Vault's Careers Blog

Career advice and job search strategies for the modern careerist

Archive for the ‘Law Careers’ Category

Vault’ s Careers Blog is Moving

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An announcement: after almost a year on WordPress, we’re discontinuing Vault’s Careers Blog on WordPress. But don’t worry: you’ll still be able to get your fill of career information and advice on Vault.com–where our blogs are going from strength to strength.

Our full blog lineup on Vault.com is as follows:

Vault’s Careers Blog
Vault’s Law Blog
Consult THIS: Consulting Careers, News and Views
In Good Company: Vault’s CSR blog
In the Black: Vault’s Finance Careers Blog
Admit One: Vault’s MBA, Law School and College Blog
Insider Career Advice from SixFigureStart
Innovate with Influence: Global High Tech

Thanks for reading us on WordPress.

We hope to see you over on Vault.com soon!

–The Vault Editorial Team

10 Frightening Realities of the Post-Recession Economy

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The recession ended in June 2009. Did you notice? Chances are you probably didn’t—especially if you’ve been looking for a job. The bad news: things aren’t likely to get much better any time soon; current economic growth rates mean the unemployment rate will do well to drop by much more than a single percentage point by the end of 2011.

All of that is likely to continue reshaping the employment market, and will affect everything from your ability to conduct a salary negotiation to the pace at which you can expect to climb the ladder—or even get on it in the first place.

So what’s a job seeker to do? Vault’s industry and career experts put their heads together and identified a number of key trends that will affect careerists over both the short and medium term.

1. Doing more with less

In season five of the brilliant HBO series “The Wire,” the tight-belted, high-waisted head of the fictionalized Baltimore Sun declares, upon announcing a paper-wide job cut, that “we will simply have to do more with less.” It’s a quote that could serve as a template of companies both large and small in the post-recession era. After sacking thousands of employees in order to cuts costs, pummeling employee morale in the process, managers focusing on the bottom line will be hesitant to hire more bodies in order to explore more avenues of business, even when profits begin to pick up. Instead, they’ll simply turn to their existing employees, put a cool hand on their shoulders, smile, and ask them to take on increased duties.

2. Held back by housing

The recession may have ended in June 2009, but a little over a year later, The National Association of Realtors reported sales of previously occupied homes plummeted 27 percent in July 2010, the worst showing in 15 years. So, despite the good news, unemployed job seekers struggling to pay their mortgage still have fewer options for their job search. For them, it’s either find a job where they live or accept a job elsewhere, relocate and add on the extra expense of paying rent while they wait for their home to sell.

3. Choose your education carefully

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that applications to school surge during a recession. There are no jobs, so why not get more training and make yourself a better candidate when there are jobs? Makes sense, right? In the past two years, prospective students applied to graduate schools in droves; particularly to law, business and health services degrees. While health care is one of the fastest growing industries and will likely be able to handle the influx of new graduates, the law, finance and consulting industries will not. It’s unlikely, however, that this will deter prospective students from applying this fall—and next.

4. Age diversity

An aging workforce is going to continue to be a big challenge for employers, who increasingly prefer to cut costs on training for new positions. Compounding this is the fact that people are delaying retirement because of the recession. While gender and racial discrimination will remain critical concerns, age diversity presents a new challenge for the corporate world.

5. The finance industry

Don’t let the National Bureau of Economic Research fool you. Although GDP might have hit bottom more than a year ago, and we’re technically in an expanding economy, the US still looks very recession-like to the record numbers of men and women out of work, as well as to those still employed. And nowhere does the immediate outlook worse than in finance.

Hedge funds are currently experiencing their worse year on record, collectively growing assets by a mere 1.7 percent thus far in 2010; and Merrill Lynch recently estimated that as many as 20 percent of hedge funds could shutter by the first quarter 2011. Meanwhile, following deep job cuts in 2008, investment banks started to hire again in 2009. But now with markets ice cold—and predicted to stay that way at least until 2011—firms might be significantly cutting back again. Bank of America, for one, is in the midst of 1a large job cut, reportedly sacking 5 percent of its capital markets staff, and some analysts believe that other banks, afraid of the cooling markets, if not a double dip, might not be too far behind.

