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Since Sept. 11, the legal profession has felt the heavy impact of a continuing economic decline. It is difficult to read the popular and certainly the legal press without seeing notice of lawyer layoffs. This evidence of the speed of the decline has moved swiftly from the West into the Midwest and now to the East Coast. Expressions of “we learned from the early ’90s — we would never fire associates again” — are now forgotten in daily reports of the newest firm to “reposition” its staffing. People still recovering emotionally and physically from the destruction of much of lower Manhattan are now worrying about whether their firm will be the next to make an announcement. There is a great sense of unease in New York City’s legal community that just gave, and continues to give, so much to the other Sept. 11 casualties and is now having to deal with additional economic victims of its own. If you find yourself the unfortunate recipient of a layoff notice, there are some things that you can do to make the transition out of the firm and into your next employment smoother and shorter. THINK BEFORE ACTING Use the time you have to really consider what you might want to do next. Many law school graduates chose their current setting (firm, government agency, public interest organization, etc.) for reasons that had nothing to do with career planning. Other matters seemed more relevant at the time, including financial considerations and the ease of finding employment opportunities. For many students who accepted a position in a large-firm setting, firms came to their law school to find associates, and thus not much independent work was required to find a job. Financial need or personal reasons for being in one particular location may now have changed. Take another look before you jump into something new. Use a career counselor if you are really not sure of what you want to do next. There are some counseling centers, often attached to universities, which, for a flat rate, offer a number of counseling sessions as well as career testing instruments. Also, many state-operated unemployment offices provide support groups for laid off professionals. They can be surprisingly helpful in supplying resources and services for people who want to transition from private practice into a business or government setting. ALLOW TIME TO GRIEVE The loss of a job is a major life transition. Give yourself the time to feel the pain and to deal with your emotional needs. Talk to friends, relatives or others you trust. Seek professional assistance if necessary. Short-term medication for situational depression can sometimes be helpful in getting you past the first few months. Resist the temptation to vent with or at co-workers who are still employed at the firm. They may appear sympathetic at first but they may be too afraid of being the next to be terminated to really help you — besides, no one wants to assist an angry or upset employee. NEGOTIATE YOUR DEPARTURE Firms will often give you options as to how and when you leave their employ. Most want to be fair to a departing employee and will offer a menu of choices to those who know to ask. What used to be six months or longer in transition support to laid off associates is now approximately 12 weeks. Many firms offer outplacement assistance and referral to a headhunter or two. You should try to negotiate for the following: 1. Request secretarial and telephone message support for as long as the firm is willing to provide that assistance. Being able to have someone take messages for you can be of great help in seeking other employment. It also ensures that you will not miss any calls and that someone can provide important contact information to a potential employer. Once the telephone (and or secretarial support) ends, make sure that the message on your home telephone answering machine is professional and helpful. Most of all, be sure that the answering machine is in good working order. You do not want to miss a job opportunity because you were unreachable. 2. Obtain a new e-mail account separate from the firm’s system. Your firm e-mail account will be discontinued immediately after your leave the firm. Thus, be sure that there is a referral message or an automatic link from your firm e-mail account to your new e-mail address. Remember to add your new e-mail address to your resume just below your address and telephone number. Once you establish an e-mail address, stay with it for the duration of your job search. There will be no easy method of “updating” your application once you begin to send out resumes, and e-mail has become an accepted means of contacting you for an interview or further information. It is still recommended that you send your resume and cover letter on paper through the usual mail channels. E-mailed resumes, due to differing computer access and printing systems, are still not of sufficient quality that they can replace a printed, professional-appearing resume and cover letter. 3. Select outplacement assistance that is helpful to your needs. Some firms already have a contract with an individual or a company; others will allow you to select an outplacement organization. If you are interested in remaining within the legal profession, be sure that you are working with a person or company familiar with the manner in which lawyers are hired. Business or industrial outplacement concerns are wonderful for people wanting to transition into another type of employment but they often do not have the knowledge or sensitivity to nuances in lawyer hiring. This is also true for lawyer outplacement counselors who will most likely not have the best information about business hiring. Also, realize what the role of outplacement counselors is and use them for the specific benefit they provide. Most outplacement counselors are just that — they provide counseling assistance in helping you to transition from the firm. Some offer telephone-answering assistance, space to work on your job search, resume and cover letter assistance and other “supportive” activities. They do not act as headhunters in recommending you to particular job openings or aggressively searching for employment for you. They are paid by the firm for a specific period of time to provide you with transitional support, not necessarily job placement. 4. Agree on how references will be handled. Determine before you leave what the firm will say to prospective employers about why you are leaving. Potential employers will be very interested in why you left your previous place of employment. The message from both you and your prior employer must be accurate and consistent. Also, even if you are being let go for “quality of work” reasons, there is usually at least one person at the firm willing to attest to a particular project or written assignment that you did well. Again, this will be important in gaining the confidence of a new employer, who must be assured that your work will be of good quality, will be completed on time and that you can work and play well with others. No one wants to hire someone who may cause problems within a team or who cannot meet deadlines with good quality, usable work product. 5. Select an effective, ethical headhunter. Often the firm can recommend a headhunter it has done business with, or you may want to identify people whom friends have had good luck using. Headhunters can be of great assistance in directing you to particular types of jobs that are good matches for your experience and interests. Realize, however, that you have to be directly involved in your search and that headhunters work primarily with large firms that can afford to pay their rates (often a percentage of your salary). Never give a headhunter permission to send out your resume without your approval. Always think about where your credentials are being sent and what the benefit is for you. In a slow economy, you may have better success utilizing your own contacts or approaching the firms directly. Because some prospective employers resist paying these fees, you may want to consider whether using a headhunter at all is in your best interest. USE OTHER RESOURCES Whether you have been laid off or are seeking a new endeavor, law schools can be a great source of assistance. Most law schools now offer numerous services to their graduates. Those services can include: 1. Reciprocity: The law school from which you obtained your degree can make arrangements for you to use the resources and services of another law school close to where you live. Each school has stipulations as to what services are provided to graduates of other schools and when those services are offered but it can be helpful to have the use of a library of career information and sometimes (if the service is offered) to speak with a career counselor. 2. Job Openings Newsletters: Most law schools provide a newsletter of job listings that are increasingly available on the Web. Graduates of that school list many of the employment opportunities. 3. Career Counseling: Schools are increasingly offering services to graduates who need to make a transition, whether it is because of a layoff or due to the need or desire to relocate. Assistance is often provided to all years of graduates. Call the school’s career office to determine the extent of the services and how to best access them. 4. Graduate Networks: Alumni/ae offices often can offer lists of graduates located in your area. If you are thinking of making a transition to another field of practice or another practice setting, it can be very helpful to meet with someone already in that field. BAR ASSOCIATIONS State and local bar associations are often another overlooked source of assistance. Join a bar committee that will provide you with the opportunity to meet and network with people who have similar practice interests. Check the bar association Web site for additional resources and career information. Commercial, Web-based services can also be of use. In response to the development of sophisticated Web options and to the “hot” market of the last few years, a number of commercial services have been initiated to assist job seekers. Some are operated in conjunction with law schools providing a platform for job openings newsletters, resume banks and referral services, and others are independently operated as commercial entities. Some can provide local referral information, while others are more national in scope. The best way to approach being in transition is to explore your options, maintain your sense of optimism and rely on your friends and family for support and assistance. The city will recover and so will you. Ellen Wayne is dean of career services at Columbia Law School in New York City.

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