Are You in the Next Round of Layoffs? What to do in the Time of Covid-19.
By Chere B. Estrin
It's happening all over the U.S., the world and yes, even in the legal field. Layoffs.
Law firms, like everyone else, are laying off. I hear stories from legal professionals who walked into the office or turned on their home computers to find out they were let go on the spot, most via e-mail. No severance, no warning. It's a sign of the times. Firms are immediately reserving cash, tightening up and battening down. It's worse than the great recession. But there’s hope. Yes, there really is.
Some people have been furloughed - meaning, they are laid off and expected to return when the economy returns. Really? That's a terrible risk and unless the firm is paying its' employees to hold them in check, there is no reason to expect there will be a future job, We have no idea what that future looks like.
Some people tell me that they have job security. It’s time to face reality. No one, absolutely, no one is immune to these big chasms in the job market. No one. Unless you have a crystal ball and predicting what is going to happen, you have to act as if the worst will occur. If it doesn't, consider that a windfall.
There are areas that are now "hot" because of Covid-19. Interestingly, no matter what crisis the world sees, it is inevitable that critical areas of need pop up. Here is what is hot or getting hotter:
- Estate Planning - People are suddenly getting ready - just in case - for the worst by preparing their estate plans.
- Healthcare - There will be thousands of lawsuits against hospitals, doctors, nursing homes, and anything else related to healthcare including medical malpractice and products liability (for those ventilators that failed from manufacturers with no prior experience).
- Employment law - Lawsuits for wrongful termination, age discrimination and more, are going to pop up as millions of people are terminated.
- Insurance defense - Given the number of lawsuits bound to happen, insurance defense will see an increase. Plaintiffs always go for deep pockets.
- Divorce and family law - Reports from psychologists and elsewhere point to the divorce rate going up as house bound people experience "real issues". They decide if their present situation is how they want to continue. There is usually an uptick in divorces after holidays. This is hardly a holiday.
- Bankruptcy - Just as in the recession, bankruptcy for millions of businesses and individuals is not only around the corner, it is on our doorstep. Out of work employees, closed businesses, revenue loss and less income point to one thing - bankruptcy lawyers and staff will be in demand.
If you are in any of these specialties, you may just stand a chance for survival. If you are not, for heaven's sake, get cross-trained now before it is too late! Take a class, learn from other departments, do what you need to do. In other words, always ride the horse in the direction it is going.
What if you do get laid off? I hope not. If it happens, don't run scared. This is a flight or fight situation. Choose fight. Running will not get you back where you want to be. By fighting, you don’t go down. Here are some action items you can do:
· Get your resume together, even though you are certain you are safe. I receive more bad resumes than good. In a panic, people throw one together and expect it to sell them. Remember, you are now going to have tons of competition for the same job. During the recession, there were hundreds of applications for the same role.
The resume needs to look professional, "pretty” and package you to stand out. Tailor your resume to the job description. I had a candidate just this week, applying for a corporate paralegal position. By the looks of his resume, he clearly was not qualified. However, after the interview, it turns out that he was very qualified. He refused to change his resume. He had one line in the resume that matched the job description and two pages that did not.
He expected the firm to assume that he had accomplished the tasks in the job description because he mentioned "corporate paralegal". Believe me, they make no assumptions, they have no imagination and if the responsibilities in your resume do not match the job description, they will definitely pass. Finally, I got him to change the resume because he had, in fact, done everything in the description. At this point, he has made it past the HR Manager and onto the Hiring Manager. Fingers crossed.
Your future job is probably not on Indeed. Yes, there are plenty of jobs there. However, if you take a good look at what is now happening, you will see that the majority of jobs were posted before stay-at-home orders. Check how old the job is. If it is 30+ days old, you might have a couple of situations: the job expired or is on hold; the firm filled the job but did not pull the posting or they are having a hard time finding someone.
- Tap into your network. Best people who know where the jobs are, are employees at the firm. Colleagues confide in each other about desires to seek another position. They don't go running down to HR and say, "You know, I am thinking of leaving. What do you think?" Colleagues know where the next vacancy is.
- Go to Martindale-Hubbell, a well-known law firm directory, listing thousands of firms. Research hot specialties and your practice area. Check out their websites. They may be hiring. Even if they are not, send an inquiry to the Hiring Manager and throw your hat into the ring for upcoming positions. You just don't know what can happen.
