Your Job Just Got Deferred—Now What?

Emily Hirsekorn
Develop an action plan to maximize your time over the coming months.

Develop an action plan to maximize your time over the coming months.

Mikolette/E+ via GettyImages

You did everything right in law school: earned top grades, worked for a judge, scored that prestigious summer associate position in big law, and ultimately accepted the post-bar position of your dreams. But now you’re unemployed with a start date that keeps getting pushed back further and further due to pandemic-induced economic uncertainty. And now, you have pandemic-induced anxiety and not a clue what to do between the bar exam and your new 2021 start date.

Whether your start date is deferred by just a couple of months or an entire year, you’ll want to develop an action plan to maximize your time over the coming months.

Establish a Mutual Understanding with Your Firm

If you haven’t had a comprehensive conversation with your firm, now is the time. Make sure you are on the same page with all pertinent terms of your arrangement, including start date, commitment, as well as compensation and benefits once you start working and in the interim. Arrange for a conversation via phone or video, rather than email, to allow for multiple questions and a more conversational back-and-forth exchange. (A couple of grads have asked about filing for unemployment insurance during this time. I am unable to provide legal advice and recommend speaking with your firm if you have questions about eligibility for benefits like unemployment insurance.)

Continue Networking

Some firms that have deferred start dates by just a few months (e.g., from August 2020 to March 2021), are providing deferred grads with a stipend to help with expenses before their new start date. If this applies to you, indicating your firm has made a clear commitment to keeping you on staff, hopefully, that stipend covers your immediate expenses. While you may be able to relax a bit, I strongly recommend networking nonetheless to make the most out of this unusual time. Here are two ways to go about it:

  1. Existing contacts. Let them know that (i) you are set up to return to the firm where you worked as a summer associate, (ii) you would love for them to have a copy of your most updated resume, now that you’ve graduated, and (iii) you would like to stay in touch over time.
  2. Virtual programming. Attend events put on by relevant professional associations. Plenty of associations are continuing with strong programming, albeit virtual, and you can always follow up afterward with speakers or panelists who grabbed your attention.

Consider a Short-Term Position or Educational Program

Pro Bono Opportunity

During the Great Recession, instead of rescinding offers entirely, some firms deferred start dates by an entire year and encouraged grads to pursue partially funded pro bono work with a public interest agency during the year off. If your firm deferred your start date, inquire whether it might be open to facilitating such an opportunity. This opportunity would be an excellent way to give back to the community during a time of such great need before going corporate.

Judicial Clerkships

Speak with your law school’s career services office regarding term clerkships and short-term clerkships. Every year I see the occasional grad working in a six-month judicial clerkship, which would be perfect if your start date was deferred well into 2021 or by an entire year. Even if your start date is not deferred for a whole year, consider discussing the clerkship route with the firm. See if anyone at the firm (or your law school) has insight into clerkships opening up—this could present a win-win opportunity for you both!

You may be thinking to yourself, “Sounds great, but weren’t all of the judicial clerkship secured two years ago?” Yes, the vast majority are secured well in advance. However, the occasional last-minute clerkship also pops up each year for a variety of reasons, such as a clerk going on parental leave or a new judge getting sworn in.

Certificate Programs

If you are entering a specialty area of practice, such as privacy law, pursue a certificate like the IAPP’s Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP) certificate. Other common areas with certification programs include (i) corporate governance, (ii) compliance, and (iii) legal operations, innovation, and technology. Not only will the additional qualification boost your resume, but you could also score additional assignments once you start working and raise your base salary faster.

If you have a technical background and have been putting off the patent bar, now is the perfect time to take it with adequate preparation. Be sure to keep your employer informed of the great work you are doing during this time so that they can start to take note of your demonstrable work ethic and commitment to excellence before you even start on with them as an associate.

Short-Term Work

If you need to make ends meet right now, have no shame in taking any paid work. Speak to your law school’s career services office first about short-term, post-bar legal opportunities, and check their job board. Reach out to your network to see if anyone needs help on a project basis.

Final Considerations

You’ve now committed to taking a break or doing something else during this interim timeframe, but you’re concerned about how your temporary endeavors will impact your marketing materials. Don’t be!

Employers should go easy on candidates with unusual breaks in employment in 2020–2021. While it is not crucial this year to show you were always employed, it is critical to show you were productive. If you pursue any of the paths outlined above, or another way that supports your skill development, that should suffice. Good luck, grads, and reach out for support if you need it!

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Emily Hirsekorn

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Emily Hirsekorn is an assistant director in the Office of Career and Professional Development at the  University of San Diego School of Law.