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Strategies for a market in turmoil

With the stock market in turmoil and reports of layoffs in every news cycle, law students and lawyers seem to have two choices: panic or denial. Neither attractive nor useful, exercising either choice is the job-search equivalent of putting yourself out on an ice flow, not a particularly good idea in light of global warming. What should you do?

(1) Create a reality-based plan
, and
(2) Start working on it. Make no mistake -- this is hard work and you - and only you -- have to take control of your career. "Wishin' and hopin' and thinkin' and prayin'�? are lyrics from a Burt Bachrach song from the '60s and not a sound basis for career management.

REALITY-BASED PLANNING Assess your interests and credentials against the near-term market. You may have to forgo long-held goals for relatively short-term stability.

Interests: Beyond "what's hot and what's not?�? is the question of what work is being done now, and what might you predict will be done in the near future. You shouldn't need me to tell you that residential real estate development isn't a hot area and won't be for a long time. However, there will be an enormous amount of work for law-trained folks who will tease out the actual mortgages under the mortgage-backed securities and sort out their values with both borrowers and lenders. One can only hope that Congress adds money for enforcement to the bailout bill, which will protect taxpayers and employ lawyers to do the work.

Credentials: As career services professionals have been echoing the words of their recruiting professional colleagues for years - grades are not enough. Whether your goal is BigLaw, BigGov, small-law, small-gov, alternative legal or any other gainful employment, the people who are hiring want to hire those who (a) really want to do the job; (b) who really care about the work that's being done; (d) who can demonstrate that they have skills and that they want to continue to grow and to learn; and (e) who can demonstrate emotional intelligence.

If you are apply for a job with the title "lawyer,�? employers will hold you to their standards of commitment to their law practices. This can be a barrier for students who have not come to law school saying "I know for sure that I want to be a lawyer.�? Talk to a career adviser about this BEFORE you interview.

BigLaw #1: If your goal is BigLaw Corporate or Real Estate, your credentials are marginal, and you have neglected every single networking opportunity that has been offered to you while in law school, move to Plan B. Plan B requires that you both study the legal and business market and make careful and sophisticated inquiry about practice areas that may be viable for employers - public or private - which are most likely to hire you. Plan B requires that you tailor your short-term goals to the market and keep your long-term goals in mind. If you start in a small firm and build yourself a Big Business that fits with BigLaw, you will be sought after - regardless of your credentials. FYI, law business history often finds that lawyers in small firms with Big Billings are often reluctant to trade their relative autonomy for BigLaw.

BigLaw#2: Loudly or quietly, large law firms will cut back their entry level hiring for the next year or two. As the market returns, those firms may hire more 3Ls in the fall and they will aggressively recruit laterals. Regardless of your credentials, if BigLaw is your only professional goal, you may need to develop Plan B.

Public Service: If your goal is public defense and you have created a resume that reflects and supports that interest and you are willing to move to a city or town with a funding for your work, stay with Plan A, but expand it. It is not naïve to assume that funding for public sector work is going to be kicked to the curb for the next few years. Adjust your plan to include practice areas in which you can develop the skills that you need to move to public law in better budget times. What might those be? In tough times, people litigate - employment, personal injury, commercial issues, probate. Counter-intuitively, in tough times divorce practice can slow down as middle income people realize that they can't afford to get divorced. They may still fight over custody, and upper income folks won't stop haggling.

WORK ON YOUR PLAN: You brush your teeth every day. You fill your tank with gas when it's empty. Identify tasks that move your Plan forward and do something every single day. Here are some basics, and your career adviser and CPDC materials, including CareerFiles offer many more:

a. Know your region's business climate: You need to know about the business climate in the city or town where you want to live. Read its daily newspaper and business journal, and watch its tv news. You don't want to be the last to know that town's major manufacturer or service business have gone belly up. You do want to connect with the Mayor to volunteer to be part of new initiatives, and to apply for jobs that relate to your interests.

b. Bar Associations are more important than ever:
You need to connect with the bar association(s) in the city or town where you want to live. People hire folks they know. Don't be a stranger.

c. Your career adviser is your partner and your coach. Talk to your career adviser who is your partner in creating a plan and a strategy. Understand that "partnership" requires two-way communication -- lots of it. Your 30-minute first meeting with your career adviser is just that: the first meeting. This relationship is not Twitter and not speed dating. Your partner will advise and direct you, but you must ultimately take the lead in managing your own career.