It’s mostly the big firms making headlines when they cut back on lawyers. But there are a lot of smaller-firm lawyers on the hunt for a job now, too. We found one of them networking recently at San Francisco’s Green Drinks mixer: a young associate who said she’d been laid off from an L.A.-based insurance defense firm.
An occasional look at how job hunting legal professionals cope with a crisis economy.
Minal Belani had joined the San Francisco office last March. She worked on depositions, law and motion hearings, settlement negotiations and mediations, but as the economy tanked, she had trouble keeping busy enough to make her hours. In November, Belani said, the firm let her and some other lawyers go. “It was a surprise, but I had a sense that there was something going on.”
Belani says she’d like to segue into environmental litigation using her construction defect background, by, for example, working on litigation over buildings that don’t comply with LEED requirements. But she’s keeping her options open.
Her strategies, and suggestions from a hiring partner and a recruiter, after the jump ...
She started the job hunt in earnest in January, after spending the holidays with family in India. She’s been touching the usual bases: Craigslist, events through the California Minority Counsel Program and the South Asian Bar Association, old contacts and professors. She thought a recent interview with a midsize civil litigation firm went well, but it decided not to hire now. “That’s been a little frustrating, because that’s been as close as I have gotten to getting hired.”
She estimates that she sends five to 10 resumes out per week. To get to more potential employers quickly, she recently signed on with Legal Authority, a service that she says will help with all the steps to get her resume out to more than 300 employers. The thousand-dollar price tag isn’t cheap, but she said a friend from Santa Clara University School of Law has landed a job through it, and another has had several interviews. “I thought it was so expensive,” she said. “Now I just kind of feel that I wouldn’t be able to target as many [firms] doing it myself.”
We asked Andy Leibnitz, hiring partner at Farella Braun & Martel, for some tips. He said that bankruptcy, workouts, IP and green technologies are fields that are only getting more attractive to hiring partners. “The most important thing to a hiring partner is that the person is enthusiastic,” he said. “When I hear that she’s interested in LEED technologies, it shows real enthusiasm in fields that are burgeoning.”
Southern California recruiter Peter Ocko suggested that, aside from clinical and certificate programs, which can be a good way to pick up more skills in a new area of law, young lawyers could think about drafting a list of five to 10 companies that may need part-time help. “Maybe they’ve laid off a few people,” Ocko said. “Or maybe they don’t have a legal department.” It helps to research the company through Vault or Hoovers and then connect, even as high up as the general counsel. “Some will listen,” especially if you pitch paralegal or attorney skills the company may need, at a cost it likes. Ocko said that he’s known associates in the past who have landed a gig that way. “The money is a bit lower, but you get great experience.”
Leibnitz said that associates may want to be cautious about taking on paralegal work, because at some point it begins to “tarnish your own brand.” But he agreed that it’s a great idea to figure out whether there are any gaps that you can fill at a well-chosen organization. “Be authentic,” he said. “If you love the outdoors, apply with Oakley or with Trek Bicycle … an organization that you are truly enthusiastic about, because it will be readily apparent.”
Also, he pointed out that these organizations don’t always have the advertising and hiring budget to put their word out there, so finding them first can help. “I would even say, as hard as it may be, working for free is better than not working at all, and you may soon find that you’re indispensable and part of the legal family.”
Got a story or dilemma to share with the legions of laid-off lawyers who can relate? Or a question you'd like us to sound out with a certain type of expert in the job search world? Drop a line to editor Brian McDonough and we'll look into it.
— Petra Pasternak