6. The legal sector

In the legal sector, 2009 saw a dramatic drop in hiring—a trend that has continued into 2010, with entry-level hiring not likely to return to pre-recession levels any time soon. Law firms have adopted a variety of solutions to maintain a smaller, more efficient workforce. Many of these solutions will likely survive beyond the recession, and affect law firm infrastructure, professional development, compensation and recruitment.

In addition to cost-cutting moves like the consolidation and relocation of back-office functions, other measures include a shift from traditional lock-step salary structures toward performance-based compensation systems. Many firms now offer alternative, non-partnership career tracks or have established apprenticeships for new lawyers. On the recruiting side, behavioral interviewing techniques are gaining popularity as a means of identifying candidates who will, in the words of one law firm hiring partner, “be able to deliver client service on day one.”

7. More short term jobs

The recession might be over, but unemployment figures have remained the same. This has forced Americans to look at jobs differently, with many accepting temporary and part-time positions rather than holding out for full-time permanent work. That’s helped the underemployment rate to remain sky-high—it’s currently over 18 percent—and there are no signs of it changing anytime soon: retailers are expected to hire up to 650,000 temporary workers this holiday season.

Toys R Us is an example of a company that is going even further: it plans to open 350 temporary “Holiday Express” stores by early October, creating 1,000 temporary retail positions. Other temporary positions are expected to become available during the holiday season. But when those temporary positions end, the unemployment rate will go right back to where it was before they were created.

8. The IT consolidation trend

The initials “IT” and “M&A” already go together like cereal and milk. And with spending on hardware, software and IT services expected to hit $3.5 trillion next year, the major players in the field have lots of incentives to keep adding to their range of offerings. One way they’re doing that is by snapping up smaller firms. Recent examples include HP’s acquisition of 3Par, Intel’s purchase of McAfee and IBM’s takeover of Netezza. But while the rapid pace of consolidation might be a good thing for consumers, waves of tech professionals will likely be squeezed out of Silicon Valley just as quickly.

9. The importance of internships

Because of the shortage of jobs, landing an internship is going to be more important than ever. Despite increased competition, if you’re a college student or looking to break into a new field, they’re an integral part of your next career move.

Starting in high school, students need to cultivate paid or unpaid work experiences that build skills, character, work ethic and resume. Employers use internships to prescreen and hire talent. Your career currency comes down to the following equation: internship experience + skills. Even if only on a volunteer basis for a few hours per week—this is how you get your foot in the door and demonstrate your passion for your field of interest.

10. Negotiate a package, not a salary

While the recession has affected the number of jobs and the kind of compensation on offer, it hasn’t changed how you should approach salary negotiations. However, what you negotiate for might change. While salary increases, stock options and signing bonuses might be in shorter supply, there might be opportunities to for other types of compensation such as at-risk pay based on milestones achieved, paid time-off and a flexible work schedule.

You should value the entire package and quantify everything. How you do that is up to you. Your compensation number should factor in what is essential to you and what is non-essential. You could even give weights to the essential and the non-essential in determining the value of your offer. As an example signing bonus, relocation, 401k match, day care and base salary could get an 80 percent weight while the other 20 percent would fall under extra vacation, nicer title etc. At the end of the day, each person will be different on what they value and what they consider essential.
— The Staff of Vault.com

Career Path Q&A: Legal Recruiting

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It’s no secret that the law sector has taken its share of blows amid the economic uncertainty of recent years. Yet, the industry remains on its toes due in part to its multifaceted range of services, and the expansion of recruitment and guidance resources. One professional familiar with this is Jennifer Bird, who has seen both sides of the industry as an attorney and a legal search consultant. Bird, a graduate of Yale Law School, practiced law at White & Case‘s New York headquarters before transitioning to a career in recruitment. As vice president of Empire Search Partners, she now advises attorneys at all levels and conducts workshops for candidates exploring their career options. In an interview with Vault, Ms. Bird discussed the route that brought her to her present position, the challenges facing law professionals in the current economy, and much more.

