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Are You in the Next Round of Lay-offs? Coping in the Time of Covid-19

FearBy Chere B. Estrin

It's happening all over the U.S., the world and yes, even in the legal field. Lay-offs. That ugly, depressing, stress-ridden word.

I am usually a very upbeat, positive person. Yet, along with the rest of us, witnessing this world crisis is something that is impossibly hard to get your arms around. It's like living in a Kafka scene. I am not facing fear, rather, dread. I wake up each morning listening to the news and horrible events that have happened in the short space of 24 hours. It's unimaginable. It's a plague. And I keep asking myself, "Why, why, why wasn't the world more prepared?" But that's an article for another day.

Law firms, like everyone else, are laying off. It's quite possible that a number of readers have already been laid-off. I am hearing stories and getting calls from legal professionals who walked into the office or turned on their computer from home only to find out they were let go on the spot. No severance, no warning. It's a sign of the times. Firms are immediately reserving cash, tightening up and battening down. It's worse than the great recession.

Some people have been furloughed - meaning, they are laid off and expected to return when the economy comes back. Really? That's a terrible risk for you and unless the firm is paying people on a regular basis in order to hold them in check, there is no reason to expect there will be a job for you in the future - because we have no idea what that future looks like. We are barely able to predict it.

 "Why, why, why wasn't the world more prepared?"

Some people tell me that they are "safe" in their job. Trust me. No one, absolutely, no one is immune to these big bumps in the job market. No one. Unless you have a crystal ball and can predict what is going to happen, you have to act as if the worst will occur. If it doesn't, consider that a windfall.

There are areas that are now "hot" in the legal field because of covid-19. Interestingly, no matter what crisis the world sees, it is inevitable that critical areas of need pop up. Here is what is hot or getting hotter:

  1. Estate Planning - People are suddenly getting ready - just in case - for the worst by writing wills and preparing their estate plans.
  2. Healthcare - It stands to reason that there are going to be thousands of lawsuits against hospitals, doctors, nursing homes, and anything else related to healthcare including medical malpractice.
  3. Employment law - Lawsuits against employers for wrongful termination, age discrimination and more are going to pop up as millions of people are terminated or laid off.
  4. Insurance defense - Given the amount of lawsuits bound to happen, the insurance defense world will see an increase in case volume. Always go for the deep pockets, the mantra for a lawsuit.
  5. Divorce and family law - Reports from psychologists and elsewhere point to the divorce rate going up as people are house bound and the "real issues" start to come out. They have tine to think about their future and if their present situation is they way they want to continue. There is usually an uptick in divorces after holidays. This is hardly a holiday.
  6. Bankruptcy - Just as in the recession, bankruptcy for millions of businesses and individuals is not only around the corner, it is on our doorstep. Out of work employees, closed businesses, loss of revenue and income point to one thing - bankruptcy lawyers and staff will be in demand.

If you are in any one of these specialties, you may just stand a chance for survival. If you are not, for heaven's sake, get cross-trained now before it is too late! Take a class, learn from other departments in your firm, do what you need to do. In other words, always ride the horse in the direction it is going.

What if you do get laid off? I hope not. However, in the event it happens or has happened, don't run scared. This is a flight or fight situation. Choose fight. Running from the situation will not get you back where you want to be. By fighting, you at least stand a chance. Here are some action items you can do:

  • Get your resume together, even though you are certain nothing is going to happen to you and you are safe on your job.  I have received more bad resumes than good ones. People throw one together and expect it to sell them. Remember, you are now going to have tons of competition for the same job. During the recession, there were hundreds of applications for the same job. It was without a doubt, an employers market.

    The resume has to look professional and "pretty". It has to package you to stand out above the rest. Tailor your resume to the job description. I had a candidate just this week. who applied for a corporate paralegal position. By the looks of his resume, he clearly was not qualified. However, when we had the interview, it turns out that he was very qualified. He refused to change his resume. He had one line in the resume that matched the job description and two pages that did not.

    Somehow, he expected the firm to assume that he had accomplished the tasks in the job description because he mentioned "corporate paralegal".  Believe me, they make no assumptions, they have no imagination and if the responsibilities in your resume do not match the job description, they will definitely pass. Finally, I got him to change the resume to fit the job because he had, in fact, done everything the job description called for. At this point, he has made it past the HR Manager and onto the Hiring Manager. Fingers crossed.

