Back in the "old days" which can mean going back a mere six or seven years, a legal professional with a degree who demonstrated solid work experience, could pretty much be assured that she would find a job. Generally speaking, few worried about going back to school. With the advent of this current recession, all of that changed significantly.
Nowadays, even if you have a stellar resume, it's tough to get a job. I have heard from a number of legal professionals around the country: one is living in a motel fighting foreclosure; another high-profile professional was laid off last October and has not yet found a position; and still another, with 26 years of experience, has been out of work for a year.
Reviewing their resumes, I see one strong component missing for a productive and short job search: nothing in their resume indicates any update of their skills. Nothing. While it is true that their skills and abilities are significant, job duties listed on a resume do not always indicate that you have made the effort to keep those skills up-to-date. Even those currently employed need to take on new challenges and gain knowledge through a designated plan.
Law firms are very selective in whom they hire. This means, more often than not, those with more recent education are hired first thus increasing the value of continuing legal education.
Most people sure do know about recent law firm closings that seemed to have happened suddenly or out of the blue. Unless you are privy to Executive Committee meetings, you really do not know the current financial situation of your firm. Just that fact is another reason why it is essential to pursue education and be assured you are in the know of the latest trends and techniques. Waiting until a firm closes its doors or passes out layoff notices is a surefire path to long-term unemployment.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (Number of Jobs Held – A Longitudinal Study, June 27, 2008) states the average person changes jobs 10.8 times during the ages of 18 and 42. These numbers indicate employment stability is really unsteady for everyone, including those with college and law degrees and paralegal certificates - another reason why continuing legal education remains a positive step.
Are you rolling the career dice? You do have options.
Pursuing a bachelor, masters or law degree is not always the answer. Consider a certificate program or a single course designed to improve skills. For example, completing an eDiscovery course increases your value. Planning for continuing legal education is essential to success, along with selecting the right courses. It always amazes me that people plan for everything else that is important in their lives: children, buying a house, retirement, vacation but when it comes to planning their career – the very thing that supports those decisions - it’s a roll of the dice.
Law firms that pay for continuing education understand the value it brings to the firm. Other firms simply don’t get it which causes many of their employees to avoid getting additional education as they in turn, refuse to pay for it themselves. Talk about short-sighted!
Here are five tips to help you get what you need:
Look to Your Community
Community colleges and associations offer low cost continuing legal education courses generally focused on specific skills – anything from using a particular software program to going to trial.
When the economy is on a downturn, attendance in continuing legal education courses and paralegal programs actually increases. Savvy legal professionals want to position themselves for better jobs when the economy loosens up. Some CLE providers offer scholarships or tuition assistance programs to help support those who have been laid off.
Two good examples are the Paralegal Knowledge Institute and the Organization of Legal Professionals (OLP). In the past year, OLP has given approximately 40 scholarships to long-term unemployed legal professionals.
Beating the High Cost of Textbooks
Books, particularly those in the legal field, increase the cost of continuing education. Pursuing online approaches to purchasing texts or materials cuts the cost. You may also find used texts. You might be able to check the book out from a law library or even borrow one from a former student. Check with students who previously took the course or ask the instructor for referrals.
Earn Extra Money for Continuing Education
If you cannot find scholarships, consider earning extra money in a side job to use exclusively for continuing education. Options range from getting a part-time job, starting a home-based business or taking on freelance work. Or, choose to keep it simple: babysitting, dog walking, starting a website to earn money, even renting out a spare room. It's not as difficult as you may think.
Making the Connection
The benefits of continuing legal education include improving and protecting your situation and beating the lingering effects of a challenging marketplace. Don’t short change yourself. Change your game plan and increase the odds of your success.