Editor's note: This is the first article in a new series about job transitions for older attorneys. Look for a new article in the series each Monday over the next several weeks.
Much of the recent legal press has been focused on the plight of new and junior attorneys in this economic downturn, but senior lawyers have been impacted as well. Senior associates, non-equity partners and even equity partners have been demoted, downsized or asked to explore other options. This series of articles will address job search strategies for the seasoned lawyer in current market conditions.
BENEFITS OF MATURITY
Numerous reputable studies have documented the benefits of older workers. Among the findings -- and keep these in mind when presenting yourself as a value-added candidate -- are that more mature workers have better judgment, stronger commitment to quality, more reliable attendance and punctuality, lower turnover rates, a high degree of flexibility, realistic expectations, decision making ability and confidence, and an understanding of the bigger picture, possibly from the client's point of view.
This doesn't necessarily jibe with the realities faced by older attorneys in the job market, who are more likely feeling frustrated by facing rampant age discrimination in the legal community -- where most job postings are for attorneys with two to five years of experience -- rather than being appreciated for their maturity.
Why does age discrimination happen? The concerns are often unfounded and unstated, but pervasive. Younger managers may feel uncomfortable telling someone older what to do, as if they are bossing around their parents. Employers may believe that someone older is not as technologically savvy or as mentally quick as someone younger. There may be concerns that you'll be out sick more, or have higher salary expectations than someone younger.
How can you overcome these concerns and successfully market yourself as an older or more experienced attorney? The key is to use your maturity to your benefit. With your hard-earned self-knowledge, wisdom and realism, take an honest inventory of what you have to offer. Even if you find yourself in the job market unexpectedly, take the time to look at the pros and cons of past and current (or most recent) jobs, your preferences, values and life goals.
What did you like and dislike about various positions you have held? For each one, consider these elements: the actual work you did on a daily basis, the people with and for whom you worked, the culture of the organization and its position in the legal marketplace, your clients, the practice, business development opportunities, and your professional growth prospects.
Are you more comfortable in a formal, corporate-style setting, a more informal team-style firm, or a small, entrepreneurial or solo practice where you can be your own boss? Consider also the physical environment, your commute, the pay and benefits. Are you living in the geographic location that is best for you personally and professionally? Think about what the specifics of the projects or tasks you most and least enjoyed, and why. You should be clear about both what you want to move away from as well as what you wish to move toward.
An important question to ask yourself is whether your work reflects your core motivations and values. Are you representing the type of clients and working on the kinds of cases or deals that resonate with your beliefs? It is difficult to effectively and zealously represent a client whose goals conflict with your personal ideals.
If you are like many attorneys, the work you do is integral to your self-image. Do you like what you see? Give yourself an unvarnished once-over. Look at your strengths and weaknesses. Honestly evaluate whether there are some interpersonal, communication or management skills you would like to develop or enhance. How are your mental and physical health, energy level and work/life balance?
Think back to the reasons you went to law school and what you hoped to accomplish. Are you headed toward those goals, or have your goals changed? If you are a more experienced attorney, it is not too late to create and implement a plan. Start from where you are now and look at where you want to go for the remainder of your career.
Do not lose sight of reality, however. Keep in mind your current financial and family responsibilities, as sometimes priorities change along with your stage in life.
You may also want to talk things over with trusted friends and colleagues for a reality check: Are your goals realistic given your background and experience, personality and family responsibilities? If not, is there something that can be changed?
MAKING YOUR CASE
Once you have made a thorough self-assessment, you will be in a position to gather relevant information, consider your options and create an action plan to get where you want to go. Target firms or organizations that you think really suit you. Then, tailor your approach to best express to a prospective employer why it is a fit for yourself and for them, and how you, better than any other candidate, can contribute to their success.
Over the next several weeks, we will give you tools to help you make your case. We will cover specific ways to overcome some of the issues particular to more senior candidates, including managing perceptions, updating your skills, writing a winning resume, crafting a business plan, finding the hidden job market, acing the interview and handling touchy subjects and difficult questions.
We will not cover the basics of resume and cover letter writing or interviewing techniques. There is plenty of information already out there for you to get started. Rather, we will concentrate on how to tweak and polish your presentation to position yourself as a value-added candidate in a crowded marketplace.
Valerie Fontaine and Roberta Kass are senior legal search consultants with Seltzer Fontaine Beckwith based in Los Angeles. Valerie Fontaine is the author of "The Rights Moves: Job Search and Career Development Strategies for Lawyers" (January 2006, NALP). They can be reached at (310) 839-6000, or visit www.sfbsearch.com.