- If you are not on LinkedIn, by all means, put yourself on! If you are afraid your current employer will see your profile, be aware that LinkedIn does not mean that you are looking for a job. It is a sign that you are a professional in today's workplace. Be sure and list responsibilities under each firm. Just putting, "Litigation Paralegal" means nothing to recruiters and employers.
Recruiters buy a LinkedIn package allowing key word searches. If your profile doesn't look right, there is no professional picture and you skimp on details, you will get passed over. Write a compelling summary. Just saying, "Highly motivated legal professional with corporate transactional skills, team player, works well independently" ain't gonna do it! Get away from routine descriptions and make yourself stand out. Listing job responsibilities that thousands of other people have is not good enough.
Check out samples on LinkedIn to make your summary compelling and show some personality. Put your full name and firm. None of this "confidential" stuff or name like, "Anne D.". You will get passed over. Guaranteed.
Don't overlook LinkedIn’s job board. However, you are going to have to have that profile because when you respond, employers click the link that goes right to you.
· Get registered with staffing agencies. They may not have something now but when they do, they reach into their database. Don't get discouraged if you don’t hear right now. Most of their clients have put their jobs on hold for 60 days or more. But please, don't hound them as they are in this just like you and times are tough for everyone.
Check out what's going on with your alumni. People tend to stick together. Don't be shy. They may know something.
· Consider working temp or contract. Usually, when a recession hits, direct hire goes down but temporary staffing goes up. That's because firms do not have the budget for full-time employees or they only have project-by-project needs. You may not get the same rate as on your job but hey, the rent will be paid and the kids will eat. Don't get caught in temping too long because that backfires when you go to find a full-time position. Firms don't like long-term temps as a rule. They think you won't stay.
· Consider a job outside of the legal field just for now. You can even temp. We all know Word, have good communication skills, are pretty intelligent and have excellent work histories (well, most of us, anyway). Sign up with a general clerical agency. Take a clerical job if things are not panning out. It's not forever and will get you through so you don't otherwise go on unemployment or go hungry.
I honestly do not know if temping will heat up in this unusual market. No one seems to be predicting much of anything. But it just doesn't hurt to have backup plans.
- Check your email constantly. I cannot tell you how many candidates say they are desperate but fail to constantly check email. Even worse, their voicemail is constantly full. In this market, it is going to be survival of the fittest. When an agency calls you for a temp job, they want to fill it immediately. If an employer calls and can’t get through, they move on. If you are slow in getting back to them, chances are they have filled the order. You need a sense of urgency because someone else will beat you to the job.
- Not a member of NYCPA? Join now. You will get the newsletter, networking and job board opportunities. When the time comes, you can get out of the house and meet. (Not now.) Some associations are now holding virtual meetings. Be sure and attend. You probably have plenty of time on your hands.
- Stay on top of the news and social media for this field. While turning off the news and giving yourself a mental health break is good, bear in mind, this crisis changes almost hourly. Having information is having power.
- If you haven't been laid-off, now is the time your firm sees you as indispensable. No more just suiting up and showing up. You need to become an expert so much so that the firm would really suffer a loss if they let you go. That could be a deciding factor when the firm is faced with who to cut.
That may mean initiating an office politics campaign, gaining new responsibilities, getting next to the conduit to the power who can speak for you, and rising above everyone. Just plain old excellent hard work will not do it in this unprecedented market. Everyone is expected to work hard and provide excellent work. This is not criteria strong enough to keep you at the firm.
Protecting yourself in your career today is just as important as washing your hands, practicing social distancing and staying at home. You don't want to get the virus and you don't want to be unemployed or helpless.
Here's the deal. Nothing lasts forever. While going through this is one of the worst possible situations that can happen to our magnificent country, we are tough enough to fight it through. I believe in my heart of hearts that we will see the light at the end of the tunnel and realize, it's not a train coming at us.
Have faith. Keep washing your hands, stay calm, stay positive and most of all, stay strong,
Chere Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing, a top staffing organization in California. She is also the President of the Organization of Legal Professionals. Chere has written 10 books on legal careers, hundreds of articles and has been written up in publications such as the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Trib, Newsweek, Entrepreneur and others. Chere is a recipient of the LAPA’s Lifetime Achievement Award, Los Angeles/Century City Women of Achievement Award, New York City Paralegal Assoc. Excellence Award, and a finalist for the Inc. Magazine Entrepreneur of the Year award. She is a former administrator in an AmLaw 100 firm and Sr. Vice President in a $5 billion company. Reach out at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
©Estrin Education, Inc. 2020