Attorney Job-Seeking in the Age of Coronavirus
We are currently in the midst of an unprecedented event for the modern era — a pandemic with lasting global implications for the economy. Coronavirus (a.k.a. COVID-19) has brought the world to a standstill and has fundamentally changed the landscape of work for the foreseeable future, including that of the legal industry.
Shelter-in-place orders have left the economy in tatters, and with the world now on-notice as to the dangers of coronavirus (and its potential for a return down the line, even after the infection curve is “flattened”), it appears that the economic consequences may be sufficiently significant to spark a long-term global recession.
But no one knows for sure — and this uncertainty has had real impacts on employment and hiring processes.
New data reveals record unemployment numbers, and existing jobs are fragile, dependent in large part on the goodwill of the employer (and their unwillingness to slash jobs in the hopes that the pandemic’s economic impact will be limited in time).
Attorney career prospects have been — and will continue to be — deeply affected by the pandemic. This is particularly true for those who were in the middle of a job search when coronavirus hit US shores.
Here at Garb Jaffe & Associates, our team is working hard to ensure that attorneys have the career assistance, industry insight, and strategic guidance necessary to secure an excellent position, even in the midst of this pandemic.
Curious about where you stand in the legal jobs marketplace, and what you can do to ensure that you are in a position to survive and thrive in today’s strange new world? Contact us to learn more.
Let’s first explore some of the major impacts that coronavirus is having on the legal industry as a whole. We will then consider some practical strategies for maximizing your potential under the circumstances.
Coronavirus and the Legal Industry — Looking Forward
The effect that coronavirus is going to have on the economy as a whole — and therefore the legal industry — is quite drastic. Just a month after the first shelter-in-place orders were issued in the United States, we are already seeing movement by employers in response to the shakeup.
Pay Cuts and Hiring Freezes Due to Uncertainty
Perhaps the most fundamental issue with this pandemic is the uncertainty. It’s not clear how long it will take to clear up and for there to be a return to normalcy. No treatment regime for coronavirus has proven effective in most cases, and the expectations for vaccine development project a vaccine roughly a year out from now.
Given this uncertainty, many employers are playing a “wait-and-see” game. Though significant layoffs are expected, nobody wants to cut jobs prematurely and face economic repercussions on the market six or so months down the line should the economy somehow kick back into gear.
The wait-and-see approach is causing employers to take precautionary measures to guard against uncertainty while minimizing costs. Many law firms are cutting pay temporarily (up to 20 percent across the board in some cases), while others have “frozen” associate and lateral hiring.
Ripple Effects for Corporate and Transactional Work
As the economy nosedives — particularly transportation, services, travel, and entertainment segments — there is going to be a ripple effect that will almost certainly impact corporate and transactional attorneys. Companies are cutting costs in marketing spend and attempting to keep their legal maintenance costs at a minimum. Intellectual property-related transactions are also expected to decrease in volume. Firms with significant practices corporate and transactional practices are more likely to feel the impact.
Industry Bright Spots
In most recessions, the worst hit attorneys are corporate and transactional attorneys, outside of a few industry and practice area bright spots.
Industries expected to thrive during and after the pandemic include:
– Life sciences and biotech
– Supply chain management
In the corporate and transactional field, certain practices are expected to grow:
– Corporate restructuring
Litigation May Thrive Depending on the Practice
Litigation has a reputation for being “recession-proof,” and certainly, the pandemic has many firms licking their lips at the opportunities in employment & labor law, personal injury law, and contract disputes. Biglaw litigators may find that their practice is not as secure as they initially perceive, however, as major litigation depends on credit, and many businesses are already highly over-leveraged.
Tightening the Belt on New and Lateral Hires
Firms are discussing raising the standards for hiring new associates and lateral hires. This is somewhat expected, given that cash reserves will be running low and companies are already over-leveraged.
New associates rarely earn out a profit for firms, and so they are a liability except insofar as they can be developed over time. This investment will therefore be curtailed until it is clear what the impact of the pandemic will be.