VAULT: Prior to entering the legal search field, you were a tax and trust and estates attorney at White & Case. What prompted your shift from practicing law to recruiting?

JENNIFER BIRD: I really enjoyed the practice and the people I worked with at White & Case, but over time I found myself drawn to the relationship-building aspect of the business. When I left the firm, I took some time off to explore other options and was attracted to recruiting because it allowed me to utilize my knowledge of the law and law firms while focusing on relationship-building and career advising which I love. At the same time, I get to continue to work with lawyers, which is a lot of fun for me and also very rewarding.

V: In addition to direct consultation, you lead workshops for legal professionals. As the industry undergoes a period of instability, what are some of the frequent concerns you address for attendees?

JB: The workshops I have led with good friend and career coach, Suzanne Grossman, have primarily been for attorneys who are thinking about the next steps in their careers, whether it be moving to another firm, the government, the nonprofit sector, going in-house or leaving the law altogether to pursue another path. A common concern for attendees is “how do I figure out what I want to do next?” In the workshops we encourage attorneys to explore internally and externally, examining who they are and what they want out of life and identifying possible career paths by networking and talking to professionals in different industries. We also spend time advising attorneys on how to position themselves to get the careers they want once they figure out where they want to go. The current economic climate has made transitioning more difficult, but at the same time has provided a great opportunity for attorneys to take the time to explore and figure out what they really want.

V: Your background includes experience in legislation, social aid and even the Australian judicial system. Did you approach each of these ventures with the expectation of launching a career, or with intent to broaden your skill set for an eventual career elsewhere?

JB: I’m not sure if I was entirely aware of the benefit that the array of experiences would eventually have on my career. I adopted a sort of trial and error method in terms of trying on different kinds of jobs, with law as a common thread among them along with a desire to help others and have an impact. With each position, I was able to explore a different aspect of the law and to both learn more about the field and whether it might be a good fit for me long-term. What I’ve found through all of these experiences is that finding a good career fit is definitely a long-term process. I often advise candidates that although a position may not be perfect, every experience, every interview, provides an opportunity to learn more about what you like and don’t like, eventually helping you get to where you want to go.
Read the full interview here.

Law Careers: Do You Have to Be a Lawyer If You Go to Law School?

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Whenever I talk about law school, I feel like a broken record. I cycle among three stock sentiments: it’s difficult for recent law school graduates, especially those who attended third or fourth tier schools, to find jobs as practicing lawyers; it’s a darn shame; and maybe a law degree just isn’t worth it right now. I’ve developed so many different ways of saying “bummer, dude” that I worry I’ll explode by sheer force of being so bummed out. And I doubt I’m the only one to feel this way.

Graduating from law school means you have to be a lawyer--or does it?My new approach is the following. It’s sad (unfortunate, distressing, lamentable) that the state of affairs is what it is, but I reject the inside of the box! There are things to do with a law degree that don’t include being a lawyer. Not that it’s entirely advisable to decide to attend law school on the basis of such thinking (see Jessica S.’ response to the second question), but if you have already gotten your JD and don’t know what to do next, the range of options is not so narrow as you might think.

To that end, I interviewed two non-practicing JDs, both of whom work in legal publishing agencies, about the paths that led them to their current careers. In the interest of garnering candid answers, names have been changed.

Vault: So tell me about how you decided to attend law school in the first place.

Roger M.: Well, I was working as an editorial lackey at a large trade publishing house, and one of my jobs was to shuttle manuscripts between editorial and the legal department for basically libel vetting. There were a couple of lawyers employed by the publishing house whose job was to do nothing but read manuscripts, try to spot libelous passages, and make recommendations about how to work around them or cut them out. I thought that they had the greatest jobs in the world, and I didn’t feel like I wanted to stay at a publishing house, so I went to law school–where I immediately forgot why I went there in the first place.

