There is no way to sugarcoat this. The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in most of us working remotely with only a vague sense of when things might begin to open up; it has resulted in a massive economic downturn, with over 10 million people filing for unemployment; and it has resulted in pay cuts and layoffs as law firms and law departments are trying to manage the pandemic.
Indeed, according to The American Lawyer, D.C.-based Arent Fox is cutting associate pay by 25 percent, and equity partner distributions are being reduced by 60 percent; Day Pitney has cut some attorney and staff pay while temporarily reducing working hours and pay to 60 percent of normal for other staff; and K&L Gates has implemented a hiring freeze in addition to a 15 percent reduction in salary for attorneys and staff.
As described in Law360, Legal Depts In Service Industries Take Brunt Of Virus Impact. “But unlike firms, corporate counsel aren’t uniformly dealing with the financial effects — those in customer-facing industries are feeling the pain a lot more than those whose business is more insulated from a downturn, according to legal experts.”
All of that is to state the obvious: we are in an environment in which many law firms and in-house legal departments are assessing their hiring. That is not to say that there are not opportunities still out there, but this is a tighter market for a career move in the short term. Yet, what about the long term?
“Organize, Don’t Agonize”
As it was once said, “organize, don’t agonize.” So, even though we can see some major challenges in the short-term, that should not cause us to wring our hands and bemoan our fate. It should motivate us to get organized. Now is the time to prepare for when the legal industry gets back to hiring in earnest, which could be sooner than you think.
There are always things we can do to sharpen our resume, improve interview techniques, and broaden our professional networks and our overall skills. You likely already have a “to-do list” in mind of the career management materials that you have wanted to update or polish, but never actually got around to it. Try not to lose the energy that will get you geared up for your next career move. Below are a few thoughts about areas on which you can focus.
- Get Your Materials Updated and in Sync
Does your resume have your latest accomplishments? Does your resume match the information on your LinkedIn profile? How many deals have you done, and for how much? How many cases were successful for your internal or external clients, and how much money did you save them? Those are just a few of the updates that you now have a little breathing space to think about.
When there was the everyday hustle of life, you likely settled for “good enough” with regard to your career management materials. You make priorities when you are pulled in many directions. But now you have a little extra time to take a little extra care. And that attention to detail can pay dividends in the long run.
So, use this time to update, clean up, and clarify your resume, your go-to cover letter template, and even your career goals. As the pandemic has shown us, life can change overnight. You want to make sure that you are doing what it takes to have the career you want.
Networking is a tough skill for many of us to learn or develop. You do not learn how to network professionally in law school. It is tough to learn while you are scrambling to juggle work or internal client needs, and the knack of networking does not come naturally to most. So, do not be daunted by the fact that networking may not come naturally to you.
Yet, just like other skills in the legal industry, networking is something that you hone over time. The best way to get better at something is to do it, and the easiest way to start a tough task is to start slow. Here is a technique that might get the ball rolling for you networking-wise:
Go onto LinkedIn and set a goal for yourself that you will reach out to a different colleague, former colleague, friend, or acquaintance at least once a week, just once per week. That is four new “touches” a month with someone in your sphere of influence with whom you have not connected in a while. Over the course of a year, that is 52 new seeds planted with people from your past. You will soon see those career connections, referrals, and possible writing or speaking opportunities that will come from reconnecting.
As they say, M&A lawyers do great in a bull market, and bankruptcy lawyers do great in a recession. The coronavirus has shown that practice areas such as health law, insurance law, employment law, and bankruptcy have increased in volume. Are there parts of your practice that you can emphasize that can help people during the pandemic? Perhaps you have been dealing with one particular area of health insurance benefits. Maybe you could reconfigure your scope a bit to meet some of the needs out there today.
- Use This Time to Train
Finally, most of the world is home and online. Since you are already plugged in, why not complete some CLEs? In that same vein, have you had a desire to work on your public speaking, or your legal writing? If so, this time is perfect for adding to your skillset by getting some training, signing up for a virtual workshop, or attending a webinar. (Tip: If you register for a webinar and can not participate, more often than not, you will be sent the recording which you can listen to at your convenience.)
The dividends that come from honing your skills are many. Not only do you learn or improve some general lawyering skills, but you can show employers when the time comes that you have those arrows in your quiver. The more you can offer an employer come interview time, the more valuable and attractive you are as a candidate.
Moreover, workshops and learning opportunities to enhance your career do not only need to be on legal topics. Use this time to learn more about business and about managing people. Anything that you do to add depth to your personal development will help you distinguish yourself from competing candidates in your career as well.
There is no question that this is a challenging, unpredictable time. This may be a unique opportunity to “organize, not agonize. ” Get your career management portfolio, including your social media presence, updated, refined, and perfected. Revive those professional connections in your network. Enhance the skills you bring to the table.
We will get through this. And when the emergency orders start to be lifted, and the right opportunity presents itself, you will be ready to grasp it.