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Do you have a Plan B that rocks? How to protect your career in the Covid19 era.

Plan BIt's so tough out there right now! One day, we are not supposed to wear masks; the next, we should have been wearing them all along. One week, we are sure about a remedy based on the trials. The next week, it didn't work.  A few weeks ago, younger people were safe. That theory was based upon data from Europe. It turns out that in the U.S., younger people are just as vulnerable as anyone to the virus. Why? Because of the obesity epidemic. In Europe, they are much more food conscious, thinner and consequently, have fewer health problems.

Lately, 22 million people are unemployed including thousands of legal professionals. Some are going to have a difficult time finding a job in a downturn job market. Yet, sometimes, in our belief that things will change quickly, we tend to beat a dead horse. We look for jobs that aren't there, we send out tons of resumes for jobs that do exist and we never hear back.

So, my wonderful readers, it's time to formulate Plan B. We don't know how long this pandemic will last. Even if we do go back to the office pretty soon, lots of things will have changed. Are you ready? What if your firm furloughed you but doesn't ask you back? What if you are working now but may be laid off? It could be scary. Unless, of course you have a Plan B.

What does Plan B look like?

Plan B is often confused with an alternate or a completely different approach. However, that is not necessarily true. Plan B is a contingency plan. It is a confidence that will eventually drive Plan A. It does not have to be a replacement or an alternative but an addition or an expansion of your career. It is the extension of current process and opinions.

There’s nothing like the confidence you get from being prepared. When you have a Plan B, you’re more likely to aggressively go after your Plan A because you know, if it goes wrong, it’s not such a big deal. You’ll just set Plan B in motion and keep moving forward! That kind of confidence can offer you the opportunity to take risks along the way because they aren’t as risky as they would be if you had no backup plan.

"The best Plan B's are different but related to what you are doing now."

There is some controversy to having a Plan B. That is, it causes you to lose motivation to pursue Plan A. Sure. In a good job market. However, in this Kafka like environment, we stand to lose more than motivation if we don't have a Plan B. Jobs may simply not be there. What are you going to do?

According to Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn, the best Plan B’s are different but related to what you are doing now; this way you can apply the lessons you’ve learned to date to the new plan.

Bear in mind that you don't necessarily need to write down a specific Plan B, but you should always be aware of your parameters. You should be thinking about the “adjacent possible" such as your transferable skills or other opportunities on the horizon.

First, identify how to measure when you’re tracking towards a worst-case scenario. Are there lots of "secret" meetings at the firm? The firm tells you they are fine, yet are scouring for big loans? Second, it’s the plan that tells you what to do should that happen. Maybe if you are in mergers & acquisitions and that practice specialty has taken a nose dive, you may end up getting a job at Amazon, WalMart or your local grocery store. It may be that right now, there are few, if any, jobs in corporate transactions. On the other hand, standing in line at the food bank and desperately trying to get unemployment to pay the rent may not be the option of your choice.  You might start to think about switching specialties. Now is the time to take plenty of online continuing legal education. Let me put in a plug for The Organization of Legal Professionals offering online CLE in legal technology, eDiscovery and more.

What if you do take a job outside of the legal field? In our stress management webinar, an attendee voiced concerns that law firms may not take you back if you step out of the field. That may have been true in a good market. However, if we look back to the great recession, you will see that once hiring began again, employers were much more forgiving of the lapse of employment in the legal field. If you do take a job outside of legal, make it a transition job and try for no more than 6 months, if you can help it. A transition job is just that - taking the job for now and transitioning back to what you want when the market improves.

It is incumbent upon you to be flexible. I have had candidates whose jobs are in peril and insist on making a lateral move or improve upon their salaries. One candidate told me he would definitely not move for "less than $100,000, work remotely several days a month and match his vacation of six weeks."  Right. Clearly, the message was not filtering up to the penthouse. That was just when the pandemic was beginning. He is still looking and chances of his getting laid off are getting closer. The top of his range dropped to $90,000. I have firms that have asked staff earning more than $75,000 per year to take a 10-15% pay cut. They are bringing in new hires at 10-15% below their salary target so that new employees are not earning more than those with the salary cut. Plan B for this fellow would have been to loosen up, take a transition job and not stand in the food line.