Jessica S.: There were probably two factors that went into the decision. The most immediate was that when I neared the end of college, I knew I wasn’t ready to enter the working world. So I went through the list of grad school options: PhD, business school, law school. The MBA I ruled out right away. I debated a bit about the PhD. But in the end I decided on law school, in part because it revived a vague childhood dream of being a lawyer.

Vault: As a 1L, what trajectory did you envision for your career?

Jessica S.: This is where I made a mistake that I would recommend others not emulate. You shouldn’t choose law school just because you don’t know what else to do, and that was really how I ended up there. So, when I was a 1L and discovered how little I was inspired by the study of contracts and torts and civil procedure, I thought, “Well, I’m going to get a law degree, but I’m not going to become a lawyer. There are so many things you can do with a law degree!” And there are, but law school itself doesn’t really train you for anything else. I had studied some languages, so I developed this vague idea of doing something international.

Roger M.: I knew that the publishing lawyers had all come there from other jobs where they were established, experienced lawyers; it wasn’t their first job out of school. I was just really naive. I didn’t have any sense of what kind of jobs those were and I was either incurious or lazy enough not to ask them about it. Not that I didn’t know them–I talked to them and they even wrote me recommendations–but I didn’t realize that they were coming out of really top-flight, blue chip law firms before they landed at the publishing house. I didn’t really get that connection; I thought you could sort of do anything. So as a 1L, I thought I wanted to be a lawyer focusing on the classroom subject areas that I liked, which were criminal and con law. I thought that I might want to be a criminal lawyer–a public defender, something like that–as a 1L. I wasn’t someone who spent a lot of time at career services. I wasn’t plugged into the grapevine or conveyor belt or whatever it was that funneled people into firm jobs, with on-campus interviewing and maxing out your GPA and all that. Basically, I didn’t appreciate the make-or-break nature of the first year in terms of landing a law firm job. I’m sure people told me; I just wasn’t listening.

Vault: How and when did that change?

Roger M.: The summer after my 1L year, I ended up salmon fishing in Alaska. I had an old friend who lives up there and does that for a living. I didn’t know I was ever going to have another chance to go live there, and I also expected to make about $25 or $30 grand–and I didn’t have any money at all–which would have taken care of my housing and other expenses. As it turns out, though, that summer was the worst salmon season Alaska had ever seen since they started to keep records. I had to borrow money to get home. And now I was really broke, so I had to transfer to the night program of my law school because I worked during the day. And in effect, that gave me another bite at the apple because I did realize what I didn’t realize as a 1L, and I went out and I got all A’s. Then, when on-campus interviews came around again, I had a much more attractive resume–because it’s all just two piles based on grades; I mean, there’s no real analysis–with a plausible GPA to get hired by a good, high-paying firm. Also, this was right at the absolute peak of the internet bubble, so there were the Silicon Valley companies and all these new start-ups, all of whom were trying to compete for law school talent. So, all the sudden in the year 2000, you had the chance of making $125,000 for your first job. Obviously I had money on my mind, and I decided that I was getting one of those jobs and do it as long as I can stand it, and then I was going to get out and I’d be in the clear. So all these public defender notions just evaporated; all I could see was the number. That’s how I ended up in a law firm.

Jessica S.: In my second and third years, I started taking international law courses, focusing on public international law, and decided that was what I wanted to do. I got an internship to study abroad with a humanitarian agency for the summer of my second year, which was a really great experience. One thing I discovered, though, in talking to people in that field was that most of them either do this work on the side or they come to it after an initial career in private practice. When I asked for advice, it was suggested was that I work for a few years at a law firm, get some private practice experience behind me, and then see about getting a position in the public arena. It was good advice, which I didn’t follow because I just didn’t want to practice in a law firm.

Use your law school legal knowledge in your career without being a lawyer

Vault: What made you decide to take your current job?

