Tough Times

Navigating the shifting terrain of the legal job market

By Lindy McCollum-Brounley

When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” So said the famous football coach Knute Rockne, but if you’ve been laid off or had your job deferred you wouldn’t be alone if you felt Rockne’s view of adversity rings trite. The ABA estimates nearly 11,000 attorneys across the country have been laid off in the past 18 months and firms and individual lawyers alike are struggling to weather the worst economic crisis the country has faced since the Great Depression.

Nonetheless, keeping an optimistic outlook and persisting where others give up could be the edge that helps you land on your feet.

“Your attitude is probably the most important thing when it comes to job searching. Your attitude is also the only thing you can control about your job search,” said legal recruiting consultant Ann Skalaski, of Skalaski Consulting Inc. Skalaski provided job search tips during a recent UF Law presentation, “Managing Your Job Search in a Down Economy,” hosted by the Center for Career Development.

Where to start? Skalaski said the first rule of thumb job seekers should follow is to network, network, network. Staying plugged into your professional and collegiate networks takes on special importance when one considers the fact that the majority of jobs are unadvertised and finding them depends on who you know.

“Networking really is the best way to get a job. It’s the most important activity you can engage in,” Skalaski said. “There are countless studies out there that say 80 percent of jobs come from networking.” As recommended by Assistant Dean Linda Calvert Hanson of the Center for Career Development, tell every professional person you know that you are looking for a job — whether they’re your accountant, dentist, or hair-dresser — because word of mouth is the most powerful form of advertising and you never know who might prove helpful to you in your job search. Network at bar association meetings, UF Law alumni receptions, and continuing legal education sessions to make contact with people in the know. Also, volunteer for pro bono work — besides doing good, pro bono work will keep your legal skills sharp and you’ll be circulating in settings that could lead to paid work.

You can network online too. In addition to popular online social communities such as LinkedIn and Facebook, you should take advantage of the Gator Nation Network, a no-cost, private online community hosted by the UF Alumni Association that allows UF alumni to securely connect with classmates and colleagues. Visit the Gator Nation Network at https://incircle.ufalumni.ufl.edu to create an account that will plug you into alumni groups like the South Florida LitiGators and the D.C. Gators.

The Center for Career Development at UF Law, while concentrating on working with current students in their job searches, hosts the UF Law Symplicity job bank of job postings advertising both entry-level and lateral positions. Contact the center at careers@law.ufl.edu to obtain a password for Symplicity and other pass-word protected job sites such as Vault, the Intercollegiate Job Bank and the Non-Traditional Legal Careers Report, all of which list job postings from across the country. Also sign up to receive the UF Law Alumni Job Hotline by sending a blank e-mail to alumni-job-subscribe@law.ufl.edu. The UF Law Alumni Job Hotline e-mails notices of upcoming alumni receptions and positions with short deadlines that aren’t posted to the college’s Symplicity job bank.

Do research to keep your finger on the pulse of emerging opportunities. You’ll find an amazing array of resources online. In addition to alumni resources available on the UF Law Center for Career Development Web site at www.law.ufl.edu/career/alumni/, be sure to check out the American Bar Association’s online “Economic Recovery Resources” guide, located at http://new.abanet.org/economicrecovery/default.aspx. The guide offers job postings and networking opportunities, as well as articles and links to other materials that outline the creative strategies some people are using to market themselves differently to bridge the gap or successfully land permanent jobs. The guide also features discounted continuing legal education credits, tips for professional development, and information on practice management, career transitioning, recession-related legal issues, and resources for stress management.

Finally, develop a long-range career plan but keep an open mind when presented with work opportunities that fall short of your expectations. A job offer may mean a move to a different city, or it may not be at the rate of pay you’d like or within your preferred specialty area — but, if it comes with a paycheck, it’s worth considering, at least for the short term.

The legal profession has experienced an unprecedented shift, and people’s careers and lives have been uprooted by unforeseen market changes. There are no easy answers and no magic bullet to make things right. Nonetheless, despite sounding clichéd, Knute Rockne’s aphorism for tough times is true — guts and determination do make a difference, and the tough really do get going.