How would you rate yourself from one to 10 as a risk taker? One indicates that you still haven't taken your first airplane flight, and 10 indicates that you jump out of airplanes and love it. If you would rate yourself anywhere from seven to 10, I have just one question for you: Why did you go to law school?
While there are a few lawyers who thrive on risk, most lawyers are not comfortable with the concept. They are not generally entrepreneurs. They were the kids who studied like crazy and participated in the right extracurricular clubs in order to have a chance to go to one of the prestigious law schools and thus one of the prestigious law firms. If all of that failed, a second-rate school and a second-rate firm would do just fine.
They didn't want to create the next big thing and put everything they had on the line in order to become successful. The thought of something like that would make their stomachs turn. All they wanted was a secure job with a secure paycheck. Many of them thought they had just that. What happened?
The economy happened, and unlike the last recession, which generally centered around the high-tech world, this one includes the whole world -- and it is scary. However, panicking will not help.
For those of you who have jobs, I have several pieces of advice. First, work. Asking your partners every other day how things are going with that deer-caught-in-the-headlights look won't win many friends. Find out where the work is and dig in.
Second, even if your firm has casual days, dress up a little. It is interesting how much better you will feel going to work dressed like you are going to work than if you are in jeans and a button-down shirt. It also will make others around you know that you are serious.
A partner commented to me the other day, that "If you showed up in jeans on casual day, you were either a very young associate or a very old partner."
Finally, schedule lunch at least once a week with a potential client contact. Even if it is lunch with a lawyer in your own firm who is in a different practice area, it is good to stay in touch and better to remind people who you are and what you do.
Another good lunch partner is someone from a firm who doesn't have your practice area. During the lunch spend most of the time listening, and keep things light. People know when you are trying to sell them. The purpose of the lunch is to learn more about the individual and have them learn a little more about you.
This next piece of advice goes for everyone, the employed, the unemployed and the never employed -- network. Those after-work functions you dislike are crucial now. For the employed, the chances of continued and greater success have a lot to do with the number of people who know you well.
For those of you who have lost jobs or never had a job, networking may be one of the best ways to meet the person who knows someone who is critical to your job search. While recruiters are helpful, far more people will find their next job through networking.
There are some additional steps you need to take as well as some creative maneuvers you may not have thought of. For instance, structure your day. Find a place to work each day. Ideally you will have a friend who can lend you office space, but even if you have a home office, explain to the family that this is your workspace and it is off limits. Set a time to get up, exercise, make calls and write thank you notes. Every day you go to "work," dress like an attorney. Nothing will make you feel worse than working from home in your sweats.
If you are going to have only one resume, keep it general. You want to be available for as many openings as possible. Do not tie yourself down with "objective" or "goal" statements. These will knock you out of positions rather than help you.
On the other hand, computers give you the opportunity to write the resume for the position. If you do this, make sure you have done your homework and know what the position is.
Have someone proofread your resume. A grammatical error on a resume can be the kiss of death if you are in the running for a job. I have received feedback from recruiting partners who say, "If he can't even proof his own resume, how can I trust him to proof something for me?"
Don't just stick to sending your resume to your alumnae or to firms in your current city. Think about other places you would be willing to live. It's a big world out there and jobs do exist. If you have friends in other areas of the country, get in touch and see how things are going in the job market. Do some research on your own. You might be surprised what you find.
Interestingly, you will find some very busy smaller firms out there. They may not be paying top-of-the-market salaries, but they have job openings.
Whatever you do, don't give up or listen to anyone who tells you it's too late to begin networking. You do not have that option.
Like it or not, you are going to have to dig down deep and find the risk taker that lives in all of us. Try something new every week. Go to a meeting where you don't know a soul. Consider areas of the country that are new to you. Learn to jump out of airplanes and love it.