employer is more likely going to invest in you, even if there is an economic downturn. In short, if you are showing the potential to be an income generator, then employers will want to keep you on, no matter what the market is doing.
We all know there are no guarantees in life. Given that reality, it is a good idea as a lawyer to improve your own capital so that you do not need to worry about economic downturns in the market. By employing some of the strategies above, you will be able to stay above water, even when economic storms are brewing.