Over twenty years I have counseled and guided lawyers who have, for variety of reasons, left gainful employment.
The question arises: How do I strategize to find gainful employment after being out of work force for a number of years!
At the outset I would note that the current market for many lawyers is not as a good as it was prior to the legal recession starting in 2008. That being said, there are opportunities for licensed lawyers who have been out of the job market.
If you have been doing per idem work your chances are better than if you have not practiced at all, only taking required yearly CLE’s to maintain your license. As long as you have maintained your up to date expertise in a particular legal sector, be it contract, or part time, getting back in is more probable.
If on the other hand, for a variety of reasons, stay at home parent, caring for ill family member, relocating with your spouse, partner or significant other, the challenges become more evident and there are still opportunities for you.
Since law firms today have less lawyers on a partnership track than before 2008, they can be looking for skilled, knowledgeable lawyers who will be hired as contract, or “service lawyers” as I call them, performing legal work to fill in the gaps between equity partners and those very young associates.
It should be noted that up until last year many firms had to terminate higher level associates as there was not work to go around: that has stopped and hiring has picked up to fill the firms needs.
Unlike the management of legal firms before the recession, there is a tendency now to hire “just when needed ” through what I call per idem/contract agencies. If you have practiced in, for example, IT, IP, family law, M&A, bankruptcy, litigation, business transactions, etc., before leaving the practice, easing back would make sense.
If speaking to a recruiter or law firm member, you need to emphasize the proven skills and capability you bring to the office, even if you were out for a period of time. There are occasions when a lawyer has been hired on full time from contact or per diem work. I had a client who took a six-month contract position with Chubb Insurance. After one and half years she was hired full time by the company.
I also believe that pursuit of a smaller firm might be of value, as they may be starting up a practice that you had been in, and may wish to hire you on part time basis, as they can’t afford a full-time lawyer.
Your undergraduate degree can also be relevant. With some undergraduate majors, such as languages, robotics, journalism, finance, marketing, etc., your value might be higher to an employer. There are also opportunities for lawyers beyond legal practice. I know of two lawyers whom now are in senior development with universities, and two who left law and who are enjoying running their own their own non-legal businesses. I also know of a lawyer who set up an outsourced document review business for law firms.
With my clients over these several decades, and even more so in 2016, a business proposal letter rather than a resume might make sense, where you are noting your capabilities before sending a resume or speaking with someone on the phone. You are not hiding the fact of being out gainful employment, but want to get them interested in you and hopefully an interview, and go from there.
The above goes along with my theory that 50% of hiring is “do you fit in here” and 50% “can you help our business,” and law firms are never more than now, a business first.