Part 1: Do you need a Plan B?
When you decided to attend law school, the economy was very strong. By attending a top law school, you likely expected that if you had good grades and worked on basic interviewing skills, you would have positioned yourself for a good job upon graduation.
Unfortunately, recent economic changes have hit law students and young attorneys hard. Some 1L and 2L law students had their summer jobs altered or revoked and some graduating 3Ls have had start dates postponed or even offers rescinded. Some law students may not have had a summer or permanent job lined up but were counting on the strong economy to drum up opportunities later. For most, the state of the bar exam is in flux. Some newly minted attorneys have been furloughed or laid off, and most have had their pay reduced while their workloads may have increased or dried up, depending on their practice areas. For all of us, the world is very different than it was just two months ago.
A snapshot of the Economic Picture: February to Spring 2020
The unemployment rate in February 2020 was 3.5%; April was 14.7%. The Dow Industrial Jones Index was 29,348 on February 19th and dropped below 19,000 on March 23rd and in May hovered around 24,000. News of economic doom & gloom is everywhere, and this period is already being touted as the “Worst Economic Downturn Since the Great Depression”.
It is not all doom and gloom. At Lucas Group, while we have clearly seen a contraction in legal jobs, we recorded over 100 new jobs in April and May. Law firms, companies, government entities and non-profits continue to hire. Firms have a history of valuing a top law school education and giving leeway to “recession graduates”. Additionally, certain practice areas remain busy or are becoming busy as a result of the current environment. With economic uncertainty prevalent, many firms and companies are turning to temporary or contract help instead of making permanent hires. Not only do these positions help junior attorneys gain new skills, but they do have real potential to become permanent based on changing corporate needs or strong performance and fit by the contractor. And for many, while temporary employment is less than ideal, it may be the only way to get your career started this calendar year and keep you on track for long-term career success.
Making the most of your Plan B
There’s a good chance that you didn’t have a Plan B. Plan A seemed like a sure bet for the last 5+ years. Whether you secured a job through OCI or whether you applied to companies, firms or non-profits directly, hiring was plentiful and as a student or graduate of a top law school, likely with prior work experience, your background was in high demand.
These are uncertain times – the best thing you can do for yourself is to embrace the unpredictability (unfortunately we can’t change it). There will always be work for talented people – in legal, legal adjacent and other fields. Don’t let this period define you; instead, define how you want to look back on this time in your life and personal and professional development. What you’ve accomplished so far is impressive – 40% of people who apply don’t get admitted to any law school, and the chances of being accepted to an elite law school are very small. You will be OK, but as always in life, those who embrace the challenge of trying to stay busy and productive will have the greatest chance of bouncing back on track once things normalize.
I was talking to a client earlier this week who joked about the movie they would make in 15 years about 2020. That same client reminded me that the year isn’t over yet, and we still have a major election, the result of which will have ramifications on the economy and the job market. There is a lot you can’t control, but there is much that you can. Now is the time to build a Plan B, irrespective of how your Plan A is going. Hopefully, you won’t need it and that dream firm, company or non-profit will honor its commitment to bring you on board. But if you aren’t going to be working this summer, you should consider options to stay productive and gain legal skills. In my next blog, I will cover busy practice areas, different ways to be productive, and additional considerations for those of you who have jobs or job offers.