  • Your future job is probably not on Indeed. Yes, there are plenty of jobs on Indeed. However, if you take a good look at what is going on right now, you will see that the majority of the jobs were posted before the stay-at-home orders were handed down. Check and see how old the job is. If it is 30+ days old, you might have two situations: the job has expired or is on hold; the firm did not pull the posting or they are having a hard time finding someone.

    You are going to have to take a number of steps:

  •  Tap into your network. The best person who knows where the jobs are, are employees at the firm. Colleagues confide in each other about their desire to seek another position. They don't go running down to HR and say, "You know, I am thinking of leaving. What do you think?" Colleagues know where the next vacancy is.
  • Go to Martindale-Hubbell, a well-known law firm directory with thousands of law firms listed. Start looking up firms with the hot specialties and firms within your practice area. Check out their websites. They may be hiring. Even if they are not, send an inquiry to the Hiring Manager and throw your hat into the ring for upcoming positions. You just don't know what can happen.
  • If you are not on LinkedIn, by all means, put yourself on it. If your fear is that your current employer will see your profile, be aware that LinkedIn does not mean that you are looking for a job. It is a sign that you are a professional in today's workplace. Be sure and list the types of responsibilities that you have had under each firm.  Just putting, "Litigation Attorney" means nothing to recruiters and employers seeking candidates. They need it spelled out.

    Recruiters buy a package from LinkedIn that allows them to key word search candidates for specifically the right candidate. If your profile doesn't look right, if you don't have a professional picture and if you skimp on the details, you will get passed over. Be sure to write a compelling summary. Just saying, "Highly motivated legal professional with corporate transactional skills, team player, works well independently" ain't gonna do it! Get away from the routine description and make yourself stand out. Listing job responsibilities that thousands of other people have, is not good enough. 

    Check out samples on LinkedIn to make your summary compelling and show some personality.  Put your full name and the firm you are with. None of this "confidential" stuff or name like, "Anne D.". You will get passed over. Guaranteed.

    Don't overlook that LinkedIn also has a job board. However, you are going to have to have that profile on because when you respond to a posting, employers click on the link that goes right to you.
  • Get registered with staffing agencies. They may not have something for you now but when they do, they reach into their database and contact you. Don't get discouraged if you are not hearing from them right now. Staffing agencies are hurting as most of their clients have put their jobs on hold for 60 days or more until the future clears up. But please, don't hound them to death as they are in this just as you are and times are tough for everyone.
  • Check out what's going on with your alumni. People tend to stick together. Reach out and don't be shy. They may know something.
  • Consider working temp or contract. Usually, when a recession hits, the jobs for direct-hire go down but the temporary staffing goes up. That's because firms do not have the budget for full-time employees or they have a project-by-project need. You may not get the same rate you got on your job but hey, the rent will be paid and the kids will eat. Don't get caught in temping too long, if you can help it, because that backfires when you go to find a full-time position. Firms don't like long-term temps as a rule. They think you won't stay.

  • Consider taking a job outside of the legal field just for now. You can even temp. We all have typing skills, know Word, have good communication skills, are pretty intelligent and have excellent work histories (well, most of us, anyway). Sign up with a general clerical agency. Take a clerical job if things are not panning out. It's not forever and will get you through having to otherwise go on unemployment or go hungry.

    I honestly do not know if temping will heat up in this unusual market. No one seems to be predicting much of anything. But it just doesn't hurt to have backup plans.
  • Check your email constantly. I cannot tell you how many candidates tell me how desperate they are but fail to constantly check email for responses to their application or from staffing agencies.Even worse, their voicemail is constantly full. In this market, it is going to be survival of the fittest. Be proactive. Check several times a day.  You have to have a sense of urgency because someone else will beat you to the job.
  • Not a member of your local association? Now is the time to join. You will get the newsletter, network with others both working and not and many times, they have a job board. Plus, if you can get out of the house and don't have a stay-at-home order, you can meet them and network. Some associations are holding meetings virtually now. Be sure and attend. You probably have plenty of time on your hands.
  • If you haven't been laid-off, now is the time to be sure your firm sees you as indispensable. No more just suiting up and showing up. You have to become an expert so much so that the firm would really suffer a loss if they let you go. That could be a deciding factor when the firm is faced with who to cut.

