Unusual Tips for Laid-off Lawyers
Debra L. Bruce, JD, PCC.
Unfortunately, this year an unprecedented number of attorneys have been laid off, and jobs for new law school grads have evaporated. Smart job hunters have already scoured the Internet for employment search tips. In this market, however, you need to get creative. Start now to generate opportunities to distinguish yourself from the competition and widen your circle of connections. Remember, relationships make the difference, especially in a tight market. Here are some tactics you might not have thought of to augment your existing approach.
1. Beef Up Your Resume.
You probably have more time available for research and writing now. Establish your expertise (or develop some), and give your resume some additional sparkle, by writing an article on a legal topic you are interested in. You don’t need to write a law review article. Contact industry magazines, legal newspapers, business journals and online publications. They need new articles every month or even more frequently, and most don’t require blue book citation. Many employers are more likely to read articles in such publications than in law reviews.
Your article will signal that you are an authority on the subject. Don’t be intimidated by lack of experience. If the topic is reasonably cutting edge, after your research you may be as expert as anyone else. As a second year associate, I wrote an in-depth research memo on an emerging legal issue for a client. Later, a partner asked permission to use my memo for his CLE presentation. (Today, I would ask to be a co-presenter with the partner to further establish my expertise.) Regardless of the legal topic, you will still know more about it than your lay readers.
2. Make New Connections Through Writing.
Take full advantage of your writing project by contacting potential employers to interview them for your article. Be sure to name the publication, in order to provide the credibility that entices that V.I.P. to take your call.
Explain to the V.I.P. that you would like to include quotes from important people in the industry, like her. Assure her that you will allow her to approve the quote before publication and you shouldn’t need more than 15 minutes of her time. Most people will be pleased to be quoted as an authority or leader, if they get to approve the content.
Use this as an opportunity to develop a relationship with your interviewee. After you write the portion of the article with her quote, send it to her and follow up with a phone call to get her approval. That call gives you a chance to chat briefly and develop some additional rapport. Later send her the whole article in the form sent to the editor, and invite her reaction. Finally, send her a courtesy copy of the publication when it comes out.
3. Ask for Advice.
This process will allow you to interact with your interviewee three to five times, and by then you will have the beginnings of a relationship. As you establish rapport, you should be in a position to ask for advice. Don’t ask for a job. Ask for names of additional people to contact for the article. Ask for advice about securing a position in this market. Ask who may be hiring or farming out work of the type you are looking for. Ask whether you may use her name when you call people she suggests. If she has a position opening up or some work to outsource to you, she will probably mention it. In any event, once she gives you advice (especially if you are giving her some favorable publicity), she will be on your team. And she’ll want her team to win. You may be surprised at the subsequent efforts she makes on your behalf, unbidden.
4. Nurture the Relationship.
Endeavor to keep the relationship alive with each person you interview. Send a thank you note, and let her know how you followed up on her advice. After publication, send her an email passing on the comments you received about the article or share with her the follow-up questions it generated. You can notify her when you post a link to the article in a listserv or on Twitter or LinkedIn. (You will take those steps to help publicize your article and your name, of course.) You can send her links to articles by other authors on a related topic, if she expressed interest in the subject. Keep your eyes open for ways to do something of benefit to her. Spread out your contacts with her, but make them frequent enough and useful enough to keep your name top-of-mind for opportunities that arise later.
5. Rinse and Repeat.
Freelance writers know how to sell essentially the same article numerous times. Change the title and tweak your language. Do a new round of interviewing with different people to build more relationships. Substitute new quotes and send your “new and improved” article to a different publication. Be sure to do your homework, however. Some publications require original content. Others accept reprints or similar work. List all your articles on your resume.
6. Expand Your Connections Through Speaking.
Optimize your writing efforts by offering to speak on the same or a similar topic. Find organizations that may be interested in your talk in the Encyclopedia of Associations and by searching online. Service organizations like Rotary, Lions and Optimists need speakers every week. Industry association meetings can put you face-to-face with a roomful of potential employers. To build on those connections, offer to send your audience additional information or to discuss their questions in greater depth later.
In preparation for your talk, ask for permission to interview a few of the expected attendees to make sure you address the issues they’re concerned about. Not only will it help make your speech more relevant to your audience, you’ll develop additional relationships. Of course, just as in writing your article, you can use your speech as an excuse to contact someone you would like an introduction to.
If the people you contact are high profile, you might even do a little name-dropping during your talk, by saying, “When I spoke with Ms. Big Shot a couple of weeks ago, she said that companies like hers were most concerned about….” The audience’s impression of you may bump up a couple of points because of the company you keep.
7. Rinse and Repeat Again.
Change the title and substitute issues appropriate for a new audience. Your resume keeps growing, and so do your connections. Are any of your local bar association sections interested in your topic? You may be able to tweak the topic to make it interesting to bar sections other than the one in your practice area. For example, suppose you are a corporate lawyer who has written an article for the local business journal and spoken to the corporate bar about the importance of shareholder agreements in closely held companies. You could tweak your topic for the family law section, to discuss how shareholder agreements may impact divorce negotiations.
These steps will enhance your reputation and expertise, while building and nurturing relationships. If there just aren’t any jobs out there, use these strategies to develop clients for that new law firm you establish. If you have trouble coming up with a topic you can write or speak about, feel free to call me for a brief complimentary brainstorming session.
Best of luck to you!
Reprinted with permission from the June 11, 2009 issue of The Legal Intelligencer. © 2009 Incisive Media US Properties, LLC. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. All rights reserved.
Debra L. Bruce is president of Lawyer-Coach (www.lawyer-coach.com), a law practice management coaching and training firm. She practiced law for 18 years before becoming the first Texas lawyer credentialed by the International Coach Federation (ICF). She is the former Vice-Chair of the Law Practice Management Committee of the State Bar of Texas and a past leader of the Houston chapter of ICF.