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“Turn out the lights; the party’s over.” Such may be the refrain of the 2009-2010 law school recruiting season. In a down economy, law firms across the spectrum of size, geography and practice concentration have reduced their hiring goals and in many instances announced layoffs of their existing complement of lawyers and staff. Some law firms, indeed, have collapsed or forged hasty mergers. For law students, “downsized” associates and other lawyers in transition, these may be stressful times as many struggle to obtain and retain their jobs. For law firms themselves, however, the financial turmoil may herald changes in the recruitment process that could eventually work a fundamental restructuring of employment in the profession. Here are some steps jobseekers may consider to help adapt to the new recruitment practices. TIME-SHIFTING For years, the recruitment of junior lawyers has followed the academic calendar. Just before the start of the 2L year, students interviewed for summer jobs (typically, on campus) with law firms, collecting “call back” invitations and choosing to pursue further interviews with some, but often not all, of the firms that extended invitations. By the holidays, in the early winter, most 2Ls had summer jobs. Such positions generally led to offers of permanent employment, which typically began near the start of the next academic year (after the graduates took the bar examination in the summer). The regularity of that schedule may be gone. Many law schools are moving up their dates for on-campus interviews to August in an effort to improve students’ chances of acquiring precious call-back interviews. At the same time, some firms are seriously considering a switch to springtime recruiting to help them more accurately gauge their recruiting needs. And many firms have “deferred” start dates for incoming classes of associates to November, December or later in the academic year after graduation. For law students and other jobseekers, the new year-round recruitment may require dedication to a perpetual campaign of job seeking. To thrive in these circumstances, some basic steps appear essential: • Begin surveying job possibilities early (during the first year and perhaps even before law school). • Go beyond the standard forms of on-campus and call-back recruiting over a fixed period. Consider other year-round networking opportunities, including online placement tools. • Look for internships, part-time employment and pro bono opportunities that can serve as entree to permanent employment and as a bridge between school and a full-time professional position. HEIGHTENED SCRUTINY The traditional law firm recruiting process relied heavily on “paper” credentials: law school ranking, GPA and law review participation often topped the list of considerations. Many law firm interviewers avoided tough questions, preferring a friendly exchange and promotion of the firm. Students who landed summer jobs, moreover, were almost guaranteed an offer of permanent placement. Those days, too, may be gone. In a buyer’s market, law firms can afford to be more selective. Reduced profit margins and client demands for more efficient service, moreover, make every hiring decision more important. As a result of these economic changes, firms have begun to apply more stringent criteria in hiring, and some have employed more rigorous new forms of screening. Both the ABA Journal and American Lawyer, for example, recently reported on the use of “behavioral interviewing,” in which candidates are asked specific questions about how they have handled difficult circumstances in the past. In this environment, preparation is key. Jobseekers should consider: • Do the research necessary to learn the specific needs of potential employers. Use all available resources, including the vast amount of information offered on the Internet. • Prepare to demonstrate to firms that your interest is more than casual. Highlight, in interviews, in cover letters and during the course of a summer job or internship, reasons why your specific skills and interests may fit well with the firm’s needs and opportunities. • Prepare for tough questioning in interviews. Have a few examples ready to illustrate circumstances where you overcame adversity, demonstrated leadership, proved your adaptability and made sound judgments. These need not be examples from your work life, but you should be able to tell your stories in a cogent, credible manner. • Follow up. More than sending a perfunctory “thank you for the interview” e-mail, enlist the support of contacts at the firm and offer references who can truly speak to your character. FRACTURED WORK FORCES The traditional law firm has relied upon “leverage” as a source of profits. A few partners at the top of the structure commanded legions of middle- and junior-level associates. The more lower-level meters that could be run on a project, the more the partners at the top could profit. Economic changes may radically restructure that system. Clients are demanding “bang for the buck.” Some are insisting on fixed-fee billing. Firms may begin to adopt “just in time” resource management, bringing in specialists on projects and often outsourcing to contract lawyers, rather than relying on a pool of “grunts” to muscle through projects by dint of numbers. In this fractured work force, it may be particularly difficult for jobseekers to prove their immediate worth to law firms. Consider: • Some form of specialization early in a career may be vital. The ability to provide immediate added value a law firm and its clients may mark the truly desirable candidate. • Get practical training. Take law school classes such as accounting, commercial transactions and finance that may parallel the work you expect to do at the firm. Seek out internships and learn-by-doing experiences. Once in practice, take CLE courses that can give a better understanding of your chosen areas of concentration. • Pitch in whenever needed. Look for opportunities to demonstrate a “can do” attitude, which may be repaid with additional opportunities. • In a pinch, consider temporary or part-time work. Some newly minted lawyers are serving as contract attorneys, and even paralegals, as they wait out the economic storms. Such positions can provide useful experience and contacts as well as a source of income. Consider combining such a position with pro bono work, which can give additional training and a sense of accomplishment. Steven Bennett is a partner in the New York City offices of Jones Day and a member of the firm’s Training Committee. His publications include: The Path to Partnership: A Guide For Junior Associates (Praeger 2004).

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