Logo.MediSums.FacebookPersonally, I initiated a Plan B. The staffing industry is the third largest industry to be hit hard after hospitality and retail. With unemployment expected to go as high as 30%, finding clients who are hiring is extremely hard. Having been a victim of the great recession, I had a Plan B.

I took a hard look at the market. What is going to be hot during the crisis? This is the legal field. Surely, areas are going to heat up. People are just waiting to get through this. However, once things settle down (and they will settle down), people are going to get very, very angry and lawsuits will be rampant. Who are they going to sue? Healthcare, hospitals, doctors, nursing homes, employers who did not properly protect them, insurance companies, products liability for devices such as faulty ventilators, and so on and so on. I thought, what does that mean? It means there is going to be a heck of a lot of medical records that are going to need to be summarized. Tons of them.

So I opened up a division of Estrin Legal Staffing called MediSums. I located a team of licensed doctors and legal nurses who can do the summaries, chronologies and even better than most medical records summarizing companies, can render medical opinions and create deposition questions. The division aligns with my business. In effect, it is the temporary staffing industry all over again. I did get a nasty email from a paralegal who claimed I was trying to take her job away and doctors and legal nurses know nothing about summarizing. No, that's not it. Paralegals are invaluable if trained properly. This is just a great service with added value. I can understand how she feels threatened.  Perhaps she can delegate the summarizing, take on more sophisticated responsibilities, move up the ladder, thereby ensuring her job.

What I am doing is "adjacent possible". It definitely aligns with my business, offers an important service and is not a total disruption i.e., creating a brand new business and starting all over again. I am not going to beat a dead horse. Another Plan B was to beef up our attorney placement business. The areas of estate planning, healthcare, insurance defense, divorce law, employment law and bankruptcy are already seeing a surge. As attorneys slowly get hired, need for legal staff will increase. Again, using "adjacent possible". Interestingly enough,  I received a job search from a very prestigious firm in Bahrain for a corporate attorney.  If you know one, let me know.

As Benjamin Franklin said, "In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes." In fact, the only other thing you can truly count on is that sooner or later, life is going to throw you a curve ball. And folks, here it is. Welcome to Covidville. It is for these moments that we should, even when things were calm and hopeful, consider one of life’s most vital skills: that of developing a Plan B. Besides, if you stick to “Plan A” at all costs, you may miss some amazing opportunities.

" Welcome to Covidville."

Creating the Plan - It's actually simple.

  1. Ask yourself if Plan A fails, what is the next best thing that I could be potentially excited about?
  2. Did you feel a little bit of excitement? OK, so working at Amazon is not your dream job. However, did you feel a little bit relieved? If so, write it down. If not, try again.
  3. Repeat.
  4. Create a list of actions.
  5. Refine.
  6. Don't be too proud to ask for help.

As long as you are at it, start planning for Plan C and D. We can't trust this virus on any given day and it may not end when we think it should.

Today's world can feel desperate – until we rediscover our latent Plan B muscle. In reality, Plan B's are there for a reason: to assist us when things go south. Despite all our planning, there was no one script for us written at our birth, nor does there need to be only one going forward.

It helps to acquaint ourselves with the lives of many others who had to throw away Plan A and begin anew: the person who thought they’d be married forever, then suddenly wasn't– and coped; the person who was renowned for doing what they did, then had to start over in a dramatically different field – and made it.

Amidst these stories, we’re liable to find a few people who will tell us, very sincerely, that in the end,  their Plan B ended up superior to their Plan A. They worked harder for it, they had to dig deeper to find it and it carried less vanity and fear within it.

