More than ever, attorneys must pay attention to changing national trends. Many who are thriving in the current environment are also showing an entrepreneurial spirit and a willingness to work at small firms.
Legal business development adviser Larry Bodine says most newly minted attorneys shouldn't bother looking for work at firms appearing on American Lawyer's top 200 list. Most have been laying off associates and even partners for the past two years. Bodine, who worked at national powerhouse Sidley Austin before starting his Chicago-based advice business 20 years ago, says one coaching client told him: "It's so bad for new hires that law schools should have warning labels on them."
[Read how law schools are adapting to changes at "Biglaw" firms.]
To get an idea where to look for jobs, follow the money:
Foreclosures: Helping people at risk of losing their homes keeps Florida lawyer Mark Stopa busy. Stopa's Tampa-based practice defends homeowners in foreclosure cases, generating more than $1 million a year, thanks to the thousand or so clients who pay $100 to $3,000 (well below the industry standard) in fees. Stopa, who has added two associates to his firm, notes of his discounted services: "Some of these clients will be happy I treated them fairly and will come back in the future when they are back on their feet."
The research firm LPS Applied Analytics reports that more than 2.1 million mortgages were in some stage of foreclosure as of December 2010. "We don't see a full market recovery until 2014," says Rick Sharga, vice president of RealtyTrac, a foreclosure marketplace and tracking service. Considering that 23 states require bank takeovers of homes to be approved by judges, that translates to a lot of work for lawyers.
[See how recruiters rank law schools.]
Discrimination claims: When the economy dips, older workers tend to be affected first, observes Diane King, a Denver civil rights attorney for 23 years. Minorities and pregnant women are also vulnerable, she says. King's firm has seen its caseload of age and minority discrimination complaints leap 20 percent since the recession hit. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recovered more than $404 million in back wages on behalf of employee claimants in 2010. The demand for outside attorneys in these cases is not expected to drop soon.
Federal service: The U.S. government may not qualify as a small law firm, but many modest agencies you've never heard of, such as the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission, are hiring. The commission constantly needs new lawyers, notes the Partnership for Public Service, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that promotes federal civil service work. In its 2009 survey, the group found that legal professionals rank as a top-five area of need for the entire government, which seeks to fill 24,000 such slots by September 2012. Many of these will be for lawyers.
[Explore the U.S. News Best Law Schools rankings.]
Tim McManus, the organization's vice president for education and outreach, advises applicants not to look merely at the Justice Department. "Literally every single government agency has attorneys," he says, for work that includes contracts, employment, and regulatory law. The application process also tends to be easier for lawyers, McManus notes, as they are exempt from many hiring rules.
He advises attorneys to look for openings on www.usa.gov, which lists all federal agencies and enables users to click through to an individual agency's website. A new job can be just a few keystrokes away.
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