Today’s Recession Offers Affiliates Opportunities to Help
By Phillip Long
Phillip Long is an Assistant Editor of The Affiliate and an Associate in the Greensboro, North Carolina, office of Brooks, Pierce, McLendon, Humphrey & Leonard, LLP.
Our current recession is unprecedented. Legal jobs, once considered recession-proof, have been slashed considerably. Past career training for lawyers has focused on the traditional routes of job placement, created during better economic times. As a result, many young lawyers find themselves in unfamiliar territory—unemployed and unsure of the next step. Some affiliates, however, have seen the recession as a disaster among our own—and a time to help out fellow young lawyers.
One such affiliate is the Chicago Bar Association Young Lawyers Section (CBA/YLS), which organized a program targeting unemployed young lawyers—a “Lawyer’s Survival Guide to the Chicago Job Market.” The CBA/YLS annually sponsors an array of career-related programs, such as a “Meet the Firms” night at which young lawyers and law students meet various firm representatives. In this market, however, the traditional “Meet the Firms” approach does not work—firms are not generally looking to hire.
Determining the Need
Michael Rohan, 2008–2009 CBA/YLS Chair, states that YLS reexamined its traditional programs “in response to the recession and the large numbers of layoffs suffered disproportionately by young lawyers in Chicago, with an eye to tailoring them more to current needs of displaced lawyers. . . . When firms aren’t hiring, trying to connect lawyers with firms is less useful. A better use of resources and time is to offer lawyers programs on career alternatives, which aren’t skills on which lawyers typically focus. The focus throughout law school is almost always the traditional law firm model.”
The program also was created, in part, in response requests from CBA/YLS members. “We heard from our membership that they wanted more career-related programming, and we thought this was a particular niche we were not filling already,” said Rohan. “The massive layoffs had already affected many CBA/YLS members, including members of its Executive Council.”
Designing a Response
As a result, the CBA/YLS sponsored a two-hour panel discussion that featured issues facing today’s displaced lawyers. Panelists were chosen to cover an array of issues, including professionals from leading local outplacement, recruiting, and temporary hire firms. Panelists included Rick Cobb, Executive Vice-President of the outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas, and Cheryl Heisler, founder of Lawternatives, Inc. Specific topics for discussion covered post-layoff strategies, effective networking, job searching in the electronic age, working with recruiters, alternative career possibilities, options for temporary and contract work, jobless benefits, effective tips for resumes, and interviewing advice. During the presentation, a moderator helped guide the panelists through specific topics and issues, and attendees were allowed to ask questions throughout the presentation.
The interactive panel discussion was followed by a networking reception at which attendees, speakers, and career professionals could discuss issues one-on-one. Any questions not answered during the panel presentation could be addressed during the reception.
A Successful Program
Reports from attendees were universally positive. Rohan reports that the YLS’s goal “was to provide attendees with practical advice they could use on how to handle being displaced, and how to get back on their feet and complete a successful job search as soon and as effectively as possible.” Attendee feedback shows this goal was met. Rohan states that attendees felt the program was useful since it offered real alternatives for today’s displaced lawyers.
Arranging the meeting was not difficult. Planning for the May event started in February. Much of the planning was coordinated by two CBA/YLS officers and two committee members. Attendees paid $10 to attend, which helped defray much of the cost. The program was advertised through Chicago Bar Association publications. These efforts helped bring more than one hundred young lawyers and law students to the interactive event.
What Else Can Be Done?
Useful programming can go beyond job searching skills and strategies. For example, many displaced young lawyers may need advice an the extreme financial burdens law school debt and other student loans can cause.
Also, the emotional strain from job issues can lead to psychological problems such as depression. Programming could bring in financial and health professionals to discuss these issues. Programming related to maintaining focus and morale during down times, even for young lawyers with jobs, can also be useful.
These are only some of the issues facing today’s young lawyers. Given all of these issues, affiliates have many opportunities to help.
Today’s economy is unprecedented. Affiliates, however, can help lessen the harm to fellow young lawyers by equipping them with necessary skills. As shown by the CBA/YLS, effective programming can be achieved through minimal effort. By focusing on its members’ current needs, affiliates can teach member lawyers, employed or unemployed, the skills necessary to survive in today’s market.