Expecting and preparing for changes can help you be successful. It's not what happened to you, it's how you handle it. We are a very resilient species. Bouncing back may be hard, it may not turn out they way we hoped, and there may be some roadblocks along the way. Let's ride that horse in the direction it's going  Have a little faith. Believe in yourself. It's the great unknown out there now. However, we all have the wherewith all to survive. Trust me on that one.
Chere Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing, a top national and international staffing organization and MediSums,medical records summarizing. She is 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 at 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 I Spent My Covid Staycation

Hazmat suit2For those of us with stay-at-home orders, which is just about the entire world, there are little challenges that are coming up while we bravely wait out the end of the Covid-19 virus. I know these may sound petty in the scheme of things but having your world turned upside down with no end in sight can be pretty intimidating. It does, however, give you a new appreciation for what we take for granted. It's not that I mind staying at home. In fact, it's kind of comforting, given the scene out there.

Nonetheless, it's amazing what we can do without. Boy, looking back on it, I realize how spoiled I was by taking a lot of things for granted. Take, for example, the fact that you can't get your hair dyed. Now, it's true I'm not exactly going anywhere where people can see me but hey, I still want to be well groomed. With my highlights growing out, my natural color coming in and no hair salons open anywhere, I actually thought I was in luck. I looked at myself in the mirror the other day and went running to my husband. I was thrilled. "Guess what?" I said. "I have great news. I can't get my hair dyed but I probably shouldn't have had to dye my hair after all! My hair is growing in blonde!" He just looked at me as though I had lost my mind. "Honey," he said. "I hate to tell you this but that isn't exactly blonde that's coming in." Oh. I immediately went to Amazon to order something, anything, to take care of this appearance changing event. No hair dye was to be found anywhere. Shelves and shelves in stores had run out. Online stores had absolutely nothing. So, here I sit, about to really look my age. This could be really scary.

And take my fingernails. Right before the lock down, I got my nails done and tried out a new powder nail polish that was supposed to last at least 3 weeks. Unfortunately, I can't get it off unless I go to a nail salon which of course, is not going to happen anytime soon. In the meantime, my nails are growing out and the polish is moving to the top of my nails. I now look like the Wicked Witch of the West. I think this is starting a new fad.

And what about exercise? It's not exactly like I was religious about it anyway. A walk through Costco about did me in. But all the advice columns say you have to get exercise. My husband and I thought we had a brilliant way to do that. We ordered bikes. Now, my husband has never ridden a bike and I doubt at this age, he is going to get his balance. We decided to let pride go by the wayside and ordered, yes, tricycles. Oh, sure. I was going to look like some old lady with the basket in the back and that little orange warning flag rising above it but I didn't care. Who was going to see me? Everyone is inside.

We had huge choices. Do we get one speed or three? What color bike should we get? Do we have to wear helmets? You can see where this is going. Obviously, without a lot to do, these decisions became all too important. After careful consideration, we chose - purple. Purple? Who orders a purple tricycle? At least we were going to stand out. That is, if there was anyone to see us.

After about a week, a very brave truck driver delivered the bikes. We wiped them down very carefully with Clorox Wipes. There wasn't an inch that wasn't wiped. I immediately got on and took off. OMG! Freedom! The wind in my hair, my little legs pumping those foot things and I was in heaven. My husband, on the other hand, had a very different experience. He was too tall for the bike. He struggled trying to make it taller. He called the manufacturer. They gave him instructions. He was out there in the garage taking the dang thing apart. He gained a couple more inches but not enough. We took the bikes out for a ride anyway. He pumped, he humped, he gave it his all. After about half an hour, we came in and 'lo and behold, his right knee was swollen up from hitting the handle bars. As I write this, he's on the couch icing up. He's also saying a lot of stuff under his breath. I don't think I want to know what.

Then there was the fight with the cruise line. Oh, yes. Right before the Covid-19 pandemic, we had booked a cruise to the Caribbean. Three days before we were supposed to board, we decided it was crazy to go. All shore excursions had been canceled. The cruise ships were not allowed to dock at any of the islands. One had to dock in Mexico. Great. I can see us floating aimlessly out to sea, sicker than dogs, trying to have pillow fights on the Lido deck. We canceled. We did have insurance but somehow it didn't include something that said we can have our money back. I can't believe I'm in the legal field and overlooked that. I am still getting emails from cruise lines offering great discounts to take a cruise now. Yeah, I'm really going to do that. Instead, I'm watching House Hunters International and salivating over the houses in St. Thomas with spectacular ocean views all the while imagining I'm there lying on the beach.  It's really the best I can do.

