Good morning from the New York Bar Association’s courtroom-themed grand meeting hall, where oil-based likenesses of past Bar presidents peer down on a packed house of legal professionals attending the Vault-sponsored “Getting Back in the Game: How to Restart Your Career in a Down Economy.” The day’s first panel discussion, centering on the challenges of returning to BigLaw, is wrapping up, with Void’s own Brian Dalton maintaining order from the dais. Those tasked with answering Brian’s queries include a pair of firm representatives (Ropes & Gray recruiting director Helen Long, Shearman & Sterling hiring partner John Cannon III), a prominent legal matchmaker (Lateral Link principal T.J. Duane), and the face of BigLaw muckraking (Above the Law founder David Lat).
The conversation has bobbed and weaved, touching upon geographic disparities in job openings, the disappointing performance of certain countercyclical practices, and the nuances of posting boozy photos on Facebook, but two words dominated the session’s overall tenor: “unprecedented” and “patience.” As in—as Cannon noted—firms are displaying “unprecedented” wariness in hiring an “unprecedented” number of qualified, unemployed lawyers. Therefore, as Lat later remarked, “don’t take it personally if you send out a couple hundred resumes and don’t receive a bite.” Nevertheless, despite some reservations (Lat: “I think I’m just gonna be the depressing one.”), the panelists managed to paint some positive on a somber reality, encouraging candidates to network like mad: In dismissing the notion of unemployment stigma, Duane observed that “now you go to a cocktail party and a quarter of the room’s been laid off,” while Lat bemoaned the fact that he had wiled away precious hours studying rather than socializing as a law student.
The takeaway, though, was that unemployed attorneys hoping to return to major firms will have to bide their time—probably not something the audience, which was dominated by mid-to-senior-level lawyers, based on a show of hands at the discussion’s onset, wanted to hear. Even Cannon, the BigLaw hiring partner, suggested attorneys instead look “to do something very academic,” such as assisting old professors with research or penning articles for publication, while noting repeatedly that the public sector is looking for hands on deck. In the meantime, other options include downsizing your target city (Duane: “If you have ties to a smaller market…it’s an easy sell, and those markets are hiring") and seeking out pro bono and internship opportunities. The panelists also offered logistical advice—make your resume “a work of art,” prepare your “elevator speech” in anticipation of interviewing after a prolonged absence, and remain vigilant in staying connected with current events—especially “what’s going on in Washington”; in other words, do everything you can to keep your resume and skill set fresh. Summing up the implied, though, Cannon leveled with attendees in asserting that “most of you who want to go back to BigLaw will not be doing it immediately.”
Long, referring explicitly to Above the Law, urged jobseekers to go on a 'negative news diet' to avoid overconsuming negative news about firms and the industry at large; Lat responded by lightheartedly recommending attendees visit happynews.com while acknowledging more soberly that observers should read into industry innuendo “with a grain of salt.” “The story unfolds over time,” he reasoned. “You don’t get it wrapped up with a bow on your doorstep every morning.”
We'll have more for you as the day progresses; in the meantime, feel free to follow the minute-by-minute happenings over on Vault's twitter feed.
- posted by ben fuchs
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