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Laid-Off Lawyers Might Need to Adjust Expectations
King & Spalding's announcement Friday that it was laying off 122 people across its offices, including 37 associates and counsel, adds more people to the growing corps of highly qualified lawyers and legal staffers hunting for jobs in a tight market.
High-paying jobs at big firms are scarce and competition for them is stiff, said several local recruiters. There are jobs out there, but they are likely not traditional third-year corporate securities positions at a big firm.
"I have excellent candidates who haven't had interviews in months, especially in the corporate field," said Josh R. Kenyon, a recruiter with Hughes & Sloan. He said the recession was hitting junior associates the hardest. "There is a good pool of '07s that can't get interviews," he said.
Job hunters should certainly consider other practice areas, other locations, in-house jobs and jobs with smaller firms, said Melba Hughes, the principal of Hughes Consultants.
But, she cautioned, "don't just send your resume to midsize firms because you're trying to duplicate your King & Spalding job at a midsize firm. They're having trouble as well."
"If you're a junior associate, you may not be able to duplicate that big firm position right away, but there are jobs out there. It's a matter of thinking about and adjusting your expectations to the available pool of opportunities," said Hughes.
Big firm jobs have become as scarce in other major cities as in Atlanta, said several recruiters.
"There is not a whole lot out there in larger markets," said Stephen D. Stone, the director of attorney recruitment for Cambridge Counsel.
Stone said that there are more big firm jobs in Washington, D.C., than Atlanta, since it has more firms and has not been hit as hard by the recession, but he cautioned that competition for any big firm job is stiff. "The world is in a deleveraging process. Law firms are deleveraging as well. Positions are getting hundreds, if not thousands of applications," he said.
Richard Rice, the head of attorney recruiting at FirstPRO, said smaller markets could prove more fruitful for attorneys seeking jobs with firms. "Everybody's going to D.C. That's not a market where we want to send people, even though there are jobs and placements there," he said.
Rice noted that jobs in Washington, D.C., are in areas such as government contracts and intellectual property that have not been impacted by the recession as much as real estate, banking and corporate law. Jobs are also available in bankruptcy and workouts, he said. "You need to have skills that are portable," he cautioned.
Rice said he's moving attorneys to firms in Denver, Phoenix and Sacramento, Calif., but added that candidates need to have a connection to the city. "That's what gets the candidate in the door," he said. "You can't take someone with no ties and drop them into Sacramento."
Midsize firms can also be an option, said Rice, who reports that he's placing candidates with more midsize firms than large firms right now, since they don't depend on large institutional clients that have been hit hard by the recession.
At Hughes & Sloan, Kenyon also reported that firms in smaller markets, such as the Florida cities of Tampa and Naples, have some openings, but he agreed with Rice that those firms want to see some type of connection to the city, whether a degree from a Florida law school or family in the area.
"The fear is that, otherwise, once the economy picks up, these people will leave," Kenyon said.
Kenyon added that he was not seeing a lot of opportunities in smaller cities in Georgia.
IN-HOUSE, CONTRACT AND BEYOND
Corporate legal departments are an obvious place for associates to send their resumes. More work is being done in house, said Cambridge Counsel's Stone, but right now, he cautioned, "most things are frozen."
"When things loosen up a bit, we will see a bit of increased hiring, since many companies want to have someone inside as a fixed cost instead of using outside counsel on some matters," said Stone.
Meanwhile, contract positions can be a way to get out of one's pajamas and keep the bills paid.
"As in-house departments continue to focus on costs, we're getting increasingly busy with a wide range of work," said W. Dennis McKinnie of Counsel on Call, which places attorneys in contract positions.
"It's a difficult market to find an associate a position with a big firm, but we're seeing opportunities in other areas," McKinnie said. He exhorted laid-off attorneys "not to sit on the sidelines. Network, talk to people who have been witnessing these scenarios play out for the last year and explore different options."
Associates laid off from big firms may not have undertaken a job search on their own before, without the aid of law school career services or a legal recruiter. But jobs outside of large law firms and corporate legal departments often don't pay enough to support recruiters' commissions. And some boutique firms prefer to find their own candidates.
Hughes said firms in smaller markets might have jobs, but they're less likely to use recruiters. "Find firms you're interested in and contact them yourself," she said. "If you're not doing that, the other kid is going to get the job. Call up people in other places that graduated from your law school and ask them about the market in their region."
She added that lawyers should also think about government jobs and nonprofits. Legal career services and attorney development are other options. These are relatively new professions that "lawyers have taken and owned," said Hughes. "There are jobs within those infrastructures that people ought to be thinking about."
Hughes encouraged suddenly jobless associates to think about what they really want to do with their lives, whether inside or outside of law. "Some of these people would be just as happy doing something different. This is an opportunity for them to do that and embrace it," said Hughes.
"This is a good time for folks who might not have been loving what they do to take a breath and re-evaluate what they want to do," agreed Stone. "They need to be leveraging all their contacts for big law, mid-law, small law and no law." He added that using a career coach can be helpful in sorting through the options?and coming up with new ones.
Stone noted that many associates who've been employed at big firms appreciate structure. To them, the open-endedness of a job search in the current market can appear daunting.
"If you need a quantifiable measurement, measure the activity that you're doing, not the quantifiable results. Say that you will have coffee with X number of alums from your law school or people who are doing what you want to do," he advised.
Stone counseled job-seekers to approach their search like a sales campaign. "Get in front of people. Get informational interviews. Network. If you're not comfortable with networking, then look at it as advice and perspective-gathering," he said.
"Working the job boards is not going to cut it," he said.
Hughes cautioned that when people lose their jobs, their first reaction is paralysis. It's important to stay active while on the job hunt, she said. "Get up every day and volunteer. Do something constructive. There are lots of organizations that could use some help."
"They may not get a job with another big firm in the city of Atlanta, but as I tell people when I counsel them one on one, you will get a job," said Hughes.
"Many of these people have done everything right. They've gone to the right schools, studied hard and performed well. They will get a job. They're bright people," Hughes said.