Reprinted from 2015
Two questions I often hear from the young lawyers who consult with me are: “have opportunities changed since the onset of the legal recession, and how has this impacted the practice of law?”
The answer is yes, opportunities have changed, recognizing that the practice of law outside of government employment, is a business, more than ever before.
The practice may have changed anyway with technological innovations a significant part, but the recession played a major role. Many of those lawyers whom graduated in the 2008-13 classes had considerable difficulty finding positions.
For decades, upon graduation, most lawyers have pursued traditional avenues in the tightly focused ‘triad’ of law firms, in-house corporate, or government, with a small percentage going into not-for-profit, or public service positions. Now, in this decade there are probably not enough openings for the number of lawyers looking for traditional positions.
Some young associates with three to five years experience as large firm refugees have chosen to skip the partnership track for a shingle on their own, or with colleagues, recognizing their spirit of entrepreneurship. Others have moved on, in part, as a lifestyle choice more than financial remuneration. In addition, a recent survey by CISCO, the giant international telecommunications company reflected that flexibility may be more important than compensation. The survey stated that to employ and retain professionals, including lawyers, telecommuting options need to be considered as part of some package practices.
As we move into the second part of this decade a sizeable number of opportunities for young lawyers will open up in positions that did not exist ten years ago. Aside from legal and social skills, many of these roles may require entrepreneur and business know how. Although there will be still be a certain percentage of young lawyers under 40 in lockstep up the ladder to partnership, some firms may not require as many practitioners as they did prior to the recession. Increased management efficiencies of scale, outsourcing, increasing client billing oversight, developing legal technology and contract employment may well result in less permanent opportunities. This paradigm shift is probably here to stay, impacting law firm productivity, efficiencies, and ultimately profitability. After all, besides serving clients, firms are businesses run by equity partnerships.
The catalyst for change will result in young practitioners pursing positions with legal service firms and related businesses. They include names such as; Pangea3, Novus Law, E-Law, Legal Zoom, Flex Legal Network, Cybersettler and Mindcrest. These and other growing business enterprises do work that previously may have been done by firms and corporations themselves.
Those of you, by choice or not, might well look outside the traditional areas of employment, rather than view law through the ‘tunnel vision’ of the past. One cannot be risk averse in today’s employment market. The best opportunities may well be those that scare you the most! I started my private practice 25 years ago at the height of massive inflation. Microsoft started during a nasty recession. Former CEO and Apple Founder, Steve Jobs noted his success was due in large part to ‘adapting to the times and taking risks.’
An entry-level position after law school or an uninspiring job you have now is not a permanent career ender. As noting to my clients, and I have personally found ‘ones career doesn’t always fit neatly together in life.’ The next opportunity may utilize your developing client and relationship skills, analytical ability, initiative, interests and enthusiasm for a career option you might well not thought of or considered while in law school!
In the challenging employment environment ahead, it does pay to also think ‘outside the box’ of traditional choices, recognizing that achieving internal gratification may be as important to you in the long run as financial/external gratification.