Julie Q. Brush, Solutus Legal Search . ()
Q: I’ve been working contract positions since law school to pay my law school loans—and often change jobs for more money. Is this job hopping bad for my career?
A: You’re in a tough spot. Given that you were unable to secure a permanent position out of law school, you’ve had to make some hard choices in order to honor your law school loan obligations. I commend you for “making it work” in this legal market. That’s not easy. But lemonade can be made from these lemons if you are strategic. If you are not, I’m afraid your career will be like a buoy in the ocean: aimless and nowhere to go.
The first thing you need is a plan. The immediate priority with these contract positions should not be the dollar signs, but building cohesive experience. Cohesive experience will help you create more value to offer a future employer—and allow you the messaging you will need to compete effectively for permanent positions. So, each project you take on should build your skills in one practice area like tech/commercial transactions, general corporate or commercial litigation. If you’re not sure what you prefer, look to see which practice areas are in high demand and pursue accordingly. If you want to preserve the in-house option, I recommend pursuing a transactions practice. And try to stay in these positions as long as possible. Now is not the time to chase the money. With the right plan and execution, that will come. You’ve got to think medium to long term here.
In addition, a series of contract positions on your resume is not as ideal as being in a permanent role. So crafting your resume effectively to demonstrate your cohesive skills will be important. For example, instead of representing a series of separate project assignments as separate employers, you list only one: the firm that is giving you the project work (i.e., special counsel, Robert Half, Kelly) and in the accompanying description, include all aspects of your cohesive experience and the companies you have worked for. This way of presenting your experience is more grounded and less schizophrenic.
When you interview, you need to be clear about what experience you bring to the table. How have each of these projects helped you build your skills? Why is that an advantage? In addition, be able to clearly articulate why you have chosen the path of a project lawyer. Be honest and tell your story. It’s an asset and you need to view it that way. Communicate how your personal story is an example of your perseverance, responsibility, goal-oriented nature and work ethic. All great qualities you will bring to the organization.
It is true that with some employers, the project background will be a no go. And it won’t matter what you do or say, it will still be a no go. You have no control over this. So understand it and don’t dwell on it. But not every employer will fit into that category. Some will be intrigued and will want to learn more. And when they do, you’ll need to be prepared to seize the day as well as the opportunity to shine.