First, take heart
With industry reports of selected hiring freezes, compensation reductions, and even layoffs, news about the legal industry job market might seem disheartening right now. But keep in mind that the news tends to report on the negatives and doesn’t always provide a balanced view of how things really look. Our experience at NB&A tells us that, while the legal industry job market is indeed more difficult right now, some employers are still hiring, and some of the attorneys with whom we are working are still landing both interviews and jobs. Your job search may look different (and take longer) than you’d anticipated, but hiring is still taking place.
Adjust your expectations
As noted above, in this market, your job search is likely to take longer than you’d planned—the number and nature of job openings is contracting and shifting. Try to let go of what you think a job search “should” look like. Accept the current reality and lean into shifting your expectations to a new normal.
Continue to track the market
Don’t get lost in online job boards, but do select at least one trusted job board listing positions in the legal industry (and elsewhere, depending on the scope of your search) and keep an eye on what’s posted. Make sure you’ve joined your undergraduate and law school alumni associations; these can be invaluable resources for both job leads and connections. Check out your state’s (and the ABA’s) bar association career centers. Stay in touch with a trusted recruiter or two. Remaining abreast of what’s trending enables you to not only identify potential new job opportunities, but to track industry movement and open additional pathways for making connections.
Lean into (remote) networking
Many employers with open positions might not be posting them on online job boards but are still trying to find talent through their networks—whether to fill an immediate opening or to line up talent for when hiring picks up. This makes networking more vital than ever. In fact, the general need for human connection these days might open the door to even more networking opportunities. Reach out to your contacts with a service-oriented mindset—ask them how you can help rather than just touting your skills. Aim for authentic connection on a human level.
Play the long game
It’s easy to fall into the trap of tunnel vision when you’re anxious to secure new employment. If you can expand your perspective, you’ll have a better chance of success. Imagine where you’d like to be a year from now—and play out multiple scenarios. Keep conversations going with a wide variety of contacts. Remain flexible as the market continues to change. Be open to possibilities like a lateral move, a new practice area, or a temporary placement. Broadening your idea of what your next position might look like will open your eyes to more possibilities.
Expand your expertise
Though many employers might have paused some hiring activity as they wait to see how the market changes, forecasts show potential growth in several practice areas over the coming months. Experts say that the sectors expected to expand include health care, insurance, tax, restructuring/bankruptcy, and employment law. Keep an eye on trends, and look for ways to hone your expertise in such areas.
Build your brand like you’d build your practice
Ironically, working on your own professional profile is often much harder than doing work to support other people—being accountable only to oneself is a particular challenge. Approach your professional branding with the same mindset you’d use to tackle a matter: dig into research, create a strategy and timeline, and execute work product. Now is the time to optimize your LinkedIn profile, write articles or blog posts (and comment on those posted by others), engage in mentoring younger attorneys or law students, and take online courses. You can use this time to reflect on your unique skills and attributes and build out your narrative. If you’re sitting across from an interviewer six or twelve months from now, imagine how you’d answer the question, “What did you do during the pandemic?” Then do the things that will form your success story in the future.
Be poised to leap when opportunity knocks
As part of building your brand, brush up on all the materials and skills you’ll need when a job opportunity comes along. Don’t just update your resume—revamp and optimize it. Draft a sample cover letter or two that you can quickly adapt when needed. Practice your interview skills, familiarize yourself with the world of video-based interviews (here are some tips), run through case studies illustrating your top strengths with colleagues and friends, research and practice digital assessments and job simulation tests. By remaining prepared to move quickly when the time comes, you can ride the waves of uncertainty without feeling like you might drown.
You don’t have to go it alone—seek out the resources that can support you now. If your finances are strained, get savvy about your budget and research how recently passed government legislation (like the CARES Act) might support you with student loan relief or expanded unemployment benefits. If you’re still transitioning out of a firm, ask if they’d be willing to extend the amount of time you can remain affiliated, see if you can support their pro bono matters after your official duties end, or ask if they’ll offer outplacement support if they aren’t doing so already.
If you’re out of work, remember all the wellness-related activities you wished you had time for when you were at your busiest. Developing those habits—like physical activity, eating well, good sleep hygiene, and mindfulness practices—will serve you well right now and far into the future. Consider creating a daily schedule (and making a commitment to stick to it!) that helps you work toward your goals and milestones. Focus on what you can control—your own actions and strengthening your coping mechanisms—and try to let go of what’s outside your sphere of influence.
Be kind, especially to yourself
No one is immune from the anxiety of the current environment, and job searching at the same time is one more area of potential stress. Acknowledge that this time period is difficult and that moments of struggle are valid and expected. It’s okay to have bad days—that’s just human nature. At the same time, celebrate your efforts and reward yourself for small wins. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
Look at the big picture
Limiting your news intake to just one hour a day—instead of constantly checking the latest updates—can help you break the tendency to focus on the immediate stress and remember that this situation will eventually change for the better. We’ve weathered economic storms before. Recall how you and others managed during the last recession, or reach out to those who remember it well if this is the first time you’re grappling with such a situation.
Help others, empower yourself
Taking action always feels better than sitting idly and awaiting what fate throws your way. Sometimes the best way to stay in motion is to help others who are also struggling. Virtual volunteer opportunities abound—both within the field of law and in many other areas. When you make a difference in someone else’s life, you get a powerful reminder that your actions matter and have value.
We all work to make a living, but our careers provide far more than an income. A job is often a source of purpose, a sense of identity, and a means for making a difference in the world. When you’re without employment (or worried about losing what you have), you have to provide that purpose for yourself. Remember what drove you to enter the field of law in the first place, tap into that smoldering spark of passion, and use it to propel you into action that supports both your success and your well-being.