    That may mean initiating a political campaign, gaining new and different responsibilities, getting someone in the firm who is the conduit to the power to speak for you, and rising above everyone else in all areas. Just plain old hard work that is excellent will not do it in this unprecedented market. Everyone is expected to work hard and provide excellent work.  This is not criteria strong enough to keep you at the firm.

Protecting yourself in your career today is just as important as washing your hands, practicing social distancing and staying at home. You don't want to get the virus and you don't want to be unemployed or helpless when you are.

Here's the deal. Nothing lasts forever. While going through this is one of the worst possible situations that can happen to our magnificent country, we are tough enough to fight it through. I believe in my heart of hearts that we will see the light at the end of the tunnel and realize, it's not a train coming at us.

Have faith. Keep washing your hands, stay calm, stay positive and most of all, stay strong,

Chere Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing, a top staffing organization in California. She is also the President of the Organization of Legal Professionals. Chere has written 10 books on legal careers, hundreds of articles and has been written up in publications such as the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Trib, Newsweek, Entrepreneur and others. Chere is a recipient of the Los Angeles/Century City Women of Achievement Award and a finalist for the Inc. Magazine Entrepreneur of the Year award. She is a former administrator in an AmLaw 100 firm and Sr. Vice President in a $5 billion company. She can be reached on Sundays from 3am-5am. Reach out at: chere@estrinlegalstaffing.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


How bad is it to....

Man.nervousWe all make mistakes. However, there are degrees of mistakes, some very bad, some, well, not so bad. Here are 5 scenarios that might sound familiar to you:

How bad is it to......

1.    Agree to a phone interview with a staffing organization recruiter and ghost or stand them up.

Recruiters are professionals. They take the time to answer your application. They set aside time in their very busy schedule that could have gone to someone else. Recruiters can be your best friend because not only do they know where the jobs are, they have intimate details of the firm that you would never know by answering an ad on a job board. They may even have other jobs available that you don't know about.

Once you stand them up, they put you down in their file as a "no show" and move on to the next candidate. It is really rude and frankly, unprofessional, not to even shoot the recruiter a one-line email and in the re line say you can't make it. That way, you remain friends and the recruiter can book their very valuable time with someone who does want the interview. You wouldn't stand up an employer, would you? Of course not! Why would you stand up the gatekeeper to the employer? What happens? Usually, after some time goes by, the candidate forgets that they stood that recruiter up and applies for their dream job with the same agency. The result? They are very definitely rejected.

How bad is it: Really, really bad.

2.    Your resume does not look that great. Yet, you refuse to change it, acknowledge it isn't the greatest or have someone else review it.

You use Times Roman font (outdated). You use the wrong grammar i.e., in past jobs. You say, "Drafts pleadings" instead of the past tense, "Drafted pleadings". (Employers bounce resumes for that reason. You don't know how to write.) You are not specific to the job description posted. You keep sending out the resume with little or no results and claim "age discrimination" or some such thing. You go back 30 years when you only need to go back 10 years.

How bad is it: Really bad.

3. You leave off your email or your phone number on your resume.

Seriously??? You say that you are getting too many spam calls. You forgot to put it on. Or, you leave off your email and say you don't want to reveal it to strangers or that you get too many emails. I am curious. How do you expect potential employers to reach you? Sometimes, they book an interview with you and only afterwards, realize there is no phone number on the resume.  It's annoying and makes you look unprepared. You are viewed as not detail oriented or, well, making a dumb mistake. (Honestly) They simply pass.

How bad is it: Really bad.

3. In an effort to adhere to the "one page" resume rule, you squeeze everything in or leave out important information.

Look. You need to sell yourself. You need to get past the gatekeeper. It's absolutely true that potential employers can spend less than 15 seconds perusing your resume seeking salient points. Two pages is perfectly ok. Three or four is not. It's better to have a good looking resume than one that is crowded or leaves off important information.

How bad is it: Kinda bad.

4. You just had a phone or face-to-face interview and you fail to send a thank-you email.

I cannot emphasize how important the thank you email is. First, it shows professionalism. Second, it reminds the potential employer of you and it is one more reason to get in front of them. Third,  employers review the thank you email and make assessments as to your writing ability along with your desire for the position.

The first paragraph thanks the employer for taking the time to meet with you. The second paragraph and most important, ties in something that was said in the interview that ties in with your skills. It shows that you were listening and reminds the employer of why you are qualified for the position. The third paragraph talks about looking forward to moving to the next step. Try not to use standard thank you's that everyone writes. Be original. It shows that you are well above the average candidate.

