Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Tide is Turning: the New Legal Market

Hiring Partner has been busy and thanks you for your patience.  I've also been pondering the next post and wanting to address recent attorney layoffs (including last week's announcement of almost 100 attorneys laid off at Cadwalader).  Several of you have also asked for insights and advice relating to upcoming on campus recruiting.  The tide is turning, my friends.  We are heading back into an era where firms have the power, with push back on the days where associates could simply keep demanding larger starting salaries ("NY to 190" screamed the Above the Law masses) and huge bonuses. 

As you can see from the layoffs at Cadwalder (quite public) and the other layoffs that we know are ongoing (albeit more quietly), we are returning to a legal market where attorneys (especially associates and summer associates) need to keep their heads down, and work, work, work.  I realize this may sound depressing to many of you. But, ponder this:  how many jobs are out there where a fresh out of law school, perhaps 25 year old can make $160,000, and possibly a bonus?  Hello, people, be happy to have such a job if you do have one and if the prospect is there (summer associate interviewing, for instance) think about the opportunity presented.  I am sure that most of the Cadwalader attorneys were fine attorneys.  They happened to be working in a down practice group in a down economy.  This could happen to any one of us, no matter who we are.  I've seen  partners fat and happy one year and then a client merges or is sold, and the partner does not have much to do.  I've seen a star associate billing up the wazoo and then the market tanks and the associate is looking for a job.  "Remember, none of us are indispensable.  And, if you think you are, you are fooling yourself." Of course, having a nice book of business will help, or a critical niche specialty, but these niches are few and far between.  We are all pretty much potential castoffs.  Disheartening, I realize, but true.  

So, how does all this depressing news relate to on campus interviewing or interviewing in general (e.g. lateral moves)?  Hiring Partner will get into specific tips later, but for now the thing to remember is that due to the economy, firms have more leverage. You will need to show you are a star and that you can work like a dog and/or bring something special to the table. Some quick "what not to do" as you interview this season (again, remember, these are HPs opinions, take them or leave them):

-- do not focus on work/life balance issues in an can get into those after you have an offer.

-- do not indicate you are "shopping" different cities.  Most firms want someone who has a connection of some sort to the city.  If you are interviewing in like 4 different cities, you seem rather undecided.

- do not act cocky -- yes, this applies even if you are the Editor in Chief of the law review and go to Harvard.  No one likes a cocky SOB.  I realize again this is common sense, but we do see these people every year.  Firms like candidates that we think other firms want.  It helps to be in demand, but there is a line between being a sought after candidate and being a cocky jerk.  You need to be more of a "seller" than a "buyer" in this market.  

-- have some good, thoughtful questions. I've given some suggestions regarding questions.  Someone will ask why you are interested in firm X.  Do not say "I just applied to all firms that were from Atlanta and doing OCI."  Even if it is true, this is a crummy answer.  (HP has heard this answer and it got the person dinged immediately).   Come up with some valid reasons -- again, do Internet research -- e.g, "I saw that you are building a strong IP practice and I have a background in engineering," etc. or "the training program that your firm does for 1-3rd year litigation associates really impressed me. "   Be prepared with a couple good reasons.  

-- do not act shy or anxious.  Not all of us are extroverts, and some firms will just hire the top person from X law school because that person looks smart and they are not concerned about client contact. But, at most firms, the people interviewing you do not want to sit there for 20 or 30 minutes and have to carry the whole conversation.  Even if you are on the shy side, you need to come on out and engage.  Do you want a six figure job?  Then open your mouth and be charming, engaged, and interested.  Pretend you are reading the news if you have a hard time interacting.  

-- no sweaty palms, shaking legs -- get there a little early and go for a bathroom break before the interviews start.  Check your suit, dry your hands, and be confident.

-- do not bad mouth other firms or attorneys.  Even if you worked as a paralegal at a sweatshop extraordinaire, DO NOT crap on them in the interview.  It is a small legal world.  For all you know, one of your interviewer's spouses could work at that firm.  Badmouthing never helps.  

-- do not UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES UNLESS YOU ARE HIT BY A BUS (in which case, take your dying sweaty hands and call firm to tell them) late!  Trains may run behind, you may get stuck in traffic.  PLAN AHEAD...LEAVE EXTRA EARLY.  Worst case scenario is you are early and have to chill out at a local Starbucks.  It's like going to the airport, but more important -- get your butt to the interview on time, and preferably early. 


Anonymous said...

How do you see the market affecting the practice of law, as opposed to just hiring? Everyone is saying to stay away from secured transactions, but what do you think are more resilient transactional practice areas?

Any suggestions for making yourself and your job more secure as a new associate?

Anonymous said...

Would you please post a blog entry detailing the practices you see growing over the next five to ten years versus the ones you see shrinking over the next five to ten years? An example might be that Labor & Employment because of pressure on billing rates is shrinking at larger firms and moving to boutiques. That we are having a hard time finding tax lawyers because the IRS stopped enforcing 10 years ago and when Obama is elected they are going to start, but there are no mid-level tax people. The corporate department has started to shrink because of the credit crunch. I would like your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

I think the answer to that question, in some way, also depends on the results of the upcoming election.

Different parties have different policies, from which different industries can suffer/profit.

Of course you could still predict that soon the demand for bankruptcy lawyers will be rising, if it hasn't already started. Also, in 5 years, I would guess that M&A will come back.

- These are predictions made by a law student, I'll check back in 5-10 to see if I was right.