Jessica S.: I knew I wanted to do something other than work in a firm, but I didn’t know what that something else was. I hadn’t gone through on-campus recruiting; I didn’t work on a journal; I didn’t do moot court; I didn’t do any of the things that are traditionally helpful in terms of getting a law firm job. So I graduated without a job and without an idea of what to do. It was a little bit of a scramble, to be honest, at first, because even though I’d gone to a good school and had decent grades, my unconventional situation was (understandably) off-putting to most employers. But then I found a job with a small litigation practice through a listing at my law school. I worked there for a few years, and I hated it. I disliked being paid to take a legal position that I didn’t necessarily agree with; I hated the hours and stress; and I wasn’t comfortable with the constant confrontations inherent in an adversarial process. I realized there was a reason I didn’t want to be a lawyer, and I quit.

I took some time off, traveled and, when I came back, landed a job in publishing. It was a little bit roundabout, really, since I first took a temp job at the company, but then it turned out they were expanding into a new area for which they needed an editor with a legal background, and they offered me that position. There was something satisfying in finding that I could still use my law degree without having to practice.

Roger M.: I practiced in the firm setting for about two years. I hated it. It was an ill fit for me: I hated billable hours; the clients’ problems bored me (I mean, that’s a problem, right?). And I didn’t like the climate of fear. The junior associates were afraid of the senior associates who were afraid of the partners. The partners were afraid of the powerful partners, and it was just crazy. I have a lot of respect for people who do well in such a setting–maybe it was just my particular circumstances–but I realized I had to get the hell out of there. Somebody sent me a Media Bistro ad for a law editor type of position at a legal publishing company, and by this time I was kicking myself for having left publishing in the first place, so it seemed like a way to justify having a JD and doing something I would find a little more agreeable.

Vault: How do you use what you learned in law school in your current position?

Roger M.: A lot of what I do in the course of my day-to-day job consists of translating legalease into something like laymen’s terms. I mean, we’re still an industry publication and the audience is pretty sophisticated, but they might not be specialty practitioners. So, I have to sift through the language to get what is useful or interesting to an informed but not necessarily specialist audience.

Jessica S.: I think you can certainly be a legal journalist without a law degree, but it’s really helpful to have one. It helps you understand and convey to readers what’s going on in the profession, with respect to both legal issues and the day-to-day practice of law. It also lends you a certain amount of credibility, especially if you’re dealing with law firms, the courts or corporate counsel. There are also practical skills law school develops that are valuable in fields like publishing–for example, learning how to make cogent, well-supported arguments, and to distill often very dense and diffuse information into something persuasive and easy to understand.

–Written by Madison Priest, Admit One</em

Career Resources for Lawyers in Transition

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If you’re looking for work as a lawyer, or hoping to transition into an alternative career, be sure to check out the resources available through your state and local bar associations. Most bar associations have a career portal on their websites, and many have established committees specifically to deal with the recession’s impact on the profession. For example:

Some upcoming events:

–Posted by Vera Djordjevich, Vault’s Law Blog

Post Work Socializing: Workplace Bonding or Boys’ Club?

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Man with beer

AP Photo/Fritz Reiss

Your liver or your career?

A recent FINS article suggested that anyone thinking of trying to make it on Wall Street should drink up: the culture on the Street is apparently heavily dependent on after-hours booze-ups. While that likely won’t come as a surprise to anyone familiar with the financial industry (or many other industries, for that matter), it does raise the issue of workplace bonding—and the question of where to draw the line between an employee’s “fit” and their performance.

If the former broker cited in the FINS piece is to be believed, he was slow to realize that he was missing out on more than just a hangover by not participating in post-work drinking sessions. As he puts it, he lost the opportunity to forge “emotional connections” with his fellow employees—and specifically with bosses. And while not hitting the bar on a regular basis may strike some as the act of a responsible careerist, the failure to build those bonds may have cost the broker: he lost his job when the financial crisis struck.

