Editor's note: This is the second 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.
One common, but often unstated, perception working against senior candidates is that they are not as technologically savvy as their juniors. Similarly, candidates who have been out of the job market for a while may not be as aware of changing trends affecting the legal profession. In both cases, a smart but seasoned job-seeker will get up to date with technology and trends, and communicate that knowledge to prospective employers.
BRUSH UP YOUR TECH SKILLS
Technology changes so rapidly that everyone needs constant updating. Stay on top of the latest tools and trends. Consider enrolling in a community college class if you need the basics. Often, the easiest place to start is to ask any available young person for assistance!
Practice until you are comfortable and competent with e-mail, Internet research, and basic word processing. At minimum, you want the skills to create your resume and cover letters, conduct online research of prospective employers and specific job openings, post or e-mail your application materials and follow up appropriately. Once on the job, basic computer skills may be required for research and drafting your work, as well as transmitting and receiving communications both within and outside of your organization.
Lawyers in the job market must have at least a cell phone and regular access to e-mail. Let prospective employers know that you have moved into this millennium technologically by listing your cell phone number and e-mail address on your resume. Check your phone and e-mail messages regularly as employers have an expectation of responsiveness.
Consider setting up a profile on online social networking sites such as LinkedIn or Plaxo. (MySpace or FaceBook are not recommended for business purposes.) Many employers will check these out and you will appear more tech-savvy/hipper if you are there. These sites are invaluable for expanding your job search network as we will discuss in more detail in a future installment of this series. Again, get someone to help you if you are intimidated.
BE FINDABLE ONLINE
These days, in order to have credibility as a business person, you must have a professional presence online. In addition to participating in the social networking sites, make sure you are listed at all of the appropriate places, such as State Bar online records, your firm's website, directories of any professional or educational organizations to which you belong, etc. Confirm that the information is accurate everywhere you appear online. If you are listed on a company or law firm Web site, include all professional affiliations, publications and presentations, with links to the full texts of any articles you have written where possible. You want to position yourself as an expert in your area of practice.
If you are self-employed or looking for a new position, you might consider creating your own professional Web site containing the same sort of information. List your individual business Web site on your resume. Your Web presence must look professional. Carefully select colors, images and fonts. Graphics such as the scales of justice and law books are overused and trite; choose something more visually engaging. Unless you are a true webmaster, hire one!
KEEP IT PROFESSIONAL
In all of your online business dealings, maintain your professionalism. Use a businesslike e-mail address, such as Google's free gmail service, specifically for job search and professional purposes. Nothing dispels the image of a crackerjack lawyer faster than a resume which lists something like "firstname.lastname@example.org" or "email@example.com." You can be as imaginative as you like with your personal e-mail correspondence, but choose something benign for business, such as "firstname.lastname@example.org" or "email@example.com."
Similarly, use a different personal e-mail and/or a pseudonym which does not identify you for your postings at sites, blogs, chat rooms, etc., which have nothing to do with your life as a lawyer. If you share your opinions on controversial but non-law-practice-related subjects on the Web, you especially want to keep your personal and professional Web identities completely separate.
KEEP IT CLEAN
The Internet has made it easier and faster for prospective employers and candidates to find a match. On the other hand, all it takes is a quick Web search to reveal your personal proclivities, which can knock you out of the running for your dream job. These days, many employers are doing that search before making a hiring decision. It is wise to do a periodic Internet search on your name. You might be surprised by what you find, and you don't want digital dirt to preclude you from a job opportunity. It is up to you to ensure your online presence is squeaky clean.
STAY ABREAST OF TRENDS
You need to know where the action is so you can be there. Since your last foray into the legal job market, there may be new areas of law that you might be expected to be familiar with, or that might provide new avenues of career opportunity. Prospective employers constantly are opening, closing and expanding. Stay abreast of information regarding trends in the business world and legal profession generally as well as about various areas of practice. Read business journals, the local newspaper and the legal press -- either in hard copy or online.
DO YOUR HOMEWORK
Employers expect you to know information about them that is easily found on the Web, another reason to polish your Internet research skills. Virtually all major law firms and corporations have Web sites. Read not only the home page, but also the history of the organization, practice areas, attorney and/or executive biographies (especially those of anyone you might be meeting in an interview or at a networking event), press releases, recruitment information and any information regarding recent deals, cases or products.
For publicly traded corporations, annual reports and securities filings can be found on EDGAR Online. With a little research you can determine the financial status of the company, the value of any stock options, the identities and backgrounds of the key players, and even their compensation. Also, Hoover's business directory online will give you capsules of information about a large number of companies for free, with the option of a paid subscription for a more detailed analysis.
No online research session is complete without a general Internet search on the prospective employer's firm name through a site such as Google or Bing which surveys several search engines at once. NALP (National Association of Law Placement) online employer forms contain charts with valuable information such as the firms' ethnic and gender make-up, billable hours requirements, and the numbers of partners and associates in various areas of practice.
COMMUNICATE YOUR SAVVY
Consider mentioning in a cover letter or interview that you read something relevant on the Internet. Evidence of your up-to-date tech skills and knowledge of industry trends, combined with your demonstrated legal expertise, will help solidify your ranking as a value-added employee.
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.