Preparing to launch a job search

This post is primarily directed toward those of you who have been in practice for 3-5 years, though the general ideas may be useful for a broader spectrum.

So, it’s summer, and you’ve decided that it’s time for you to move on from your current position.  Popular wisdom suggests that summer is not a good time to begin actively searching for a new job.  As with so much popular wisdom, there’s some truth to that, but the situation will vary dramatically from person to person — so evaluate your own situation before you decide whether to wait until fall.  Consider factors such as the force of the reason prompting you to leave where you are now (ask questions such as: how unhappy are you?  do you have a sense that you may be asked to leave?  is business slowing to the point that your position may no longer be sustainable?  how are you faring, in terms of your work performance, workload, likeability, etc., in comparison with your contemporaries?), the state of business generally in your practice area, hiring trends in your geographic area, etc.  This is a great place to brainstorm with someone else, because it’s easy to see only one perspective when you really need a 360 degree view.

If you do decide to wait until fall, you can certainly begin your preparations now.  And you should.  Here are some ideas on steps that will move you forward before you’re ready for an official launch.

  1. Get your resume in order.  (Of course, you know that.)  Especially if you’re more senior, think about whether you should reorder your resume to highlight your work experience or to bring attention to other items.  This is not the time to accept the same old, same old without giving it serious thought first.
  2. Prepare a table of your work experience.  List every client for whom you’ve worked and what you did, in as much detail as you can, and list the opposing party where relevant.  Then, prepare a second table with the same information but omitting the client and opposing party names.  This does two things for you.  First, it sets you up to provide the conflict information that your new employer will (or should) request.  And second, it provides a handy reference for you and quite probably a useful document to provide to potential employers to demonstrate the breadth of your experience.  (Obviously, you provide the table without identifying information.)
  3. Network.  I hope you have a good network in place, not only of people in other firms or other practice settings, but also friends from undergrad and law school, bar activities, non-legal social activities, etc.  Re-connect with these people.  Summer is a particularly nice time to do that.  Perhaps you want to drop hints that you may be moving on, perhaps not.  But be attentive and ask questions that will not only generate good conversation (lawyers love tot alk about themselves and their work) but also will serve you well as you launch your search.
  4. Spend some time thinking about what kind of practice you want, what practice setting you want, how you’d like your work life to look.  What has worked well in your current position?  What hasn’t?  If you’re in a large firm, how would you feel about moving to a small firm?  What would it mean to you to lose the ready resources you likely have access to now?  If you’re in a small firm, what would it be like for you to move to a larger firm?  Do you want to consider moving in-house?  What about government work?  Do you want to stay in a strictly legal role?  This is the time to vision your next position.  There are plenty of books to help with these questions.  Use them and work this.  If you don’t know what you’re looking for, you’re at the mercy of what’s presented to you.  Not a great approach.
  5. Consider whether to talk with a recruiter.  This can be a good way to get a feel for hiring trends, for how marketable you may be, etc.  You will also get a good sense for the likelihood that working with a recruiter will benefit you.  The more senior you are, the less likely a recruiter will be able to present you as a candidate unless you have a book of business.  Ask around for who the good recruiters are in your area.  A recruiter can be an incredibly helpful source of information, sounding board, and partner.  Make sure you choose someone who is ethical and well-respected.  And consider whether to approach some of the recruiters who represent the candidate rather than the employer.

These steps will help you move forward before you launch your search.  So, if you’ve decided to leave but you aren’t ready to take action, be sure you’re laying the groundwork.

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