The article doesn’t offer details on whether any of broker’s former colleagues who participated in the carousing were also let go, or attempt to discover whether the layoff was related to performance issues in addition to the economic difficulties. But the very fact that one can come away from the piece speculating on that underlines the difficulty of balancing a close-knit work group with a commitment to remaining professional at all times.

Most of us have had a colleague at some point who seems to get by on personal connections rather than the quality of their work. And it’s certainly not difficult to imagine a scenario where the boss’ drinking buddies are treated preferentially over a colleague who may be just as talented—or more so—but lacking when it comes to that all-important emotional connection.

Many of us also have stories of workplaces or departments where all the talent an organization could possibly need is hampered by a poor culture and lack of communication.

The challenge for execs, then, is in striking the balance between the two: encouraging bonding without having it spill over into an institutionalized boys’ club. To that end, a good starting point may well be to set aside some regular office hours for non-work activities for your employees—with a careful focus on ensuring that people socialize beyond their usual work groups.

Of course, it’s difficult to prevent groups of employees from forming cliques and excluding others: people naturally gravitate to those with similar interests. But those at an executive level need to exercise care should they become aware—or even choose to participate—in such groups. Because while close “emotional connections” can produce close-knit, well-functioning teams, they can also lead to blind spots over performance or conduct. And that’s something no business can afford.

Should Applicants Always Go to the Best Law School They Get Into?

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It is a truth universally acknowledged that you should always go to the best, most elite law school you get into. Or is it?

Good grades lead to higher paying law jobsIn a recent study, law school professors Richard Sander and Jane Yakowitz discovered that the salary boost from earning stellar grades outweighs the boost from attending an elite law school. Moreover, if you graduate with a low-low GPA, turns out you’ll “feel the least secure about your jobs.” (Read more about the summary on the WSJ Law Blog, which links to the PDF.)

In the words of Above the Law’s Elie Mystal, “I’m sorry, did anybody’s worldview just get blown up?”

“Higher performance produces a much larger dividend than eliteness does,” says Sander and Yakowitz’s paper. And they suggest that you choose the school where you will perform the best, regardless of rank. They write:

As an illustrative hypothetical, imagine an average student (GPA 3.25‐3.5) at 47th ranked University of Florida. Using the fifth column from Table 11 (AJD regressions on salary), we can predict how her earnings would be affected under various counterfactuals. If she had attended 20th ranked George Washington University, her grades likely would have slipped to the 2.75‐3.0 range, and her salary would drop considerably (by 22%, all other factors held constant.) Even if she had managed to get a spot at 7th ranked UC Berkeley, where the tier premiums are highest, her grades likely would have fallen into the 2.5‐2.75 range, and her salary would be 7% lower. On the other hand, if she had attended 80th ranked Rutgers, she probably could have improved her grades to land in the 3.5‐3.75 range, and earned a 13% higher salary.

But what happens when you get below the top 100? Does their argument still hold true? I suspect not. Moreover, since law firms are dealing with smaller recruiting budgets, many have had to limit the number of campuses they visit and they have not been visiting second or third tier schools at which they recruited in the past. On-campus recruiting is one of the most common ways JDs get jobs, and without a recruiter from Firm A on campus, it gets much harder to secure a job at Firm A, regardless of your GPA.

Law student studying hardThat said, Sander and Yakowitz’s argument almost definitely holds true when it comes to location. If you want to practice law in Alabama, for example, the absolute best way to do so is to attend the University of Alabama School of Law. As our 2010 Law Firm Associate Survey showed, attending a lower-ranked school near where you want to practice is often a better choice than attending a more elite school across the country. And if you get a 4.0 GPA at that local school, you are a shoo-in for a high-paying law firm associate position–as long as you don’t screw up the interview. To find out which schools are the best for getting a job in major U.S. cities and regions, check out Vault’s Top 5 Law Schools by Employment: The Best Program for Where You Live.

–Posted by Carolyn Wise, Admit One:  Vault’s MBA, Law School and College Blog