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How to survive a law firm layoff

Worried about getting laid off from your law firm? You’re not alone. Let’s talk about some layoff survival skills that can help put your mind at ease.

If you were watching legal industry news in the last quarter of 2022, you couldn’t help but see the articles about some of the country’s biggest firms initiating mass layoffs.

As it turns out, the “post-pandemic boom” wasn’t as great as predicted. Consequently, many firms – big and small – had to let go of lawyers and other legal professionals who had been hired to handle that anticipated workload.

Sadly, more layoffs could be on the horizon.

This volatility can cause all kinds of stress, particularly around the end of the year when partners are busy tallying annual billable hours and filling out performance reviews. That’s why in this article, we’ll be focusing on things you can do to survive the law firm layoff season.

Knowing what to do if the worst happens can help you feel more in control. From protecting your mental health to getting your resume together, we’ve got you covered.

Protect your mental health

Being laid off or terminated is one of the most stressful things a person can experience.

Though lawyers and other legal professionals are trained to be tough, even the most hard-nosed individuals can end up feeling depressed, anxious, or hopeless when faced with unemployment.

That’s understandable.

This is no time to prove how tough you are. No matter what else you do, it is critical that you talk to someone about this situation. Whether you turn to a spouse, therapist, or even some of your colleagues who were also laid off, it is important that you find a way to let out your feelings.

At this time of transition, it is also critical to remember that not everything in your life is changing, regardless of the layoff.

Now is the time to focus on those things in your life that are constants. That could be family, friends, or even your beloved pets. The point is, your whole life isn’t going to disappear just because you’re transitioning to a new job.

That said, these kinds of situations can become overwhelming. If at any point you begin to feel like you can’t go on, please remember that if you text or dial 988, there are people who will talk to you and help you get any assistance that you may need.

Pay attention to the layoff terms

In the event you are part of a massive layoff within a larger firm, you probably already know that your employer is required to follow certain state and federal guidelines with respect to how layoffs are carried out.

Surprisingly, even very sophisticated entities sometimes fail to follow the law with respect to layoffs.

While we certainly don’t suggest that you make this your life’s mission, it can help to make sure things are proceeding via the letter of the law. Basic familiarity with employment law means you know what to expect and you have recourse if you’re not being treated fairly.

Meanwhile, make sure that you read any severance agreements carefully.

Often, the terms of severance payments include clauses that restrict you from posting on social media sites like LinkedIn. An emotional post or comment can land you in legal trouble later.

Get your resources together

Regardless of whether your former employer conducted a legally-sound layoff, you and your colleagues will eventually need to brace yourselves for getting back into the job market.

Even if your severance package gives you some breathing room in this regard, it is never too soon to get your job-seeking materials in order.

In fact, it’s a good idea to keep your information updated even when you’re not facing an imminent job change. Take a little time at the beginning of each year to jot down your biggest accomplishments, any promotions or changes in your responsibilities, and take note of any certifications that you should renew.

Here’s what we suggest you focus on:

Resume/cover letter

If you’ve been working at your current firm for any length of time, chances are your resume is completely out of date.

It could be a big mistake to rely too heavily on the resume you used to get this job in the first place. Fortunately, there are all kinds of great (and free) resources available on how to build a winning legal resume.

One thing you’ll want to pay attention to is how the order of the various categories in your resume will change over time.

When you were seeking your first legal job, for example, you probably listed all of your impressive academic credentials at the very top of the page. After you’ve been in the industry for a while, however, it’s wise to start your resume with your relevant work history instead.

Unless you are specifically asked not to provide one, you also need to create a polished cover letter that you can tailor for each of the specific firms to which you apply.

Again, there are plenty of excellent professional cover letter samples available online.

Please don’t forget that even the most expertly-drafted cover letter can become a huge burden to your job seeking efforts if it contains even one spelling or grammatical mistake. After all, precise writing is a big part of any legal position. Have someone you trust proofread your materials before you submit them.

Ultimately, every resume and cover letter can use a good dusting off and polishing up. Now is the time to build job seeking materials that you can feel proud of.

Social media

If it has been several years since you’ve searched for a job, let us remind you that nearly 70% of today’s employers screen candidates by looking at their social media profiles.

Before you submit your first resume, you need to take the time to remove any posts that:

  • Disparage any of your former employers
  • Take extreme positions on politics or the law
  • Show you partying excessively or engaging in any illegal activities

 

Remember to look at each platform, even if you don’t actively use it right now. Maybe you haven’t logged into Facebook for years, but you’re still tagged in a bunch of pictures from wild nights with your college buddies. Search for your own name the way a potential employer will.

This is a great time to update your LinkedIn profile, too. Collect recommendations, update your work history, and select the option that tells recruiters that you’re open to work.

Posting about your layoff and job search is generally okay and can even help you network to find a new position — just be mindful that you do it tastefully. Focus on your strengths and the types of firms or jobs you want and talk about that.

Research, research, research

Finally, try to look at this situation as having the potential for positive change in your life.

After all, you can do tons of focused research on the firms you’re considering before you ever even submit your materials. If you have a decent severance package, you might have some extra time to search for that perfect fit.

For example, you might research things like firm culture, salaries, benefits, and reviews of the firm from its own former employees. You can also look for firms with similar values or that are active in your communities.

By doing this, hopefully you will find a firm where you’ll not only enjoy the work, but will be able to feel like a valued (and fairly compensated) member of the team.

The pressure of a layoff and a quickly dwindling bank account can make it feel like you have to jump at the first offer that comes your way.

If you qualify for unemployment benefits, those can help alleviate the pressure to accept an offer you know is below your pay grade. Apply as soon as you’re laid off.

Do some research into the overall job market to get a sense for the number of opportunities available in your field and area. If you’re in a highly specialized field with fewer openings, you may be wise to take a position that isn’t perfect right now, but gives you room to grow.

However, if you know that there are lots of openings in your field right now and you’ve got the experience and skills to be a top performer, you might hold out for a better option instead of taking lowball offers.

Use your best judgment when considering new offers. It’s your life, and you know your earning potential and your financial responsibilities better than anyone else.

Above all else, try to stay positive throughout this experience. It’s hard, but you can do hard things. You’ll make it through this setback, and you might even come out better off on the other side.

Author

  • Jennifer Anderson

    Jennifer Anderson practiced business litigation in California from 1999 to 2016. When she’s not writing from her floating cabin on the Columbia River, she can be found hiking or kayaking around the Pacific Northwest.

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