The coronavirus has caused economic turmoil in the legal industry. Many law firms and in-house legal departments are slowing down their hiring process or halting it completely. Some economists believe we are in or headed for a recession, but those same experts also believe this turmoil will eventually end, and when it does, law firms and in-house legal departments will start hiring again. In these uncertain times, it’s smart to be prepared for anything, including an eventual uptick in the market. As the saying goes, “If you stay ready, you do not have to get ready.” So how do you prepare?
Update Your Resume & Related Materials
Update your resume and make sure your accomplishments are clearly defined. Quantify them, if possible. How many deals have you done? How large were those deals? How much money did you save the client by settling the case? Make sure your resume has a structure and flow that clearly tells the story of your career path. Transactional associates should consider creating a “deal sheet” demonstrating the type and size of deals you have worked on. Litigators should choose one to three writing samples that can be shared with a potential employer. Take the time (while you have it) to show these documents to several other trusted people and get feedback.
Update Your Online Presence
If you haven’t updated your LinkedIn profile in a while, now is the time to do it. Often employers cross-reference your LinkedIn profile with other information you have given them. There should be no discrepancies between your resume and your LinkedIn profile. Further, your LinkedIn profile should always include a professional photograph. If you don’t have one, take the time create a professional head shot using your camera phone, self-timer and a tripod—do not take a selfie—then post it to your LinkedIn profile. There are plenty of online sources regarding how to boost your LinkedIn profile; read them and heed their advice.
Reconnect with Your References & Network (Virtually)
Think about who would make a good employment/professional reference, if and when, you need a reference. If you are not currently in contact with these individuals, now is a good time to reconnect. It is better to reach out before you actually need a reference so that these individuals remember you and are more inclined to help you when you need it.
Another thing you can do at this time is to cultivate your connections via LinkedIn and other social media. You can start by reading, liking, and commenting on your connections’ posts. Over time, you'll begin to build quality relationships and those online conversations can eventually turn into phone and face-to-face meetings once we are no longer “social distancing.” If the process of connecting with new people or reconnecting with references seems daunting, start small. If you reach out to just one person each week, that’s 52 people a year. It doesn’t need to be time consuming, either. You can simply send a short note on LinkedIn, even if it’s just to ask them how they are doing.
Practice Area Skills
Take this time to consider whether you would be more or less marketable if you could expand or narrow your practice area to appeal to a different, but related set of clients. For example, if you are a labor and employment attorney, you might start learning ERISA law. In a downturn, the economy impacts employee benefits plans and the employers who sponsor them. Or, vice versa. ERISA attorneys may want to expand their practice to be able to field a wider variety of labor and employment questions. If you are a transactional real estate attorney, you might want to brush up on your litigation skills so that if your clients are involved in real estate-related litigation, you can help them, too. Tax, data privacy, healthcare, employee benefits and other regulatory areas are not going away, so find your niche, or sub niche, if you are more broadly focused right now. Think strategically about the area you are already in and consider a practice that is tangentially related to what you are currently doing or how to use your current skills in a different way.
General Lawyering Skills
The next thing you want to consider are your general lawyering skills. Ask yourself what areas can I improve on: Research? Writing? Public speaking? Now is the time to strategize about how to find ways to gain these experiences. While the courts aren’t open now, and it may be difficult to get court time experience, you may consider how you might gain more experience when the courts open again. Or, think about how you may be able to hone your skills creatively via pro bono work or online classes. You can also attend CLEs and workshops or ask for help from a mentor on how to improve your lawyering skills so that they are sharpened when you are ready to make the next move.
Finally, think about the other general business or marketing skills you can improve. Are you a convincing writer that has success with RFPs? Do you excel at using social media to market yourself or your firm? Are you taking part in public speaking opportunities within the industry to establish yourself as a topic expert, particularly in areas that are pressing now, such as how the corona virus is affecting the legal industry? These general business skills can demonstrate to a future law firm or in-house employer that you have a “business mind” and will allow you to distinguish yourself among other applicants.
If you can take advantage of this uncertain time to grow your skill set and think strategically about your career, you can be extremely well-positioned and more attractive in the market when it bounces back.