Editor's note: This is the second article of a two-part series from The Legal Intelligencer looking at the way lawyers affected by the recession are coping. Read the first article here.
When Raymond Bayley, CEO of legal services firm Novus Law, was describing the state of the legal profession to a group of Georgetown University law students recently, he spoke of non-lawyer ownership of law firms coming to Britain, an opinion by the American Bar Association allowing non-lawyers to handle certain legal work, changes to compensation models, the ACC Value Challenge, a dissatisfied client base and a disaggregation of legal services.
Put more succinctly, the industry is changing. And that means lawyers' views of their career paths need to change as well.
"The industry and the profession has an obligation to help those in the profession, but this is a situation where we are in an environment that is so radically different than the past, lawyers have to take ground-level responsibility for where they are going," Bayley said in an interview with The Legal Intelligencer . "The whole industry is in turmoil, so each lawyer, before they look to the profession, has to look inside and say: 'Who am I and what do I want to do when I grow up?'"
And that might mean a career alternative or a career transition, David E. Behrend of Career Planning Services for Lawyers said. He is helping lawyers find alternative uses for their law degrees and transitioning them into new industries.
"The skill setting knowledge that lawyers get in law school is very valuable in other industries," Behrend said.
The best manager in Major League Baseball, he argued, is law grad Tony La Russa. Lawyers have opened business franchises, led nonprofits and joined the Peace Corps, he said.
The toughest obstacle is shedding the tunnel vision that often plagues lawyers, he said, particularly when they are specialists and view their skill sets as limited to one area.
There are job openings out there, but with several applicants vying for each spot. Behrend said it's the job opportunity lawyers need to look for -- or create for themselves. That might mean, especially for freshly minted lawyers, taking advantage of their bachelor's degrees. It could also be a willingness to take on two part-time jobs or a position with an emerging company that might bring with it more risk. These decisions often depend on the age of the lawyer and family circumstances, but there are opportunities for all experience levels, he said.
"I firmly believe that almost all lawyers with their education have employment security, but not necessarily job security," he said, "meaning that they should be able with some assistance to find capable work of a professional nature."
But Behrend is blunt with the attorneys he counsels about the realities they will face in the market.
"The public does not feel sorry for the lawyer one bit," he tells them. "No one is going to feel sorry for you."
While they might not be taking pity on lawyers, there are organizations out there that are interested in bringing lawyers on board in varying capacities. And it's both unemployed and employed attorneys looking at these alternatives.
Glenn Manko, director of executive search at The Dubin Group, handles searches for attorneys and non-attorneys alike. He said companies are now seeing opportunities to bring in lawyers in a number of different positions who, a few years ago, wouldn't have considered leaving the partner track.
Some enter as a head of business affairs or corporate development and others are just looking to serve as more of a consultant on the business end, Manko said. Corporate America is starting to come back in terms of hiring and attorneys are looking to create more functional resumes that speak to their specific skill sets, he said.
Manko spends a lot of time working with clients on breaking down their experience and identifying how certain skills could apply on the business side.
Art Bousel's company, Lawyer 2 Lawyer Coaching, began 10 years ago after he received a number of inquiries asking how he had transitioned out of the law firm world and into another business.
Right now he is seeing a lot of attorneys looking to small businesses by taking experience from a prior career or their legal specialty and trying to market themselves to businesses in those fields. Often those relationships start on a part-time basis, he said, because there isn't a need for a full-time commitment. But that can often grow into something more substantial.
Finding a job is definitely possible in this market, Bousel said, but it takes ingenuity, determination and the guts to work the streets and know what's out there. That, and the four Ps.
The "determinative" factor in finding an alternative career, he said, is personality. The other "Ps" are patience, pride and proof.
Job seekers have to have patience, let go of pride that might be stopping them from taking a step back and looking at other options, and have the ability to prove to their target employer they can handle the job. That might mean working on a volunteer basis or for a nominal fee to start, Bousel said.
Finding a job in this market also means sending your resumes to places you normally wouldn't, Bayley, an adviser to Georgetown's Corporate Counsel Institute, said.
Maybe a recent law school graduate could find a job at a law firm, but it would be in China, Singapore or the United Arab Emirates, he said. They might look to consulting firms like Navigant Consulting or Huron Consulting Group, content creators like Thompson or Lexis Nexis, or technology companies involved in e-discovery matters, Bayley said. The federal government is also "hiring lawyers like it's going out of style" and nonprofits are a possibility, he said.
Bayley said his company views the legal world as being separated into legal work and lawyer work, with about 70 percent involving legal work that can be done outside of a typical law firm model or by a non-lawyer.
When asked whether lawyers looking to make these transitions would be facing pay cuts, Bayley said: "There's going to be a rationalization of the pay structure and I think that, in time, law firms might find themselves competing in more of a free market, free economy labor market."
Turning a legal background into a multi-pronged role at an emerging company, for example, could end up far more economically beneficial because of stock options and other incentives, Bousel said.
Regardless of the specifics, some industry consultants are optimistic about the options available to lawyers looking to break free of the traditional career path.
The advice they dispense is straightforward. What will carry attorneys through these transitions is largely an entrepreneurial spirit. That might mean volunteering, working more than one job, creating a new business or creating a position for yourself by proving your value to a company. In any case, it means thinking outside the law firm box.