Bad news in the legal job market…

Anyone who hasn’t been living underneath a rock for the last few months is aware that the legal market is down for new hires and that law firms are cutting lawyers.  Proof?  The lateral market is “officially flooded,” and legal recruiters and law students are being hit hard.  Where’s the good news?  Some IP firms are hiring, and lawyers are hoping that new regulations (and billable work) will spring from the Obama administration.  Oh, and helpful articles suggest signs that perhaps you’re about to be laid off, so perhaps you can avoid the shock and get a head start on updating your resume.

Aspirin, anyone?  Or antacid?

What’s a bright lawyer to do under these circumstances?  Here are my top 3 suggestions.

1.  Focus on building relationships.  Building relationships both inside and outside your firm will help in several directions.  You’ll be known and you’ll build a reputation, and you may put yourself in a position to receive assignments you might not otherwise.  Because relationships are the key to rainmaking, you’ll be laying groundwork there.  And you’ll develop your network, which you’ll almost certainly need at some point.

2.  Build your skills, especially in business development.  If you’re slow now at work, take the opportunity to invest in yourself.  Attend CLE programs or read up on your area of practice, your clients’ industries, and business generally.  Write articles.  Seek out opportunities for business development training.  Get a mentor and get personalized advice on what you should be doing, given your level of seniority, your area of practice, your goals, etc.  While brief slowdowns are great for taking vacation, this slowdown is a different animal and should be taken as an opportunity to develop yourself.

3.  Keep your resume up-to-date.  We should all do this at all times, because there’s no telling when that “perfect opportunity” will arise.  Realistically, we’re usually caught up in other pursuits and have to scramble when it’s time to submit a resume.  In this environment, although many more lawyers will keep their jobs than be laid off, it’s wise to have a resume ready to go.

For most lawyers, I’d put rainmaking training and activities at the top of the list right now.  Relationship-building and reputation enhancement takes time, and regardless of whether you’re a first-year who’s never even thought about how to bring in business or you’re a sixth-year wondering if your skills will be adequate to permit you to make partner, rainmaking is a key skill you should begin working on NOW.

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