Lateral hires are profit-earners from the get-go, but they will be expected to perform at a higher level than before. Partners who have a middling client list and who are not performing well on their metrics can expect to be challenged during the pandemic.
In-House Hiring is Less Prone to Immediate Disruption
In-house departments tend to engage attorney-candidates in a longer hiring cycle, and so there have not been major reports of hiring freezes. Whether an in-house department continues to hire will depend largely on what industry the parent company operates in and whether that industry will be protected from the economic impacts of the pandemic. For example, the in-house department of a business interruption insurance provider is likely to be hiring as the pandemic continues, given the nature of its product.
Elite Firms More Prepared to Acquire Legal Talent Post-Disruption
Elite Biglaw firms have the talent pool, networks, and diverse, well-resourced client base necessary to thrive after the shock of the pandemic. Industry observers expect the top tier firms to ramp up hiring once the initial period of uncertainty ends. Though these firms would not necessarily have appealed to “lifestyle-focused” attorneys, the circumstances may require many attorneys to consider taking a position with one of the elite firms.
Pivoting to a Different Practice or Industry
As discussed, the pandemic is likely to have varied impacts on different practices and industries. If you are in corporate transactions, for example, now is the perfect time to pivot to corporate restructuring.
If you’d like to remain in corporate transactions, then you may have to pivot to an industry expected to thrive during and after the pandemic (i.e., supply chain management, delivery services, streaming technology, life sciences and biotech, healthcare, and more), though you should expect others to be doing the same. As such, the increased competition will make it more difficult to secure a position.
Using a Legal Recruiter
With the legal industry raising the standard for hiring during the pandemic (and likely to continue post-pandemic), the importance of a legal recruiter in securing a position — already high — is further increased.
Skilled legal recruiters have networks with Biglaw firms, boutiques, and prominent in-house legal departments. These networks ensure that the attorney-candidate’s application is treated with the consideration and respect it deserves.
Simply put, the use of a legal recruiter ensures that your candidacy is not left to rot at the bottom of the pile.
Practice for Remote Interviews
Here at Garb Jaffe & Associates, we provide comprehensive recruitment services that include mock interview training (based on our extensive knowledge of the California legal industry and what each firm or in-house department is seeking). Though in-person interviews have been the norm for some time, the pandemic has — and will, for the foreseeable future — put an end to in-person interviews and forced legal employers to switch to video interviews.
Video interviews are quite different to in-person interviews in terms of “feel.” Body language and physical/vocal charisma is somewhat more difficult to assess, so candidates will be judged primarily on the content of their interview answers. In fact, the virtualization of the interview makes the process less emotionally resonant, and therefore more detached. Interviewers may struggle to form a connection with attorney-candidates.
This ultimately gives an advantage to introverted attorneys who might otherwise struggle to make waves in the traditional interview process — but preparation is still necessary to ensure that one’s answers are tailored and cut to the core of what the employer wants.
Develop a Positive Online Presence
Given that employers are now being forced to rely on “virtualizing” their hiring processes (i.e., conducting video interviews, engaging potential hires over the phone), it is increasingly important for attorney-candidates to makeover their online presence so that it is more attractive to prospective employers.
Attorney-candidates can make themselves more competitive by contributing to the knowledge base on their particular legal niche — for example, by writing legal articles for various publications (online and offline). These community contributions not only show that you are passionate about your practice area/industry, but also demonstrate your virtual charisma and ability to effectively communicate complex legal issues.
Contact Garb Jaffe & Associates for Guidance
Here at Garb Jaffe & Associates, our team of experienced Los Angeles legal recruiters have spent decades working with a range of attorney-candidates — midlevel associates and partners alike — helping them to identify and secure “ideal” positions that are well-suited to their career trajectory and preferences.
We believe that effective recruitment services are personalized. As such, we work closely with attorney-candidates from start-to-finish, investing significant time and resources towards understanding “what makes them tick” and how best to maximize their potential in the legal job market.
If you’d like to learn more, we encourage you to call us at 310-207-0727 or complete an intake form through our website to schedule a meeting.
We look forward to speaking with you.