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Resolve to Manage Your Job Search

January 2009

When making resolutions, few people imagine starting out the New Year looking for a job; but in this challenging economy many lawyers are in the job search. In this step by step article, you will learn how to effectively manage all aspects of your job search, from economic through emotional, and wind up on the other side in a better place.

Many lawyers find themselves beginning this New Year being thrust unexpectedly into the job market. While some employers publicly acknowledge such layoffs are economically driven, others are less straightforward. Either way, the affected lawyers likely feel angry and betrayed or befuddled and confused. The good news is, while no one would choose to be laid off, most people end up happier after a transition. The challenge is living through it.

The best strategy to manage the emotional rollercoaster accompanying a layoff is to embrace the job hunt in a well thought out, systematic way. Make a New Year’s resolution to follow the seven steps outlined below to structure your job search and take control of the process.



Firms vary widely in how they manage layoffs so be prepared to clarify the necessary details. If you have received a termination date, be sure everyone is clear about:

  • The length of time you’ll be paid through and covered by benefits . The timeframe can vary by seniority and/or length of service. Be clear about whether or not you are permitted to use any outstanding vacation time to extend your time on payroll and if not, how you will be compensated for that earned time. While you may not be in a position to negotiate for more, you are entitled to know the parameters so that you can plan accordingly.
  • Billable hour expectations. This must be discussed openly to avoid confusion. As a professional, you have an obligation to transition any open projects to the appropriate people, but beyond that you should ask what the firm expects of you. Are you to take on new projects? Are you expected to come into the office daily? Who knows that you will be leaving? Typically, in an attempt to be discreet, the Firm does not inform everyone when an attorney has been given a departure date. It is up to you to share the information with others in a way that is most comfortable for you. Be careful to avoid the trap of thinking “if I work really hard, they will change their mind” or being kept too busy to look for a new job. Once a departure date has been discussed, it is in your best interest to focus on getting a new job.
  • Office Space and secretarial support . Understand the parameters. How long can you remain in your current office? Are you free to conduct a job search using Firm resources? Can you have access to an office, voicemail or e-mail after your termination date? How long will your information remain on the Firm website? If the Firm does not articulate this information, it is completely acceptable for you to ask.
  • Professional Outplacement Services. It is in the firm’s best interest to engage terminated associates in the job search process quickly and the easiest way to do that is with a career counselor. An effective counselor can help both the Firm and associates avoid common pitfalls in the termination and job search processes and shorten the transition period between positions. Some Firms make outplacement available to all lawyers while others set limits based on seniority or length of service. Be sure to ask and take advantage of the resource if it is provided.

It is important to maintain a professional demeanor throughout this process. While it is understandable to feel a range of emotions, keep them in check as you make your inquiries and attempt to clarify the details of your departure.


While you may think self-assessment is a luxury you can’t afford in a tight economy, it is more important than ever to be able to articulate your strengths, passions, preferred work style, goals, enthusiasms, values, contributions, potential, ideals, interest areas, temperament, accomplishments, special areas of knowledge and motivations. Remember, the basic questions in every interview are:

  • What needs to be done?
  • What can you do?

The better you are able to address those issues in an employer-centric manner, the more likely you will be to find a new position even in a tough economy.


To get yourself started, you must decide how much time you are willing to devote to your search. If you are currently working, consider 2-3 hours per week; if you are unemployed, consider 5-6 hours a day. Maintaining a steady and consistent effort throughout your search will be one of the most important elements in determining your success. A "start and stop" approach almost always leads you back to square one at each juncture. Working in bursts of activity will ensure failure.

During those reserved hours, your job search must be your primary focus. This is the time committed to self-assessment exercises, making job related phone calls, conducting library/internet research, etc. By adhering to a schedule, you will reduce the insecurity most job seekers feel because you will be in control. You will also be able to chart your progress.


Whether you opt for a notebook and pen or an elaborate computer based system, you must develop a system for recording your activities in order to easily retrieve important data and to ensure appropriate follow-up actions in a timely manner.




Date of Initial Contact

Results of Meeting

Follow-up Action Required


Personal Info

















As with any endeavor, enlisting the help of a professional can save you valuable time. A career counselor can assist you in evaluating your transferable skills, drafting resumes and cover letters and suggest helpful resources. If your Firm provides outplacement services, take advantage of that benefit. If not, consider hiring a career counselor yourself. Shop around to find a counselor willing to customize services around your needs. If cost is an issue, consider contacting your law school or undergraduate institution first. Most offer individual appointments with a counselor which can help get the process started. Also, every Law school’s Office of Career Services contains a mini library for graduates complete with directories, books and periodicals relevant to job search and career change activities. By utilizing your career library, you can save a lot of expensive subscription costs and have access to a multitude of resources. You may also try contacting the agency your organization has employed to provide Employee Assistance Programs to see if they offer any resources which might be helpful. Finally, contact local bar associations to learn what resources they provide.


Do your own homework. While headhunters may be helpful to you, they are only one of a plethora of resources available to you. Use the internet to learn about other careers and compile lists of target companies. Visit web pages; read press releases; know what career opportunities exist (even if they are not at your level.) At the same time, begin to compile lists of people who might be able to help you. Consider family members, former classmates and colleagues as well as people “on the other side” of deals or projects you have met throughout your career. Ask partners and others at your current organization for assistance. Strategize how people might be helpful. You must be prepare to say more than “if you hear of any job openings, let me know.” Can they introduce you to someone on your target list? Can they help you expand your target list? Perhaps they can offer feedback on your resume or approach tactics. Be prepared to ask people for something specific they can do to be helpful.


It is a tough economy and the job hunt is likely to move slowly. The proper mental attitude is key to your success. If you believe there are no jobs and you will never work again--you will be correct. If however, you believe that you will find an opportunity and are prepared to put a great deal of energy into the job search process, you will also be right. Resolve to stay positive and focused and 2009 will turn out just fine.

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About the Author

Kathleen Brady is Principal of Kanarek & Brady, LLC, a career transition firm for lawyers and Brady & Associates Career Planners, LLC, a professional development training company specializing in the legal community.

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