Q: I’ve been unemployed for eight months and I’m panicked. Should I take any job (retail? bartending?) just to make money? Waiting for the right legal job may never happen.
A: Take a deep breath. A state of panic is unproductive and only bad decisions stem from it, like “taking any job.” So you’ll need to apply logic rather than fear in this next leg of your job search. The first step is to get educated about the market and yourself. The second is to create a plan. The third is to execute your plan. This approach will mitigate your fear and set you on the path to control your own destiny.
I know it is stressful, but being unemployed for eight months is nothing to panic about in today’s market. Lawyers are more mobile than ever and employers are more socialized and accepting around this reality. You have another eight to 12 months before heavier inquiries are made about your time on the sidelines. In addition, the in-house and law firm market for lawyers is active, as is project work. So if you proactively execute on a strategic plan, you will greatly increase your chances of securing a legal role that will move your career forward. Next up: you. In order to find the right role that will put you on the right path, you need to be self-aware about who you are and what you want. The best place to start: your goals. What are they? Short term. Medium term. Long term. It may take some time and careful thought, but your goals are the foundation of your career. So they need to be well informed and set firmly. After they’re set, determine your preferred practice area(s) and what kind of employer appeals to you most. Law firm or in-house? Big or small? What about culture? What will align best with your values and principles—and make you happy? In other words, what does “perfect” look like to you? There is no such thing as perfect, but I recommend that you start there and work your way back.
Create Your Plan and Execute
Now that you possess a greater understanding of the market and you, the next step is to create your plan and execute it. It starts by identifying your most marketable assets. So review your work history, specific experience and personality traits to determine the value you bring to an organization. Messaging is also key. This includes your resume, cover letter, introductory email, background summary and verbal messaging. In addition, know the weaknesses in your candidacy and be prepared to address them articulately. When formulating the rest of your plan, I recommend you include the following action items:
- Law firms: Identify the law firms that offer the type of law that interests you. Check firm websites for openings and/or apply directly to a legal leader with relevant or shared background.
- In-house: Identify the companies in your area. Reach out directly to HR or the GC to introduce yourself, inquire about opportunities and establish a connection.
- Contract agencies: These organizations have relationships with companies and law firms for project work. Identify the best in your area and register. And be clear regarding the roles you’ll take.
- Legal recruiters: Always a good resource so make sure you’re on their radar.
- Online applications: Apply for positions and leverage quality relationships to increase your chances. Many times your resume will go into a black hole. So manage your expectations accordingly.
- Network: Strategically build and leverage your network for assistance. If done wisely, this will pay the highest dividends.
- VCs: This group is uber connected and will have their finger on the pulse of the startup world and who is looking to hire. Many firms have a head of talent, whose job it is to build relationships with great candidates as potentials for their portfolio companies. So make a list and start building your relationships with this group of in-the-knows.
As for nonlegal positions like retail or bartending, if you are willing to take these types of service roles, I believe that it’s better to choose an option closer to the legal profession (i.e., paralegal, temp, legal assistant, records manager). This way you can stay connected to the industry, build relationships and develop relevant skills for future legal opportunities. The plan above will facilitate this effort so make sure you include these roles as part of your search. None of this will be easy. But by going after what you want in a proactive and organized way, I’m confident you’ll experience the success you seek and deserve.
Julie Q. Brush is the founder and author of The Lawyer Whisperer (www.