How bad is it? Sorta bad.

5. You have no questions to ask the interviewer after the interview.

The interviewer ends your talk and asks you if you have any questions. Now is the time to show off that you are highly interested. Don't say, "No, you've pretty much covered everything." Have two questions to ask about the job. Be sure not to ask what are the benefits, bonus and salary. Not the right time. Answering, “No, I have no questions” could signal to an interviewer that you lack enthusiasm, thoughtfulness, and an understanding of everything discussed in the interview.

The first rule is never ask anything already covered. Listen carefully the entire way through your interview because if you ask something already expressed, it’ll seem like you weren’t listening. If you need something explained further, ask: “I’d like to revisit this point … can you elaborate on this for me?”

You might say:

  • ""I am very interested in this position and am confident I am qualified. Can you tell me if I am the type of candidate you are seeking?" The idea here is to find out what objections the interviewer might have. Finding out on the spot gives you a chance to explain further or more solidly clear up any doubts the interviewer might have instead of having them stew over it and send a rejection letter.
  • "How has this position changed over the years?"
  • "Is there anything that I haven't explained adequately that you would like to address?"

Here is a great article to help prepare you:
14 Impressive Questions to Answer at the End of the Interview

How bad is it? Pretty bad.

There are always things we could do better. However, these common mistakes can be avoided and you can spend a lot less time agonizing over why you didn't get an offer. Always take the path to success. Don't be resistant to trying new techniques. With the coming down economy, you may find yourself on the job market. (Hopefully, not.) Beat the competition and land the job you want. You'll be glad you did.

Chere Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing, a top staffing organization in California. She is also the President of the Organization of Legal Professionals and the Paralegal Knowledge Institute. Chere has written 10 books on legal careers, hundreds of articles and has been written up in publications such as the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Trib, Newsweek, Entrepreneur and others. Chere is a recipient of the Los Angeles/Century City Women of Achievement Award and a finalist for the Inc. Magazine Entrepreneur of the Year award. She is a former administrator in an AmLaw 100 firm and Sr. Vice President in a $5 billion company. She can be reached on Sundays from 3am-5am. Reach out at: chere@estrinlegalstaffing.com.

 

 

 

 

 


Can the Coronavirus hurt your job?

Coronavirus mask and suitSometimes, things happen in life that were totally unforeseen. Your job seems to be going well and it looks like there is lots of security. Then, before you know it, you’re thrown off course and your world is turned upside down. Suddenly, everything is in jeopardy - how you go about daily life has changed dramatically. 

We have been experiencing a candidate tight market in the past couple of years. Anytime the unemployment rate falls below 4%, there are more jobs than candidates. Future employees have not only had their pick of jobs, once in, it felt like you could stay forever. You probably felt secure in your job (unless you’re at a certain age and salary level, as there’s always worry and angst about age discrimination). Then, out of the blue, things changed - and not for the good.

Worldwide fear

Enter the Coronavirus. Fear has spread worldwide, and rightly so. The outbreak started growing worse, but still we felt immune—literally and figuratively. It wouldn't dare come to the U.S. China is just a vague concept to those of us in the states. It's far away and foreign to our culture. Rapidly, cases started to hit the U.S. and reality set in.  It was time to take cover.

Where is business headed?

The Coronavirus has undoubtedly affected a myriad of businesses:

  • Travel: airlines have taken a huge hit and cut the number of planes available; Internet booking such as Kayak, Hotwire and other companies' businesses appear down;
  • Hospitality industry: hotels, theme parks, restaurants, cruise lines, lodging and more, are all losing business
  • Hollywood: movies and entertainment- empty theaters abound. Even the new James Bond movie was pushed from a release in April to November;
  • Events and sports: stadiums are empty; concerts go unattended or are cancelled;
  • Event planning and all related businesses: not going to happen today;
  • Toy industry: many toys are manufactured in China;
  • Stock market has plunged to the lowest since the recession in 2009;
  • Automobile industry: cars manufactured in China; unable to get parts;
  • All businesses relying on China including manufacturers;
  • Tech industry: Smartphone and personal-computer makers: manufacturing could slow; weaker demand and supply-chain disruptions could weigh on sales;
  • Quarantines, travel bans and widespread business closures—could weigh on consumer and business spending;
  • Banks doing business in Europe and Asia;
  • Retail: shortage of goods;
  • Shipping: few goods shipped;
  • Tourism and related businesses - destination places severely hit;
  • Energy: weakened global demand for oil and gas;
  • Global trade;
  • Schools closing;
  • Manufacturing: disrupted supply chains;
  • And much, much more.

