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Rewind to winter a year ago: Life for junior law firm associates is grand. Quite grand, indeed. The economy is soaring, firms have raised salaries yet again, and a first-year associate who would have earned about $70,000 in the mid-1990s is now pulling in over six figures. There is plenty of work, more than the firms can handle, especially for transactional lawyers. So firms start hiring corporate lawyers, lots of them, even retraining well-credentialed litigators as corporate lawyers. Fast-forward to the present: What a difference a year makes. Sorry, guys, the party’s over. The economy starts sinking, dot-coms falter, and firms curtail hiring. They say timing is everything. Until now, those associates who graduated within, say, the last three years had enviable timing. They had experienced only a booming legal market which seemed to be ever-expanding. Life was good and only bound to get better. Of course, many more senior lawyers, including those who graduated during or just after the last legal recession — in the early 1990s — had a sinking suspicion that since, inevitably, what goes up must come down, law firms were due for a fall. So how does a smart, savvy junior lawyer navigate the rough shoals of the practice of law in the aftermath of the “boom times?” First of all, keep the job you have. Barring that, figure out how to find a new position in this increasingly competitive legal market. HOW TO KEEP YOUR JOB Although firms have not yet used widespread layoffs to trim their staffs, you don’t want to find yourself at the beginning of a trend. So try to hedge all bets in your favor. This is not rocket science, just common sense. Become indispensable to your department by doing great work: Be thorough, organized, get feedback on your work product, generally take a proactive role. You need to be a team player, positive, never be too busy to take something on. At the same time, though, be clear with your partners about deadlines and what’s already on your plate. It’s better to have them choose to reassign work than for you to appear lazy or disorganized. If work is slow in your department, offer to take on other assignments in areas which either interest you or where you know they are hurting for people. Busy fields right now include bankruptcy (which is booming) and litigation. While it is good to specialize later on in your career, as a junior associate who hasn’t yet been pigeonholed in one field, being exposed to various practice areas may increase your marketability down the road. Attain a high profile at your firm. You want people to know you. Volunteer for various projects, become involved with the hiring committee, be friendly and polite to everyone at the firm, including support staff. Of course no one’s a saint, but true, spirited camaraderie goes a long way. Definitely get as much client contact as possible, both for your professional development and also because you may be afforded the opportunity to move in-house with a client; it happens all the time. HOW TO FIND A NEW POSITION Worst-case scenario: you’re laid off. What now? Retool: Repackage yourself. If you are a corporate lawyer for whom business has definitely slowed down, try to reinvent yourself in different practice areas. Fields which are hot right now and will continue to be should we enter a full-blown recession include bankruptcy and litigation. If you are a real estate lawyer, think about segueing into land use and zoning work. Consider temp work: You are lucky in one sense: temporary/contract work was not an option 10 years ago. Now it is, and it has gained greater acceptance over the years. This can be a great way to keep up your skills and have something tangible on your resume while you search for a full-time position. Sometimes temporary positions can become permanent. Be prepared to go where the jobs are: You may have to move, either from an urban firm to a suburban firm, or possibly to another city or state. If you are mobile at this time in your life, take advantage of that to keep your options open. Line up your references: As soon as you are let go, contact your colleagues and clients, with whom you hopefully had good relationships, to ensure that they will vouch for you both professionally and personally. Network, network, network: Continue to network with friends, family and even acquaintances. Become and stay involved in the community, whether it be through volunteer groups, team sports or arts organizations. Try to get involved with your bar association, which is terrific for the leadership, networking and socializing opportunities it provides. You never can predict where that next job lead will come from. The larger your overall network (both in and out of the legal community), the wider net you have cast and the faster you will land on both feet. Since the best time to look for a job is when you already have a good one, always keep your ear to the ground for serendipitous opportunities when you are gainfully employed. Lay the right foundation, and you will be neither a layoff statistic nor a dissatisfied worker-bee, but rather that rarest of creatures: a happy lawyer. Sabrina J. Sacks, an attorney, is a recruiter in Philadelphia with ColemanLegal Search, which specializes in the recruitment of lawyers for law firmsand corporations in the East. She can becontacted at [email protected]

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