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  • What to Do When No One is Hiring: Network, Consider Alternative Careers

    Looking for a job? Looking for new employment? The job market is slowly improving, but attorney positions are still relatively scarce. Improve the employment odds through networking, career counseling experts say, and consider alternative career paths.

    Joe Forward

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    job searchMarch 5, 2014 – If you are looking for employment, you won’t find it by sitting at your computer and trolling for the perfect job posting, says Roy Ginsburg, an attorney and lawyer-coach who provides career counseling to new and experienced lawyers.

    “You have to get out there and meet people,” he says. “Eighty percent of jobs will be filled through the hidden network, and the hidden network isn’t advertised online.”

    Whether you are a recent graduate or simply looking for new opportunities, “playing the numbers game” will increase your chances of landing a job. Networking may take you outside your comfort zone, but Ginsburg says it’s required.

    “You may feel uncomfortable at first. But you have to get over it,” said Ginsburg, a U.W. Law School graduate who has practiced law the last 30 years. Based in the Twin Cities, Ginsburg also provides career and other advice to attorneys. “Networking is what you have to do to get a job these days. Think of it as a condition of practicing law.”

    Networking can improve the chances of finding job openings, but what if legal employers just aren’t hiring? “Pursue those activities that can help you gain experience until the job market gets better,” says Trisha Fillbach, director for U.W. Law School’s Office of Career and Professional Development.

    “Lawyers can also find satisfying work outside traditional law firm practice if they are interested in pursuing alternative options, and many employers recognize the transferable asset of a legal education,” she said.

    Job Market Still Saturated

    The economy is slowly improving, but a high number of law school graduates are still entering the job market, says Michael Keller, assistant dean of career and professional development at U.W. Law School.

    Keller says the economic downturn had a delayed effect on law school enrollments nationwide, which hit an all-time high in 2010. The entering 2010 class graduated just last year, unleashing the largest number of new lawyers into a stagnant job market.

    Those lawyers now compete with those who graduated from 2009 to 2012, the so-called “lost generation” of graduates who entered the profession after the economic downturn.

    “The market is expanding slightly, but not nearly enough to absorb the number of law school graduates who are looking for legal employment,” said Keller. “Law firms and other employers continue to be very selective in choosing entry-level attorneys.”

    The National Association for Law Placement (NALP) recently reported that “in the fall of 2013, for the fifth year in a row, law firms continued to engage in limited entry-level hiring,” but also stated that entry-level hiring has “certainly increased” since 2008-09.

    If the economy continues to improve, however, fewer law school graduates will enter a better legal market, Keller says. Law school applications and first-year enrollments have dipped significantly since 2010, both nationwide and at Wisconsin’s two law schools.

    Even with a steady increase in entry-level hiring, new lawyers will continue to compete with “lost generation” attorneys who took nonlawyer jobs after graduation, Keller says. For law firms, the lateral associate may be harder to find.

    “Law firms seeking laterals with three to five years of experience may find a limited number of applicants who meet that requirement,” Keller said. “When law firms reduced entry-level hiring, they inadvertently cut out the next generation of attorneys. If that situation continues, there will be a limited population of lawyers to feed lateral hiring.”

    Networking Tips

    If and until market forces open up employment options for new and experienced lawyers, job seekers can maximize their chances in a number of ways. Networking, says Ginsburg, is the most important tool to improve the chances of finding a job.

    But how do you network? What is the best way to go about it? Ginsburg says start with the people you know, then branch out and make efforts to meet new people.

    “The people you know and the people you meet won’t necessarily get you a job directly, but they may be aware of openings in that hidden job market,” Ginsburg said. “They’ll be your eyes and ears, tapping other job networks for you.”

    “The big mistake people make is that they just look for jobs online,” he said. “I talk to a lot of lawyers who say they are looking for work online for months, but aren’t networking nearly enough. One lunch and a few telephone calls isn’t enough.”

    Ginsburg says lawyers need to go out and meet people in person, over coffee, lunch, happy hour, or local or state bar association events and programs.

    “Not everyone you ask will agree to meet with you. Just move on. It’s a numbers game. Longshots don’t come in unless you bet a lot of races,” Ginsburg said.

    Ginsburg said attending bar association events or volunteering are great ways to meet new people in your practice areas of interest while learning at the same time.

    “Introduce yourself to someone you don’t know. Ask them about their work, talk about the presentation, give them your card and ask them to keep an eye out for you,” he said. “At lunch, don’t sit with the people you already know. That’s not going to help you.”

    A networking plan can help you maximize the opportunities, Ginsburg says. Set a goal to meet at least four or five people at an event, and speak with each person for just five to 10 minutes. If you do that at every event you attend, your odds of learning about a job opening improve significantly, Ginsburg explains.

    “There are so many different ways to break the ice, but you just have to bite the bullet and do it, even if it’s outside your comfort zone,” Ginsburg says.

    Alternative Career Paths

    “It’s still a challenging market, and not everyone wants to be a practicing lawyer” says Fillbach, who began her job at U.W. Law School in 2011. "We do have graduates who want to pursue alternative options."

    Fillbach leads by example. She graduated from Hamline University Law School in 2000 and was a judicial law clerk and a practicing lawyer at a Madison law firm before her career transition.

    “I did an informational interview with someone outside the traditional practice of law,” said Fillbach, who landed her first career development job at Pepperdine Law School and directed Drake Law School’s career program for six years.

    Now she helps U.W. law graduates identify job opportunities. In the last few years, she says, more graduates are taking alternative paths, many by choice.

    “A larger number are coming into the market not necessarily looking to practice law right away, or at all,” Fillbach said. “More of them obtain a legal skill set to help employers in other sectors, as many nontraditional legal employers want law-trained individuals.”

    Keller and Fillbach say more graduates are pursuing jobs in higher education, real estate, financial consulting, insurance, court administration, lobbying, recruiting, publishing, and risk and wealth management, to name a few.

    So-called “J.D. Advantage” positions don’t necessarily require a law degree, but employers recognize that a legal education is a tremendous asset in roles that require writing, research, fact-finding, oral advocacy, and client service, among others.

    Joe Forwardorg jforward wisbar Joe Forward, Saint Louis Univ. School of Law 2010, is a legal writer for the State Bar of Wisconsin, Madison. He can be reached by org jforward wisbar email or by phone at (608) 250-6161.

    To help explore these avenues, U.W. Law School is bringing in professionals with a J.D. degree who work in alternative careers to talk about what they do. The goal is to open up more career opportunities for law grads that can put their legal education to use.

    But even these types of jobs take work to find. Only 1-in-200 resumes yield a job interview, they say, whereas 1-in-12 informational interviews lead to an interview.

    “You really have to determine what you want and like to do,” Fillbach said, “then take the right steps to maximize your chances. That includes doing some major soul searching, networking, setting up informational interviews, and engaging in activities that help you distinguish yourself from others.”

    Fillbach and Keller say participating in activities that show your interest in a particular practice area or industry will show prospective employers you are serious.

    Learn More

    Want to learn more about job searching and alternative careers? Keller and Fillbach will present “What to Do When No One is Hiring: Career Options for Lawyers,” a live webcast on March 14, with replays on March 26, April 2, and April 10.

    The program is targeted to new lawyers looking for work, established attorneys thinking about a career change, and attorneys who mentor less experienced attorneys. The cost is $79 for members. Nonmembers pay $99 for the two-hour session. Register now to obtain new job searching tools.