And, who do each and every one of these industries need? Lawyers. Just like the deep recession of 2008, law firms are bound to be affected. For now, things may still seem like they always were. However, the Coronavirus can change everything. The effect on law firms at this writing is unclear.

"The firm may be asking, "Do we want to hire?" "

Possible effects

One report says that the virus is expected to peak in March. A vaccine will not become available for Coronavirus3another year or year-and-a-half, so we really don't know what this will bring or how widespread it will become. Corporations and law firms might start cutting back. They will halt any new business initiatives, as they’d rather wait for better future clarity. Hiring will cease. Management won’t want to bring on new people—unless it's an incredibly important need—as they become fearful of the future.  They will ask, "Do we really want to bring on a number of new employees given this unknown rocky road ahead? There is no need to add new employees when business conditions are deteriorating", they’ll say.

Many corporate executives and firms will contemplate large layoffs. They’ll figure that it's cost effective to lighten the load and save costs by off-loading people. The firm may be asking: "Do we want to hire?" Sure, it's cold-hearted but managing partners need to protect the interests of the firm and their shareholders. 

Impact to your job

How severely can this affect the legal field? Truthfully, we don't know as yet. However, as the virus spreads throughout the country, changes are surely to take place. Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, Google and other companies have already asked their employees to work remotely for at least a month. What this does to productivity remains to be seen.

What should you be doing? I sure hate to hear that you are doing nothing but in a way, we may all be victims of this horrible epidemic. First and foremost, follow the health safety procedures for prevention of the virus. Re-think where you are going, if at all, for vacation. Recently, my husband and I had booked a cruise (the first real vacation in years) to the Caribbean. When we heard that one of the ships was not allowed to dock at any of the islands and in fact, the only port that would take them in was Cozumel, Mexico, we worried. What if that were us? What if we were quarantined? What if we appeared sick or had a pre-existing condition and got accused of being sick? Holy, moly.

If you haven't already, start socking away as many dollars as you can in your 401k or savings. Get your resume ready. (You should always have it ready, anyway.) Start scouting out in-house legal departments or firms that possibly may not be affected. Get those billable hours up so that you are not on the short-list to be laid off, should the time arise. Make sure you are the go-to person in the firm and make yourself indispensable - although we all know, everyone is dispensable. However, a go-to person is less likely to be targeted.

Constantly communicate with your supervisors as they should be in the know about the firm's outlook. Be ready and alert. Follow the numbers to see if there is a decline in billable hours, loss of clients or fewer cases coming in over the transom. Are there secret meetings taking place? Always a sign that something is going on that the firm does not want you to know about. (If you have ever been through a merger, you know what I am talking about.)

Hopefully, we will be o.k. However, it's the great unknown out there. I would rather see people prepared (like preparing for an earthquake) and not need to implement their preparations, than get caught by surprise like many of us did in the wake of the recession.

Fasten your seat belts! This may be a bumpy ride. The situation may be very scary for awhile and longer than we want to think about. However, we have demonstrated time after time in this industry that we can overcome adversity and prevail. This situation may last a few weeks, several months or longer, it's really an overwhelming mystery.

History has shown that Americans are smart, industrious and inventive when our backs are against the wall. We’ve always managed to find a way to combat deadly diseases, outbreaks and epidemics. It may not happen overnight but we will find the right vaccines and prevention methods and life and work will turn around and we will get back to normal. Hopefully, no further lives will be lost in the process. In the meantime, keep washing your hands, stay calm, stay strong and most of all, stay positive.

Chere Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing, a top staffing organization in California. She is also the President of the Organization of Legal Professionals and the Paralegal Knowledge Institute. Chere has written 10 books on legal careers, hundreds of articles and has been written up in publications such as the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Trib, Newsweek and others. Chere is a recipient of the Los Angeles/Century City Women of Achievement Award and an Inc. Magazine Entrepreneur of the Year award. She is a former administrator in an AmLaw 100 firm and Sr. Vice President in a $5 billion company. She can be reached on Sundays from 3am-5am. Reach out at: chere@estrinlegalstaffing.com.