My house is cleaner than ever. We scrub, we rub, we bleach. I don't think I ever had a home with a hospital clean environment. As I look around, I wince. It probably should have been that way all along. I tell myself I've been very busy.

Then there's the food. I think we have enough food for three weeks in a snow storm. My refrigerator is so full, we can't get to all of the food. Lean Cuisines are stacked so tightly in the freezer, I couldn't get them out. However, I noticed when I virtually visit my friends, every one seems to be getting a little chunky. I don't want to say anything, of course, but this is definitely a situation where the old adage, "eat yourself out of house and home" is applying. At grocery stores, you can't get comfort food. Gone are are the "p" foods: pizza, pretzels, potato chips, pancakes, popcorn. Yikes! This could be a real problem.

Then there is the situation of spending a lot of money online. Why is it that suddenly we are in need of a ton of stuff? Besides getting the most important necessities. I mean, did I really need to buy new dance shoes (like I'm going dancing), a heavy sweater direct from Ireland (it is Spring now) and that lava lamp? Really, Chere, a lava lamp???  I am sure I needed these important items. I am, however, still waiting for my hand sanitizer, Clorox Wipes, nail clippers, hair cutting scissors and ok, hair dye. Did I mention that I am going to try cutting my own hair? I'll keep you posted on that one. I keep getting emails from Walgreens saying any minute now I'll get my delivery. By the time any minute comes around, I will be an old woman wearing orthopedic shoes and gumming my gums because I can't get to a dentist. Whew!

Fortunately, we signed up for a toilet tissue club. Yep. One actually exists! Amazon sure was thinking ahead. I don't know if they still have the club but since that seems to be the most sought after item in the country, check it out. A huge box arrives once a month. It's like Christmas. We now feel relieved (pardon the pun), safe and secure. God forbid we run out of toilet tissue. I mean, really though, how much time can you spend in the bathroom? Don't ask.

The most sought after item for women? If you are a woman of a "certain age" you may have a, well, excess hair issue. No, not on top of your head. Right around that ole chin and upper lip, You know, the hair that comes in that only men are supposed to get? Since there are no salons, there is a run on facial wax strips. Can't get 'em. Now, that's where I draw the line. I simply cannot go around like the bearded lady in the circus. I do have my dignity. So, I ordered more tweezers. And since you can't get your eyebrows done either, I ordered one of those battery operated eyebrow shavers. It came. I tried it. I now have no eyebrows.

"We signed up for a toilet tissue club. God forbid, we run out of toilet tissue."

So, my friends, that's life in the Estrin household. I would be remiss if I didn't thank all our essential workers deep from within my heart who make these little challenges a little less challenging: first responders, healthcare workers, hospital staff, EMT, firemen and women, police, sanitation workers, cleaning staff, pharmacists and drug store workers, grocery store employees, post office employees, shelf stockers, transportation drivers, gas station attendants, delivery people, forest rangers, take-out food people, cooks, food bank volunteers, dentists, factory workers, tow truck drivers, cable TV workers, phone company employees, utility workers, anyone in transportation, the military and National Guard, reporters, TV and radio anchors and crew, and many, many more. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Given what's going on, the little challenges are just that - little insignificant challenges. We all can cope and make do. It's the American way.

Chere Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing, a top national and international staffing organization. She is 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.


Are You Willing to Die for Your Firm?

Is your firm asking you to periodically go to the office?

CemetaryAmong the many and varied serious situations brought about by the Covid-19 world crisis, are the growing number of employees asked by their firm’s partners to periodically and physically go to the office. I have heard from numerous legal professionals that they are expected to show up at the firm on a regular basis in order to gather the mail, deposit checks and more.
Is dying for the job part of your duties?

 

To say that this is not only outrageous and dangerous, it is a serious indication of:

  • Numb to the situation: The partners either don’t care about you or believe nothing will happen
  • Denial: The partners believe you and they are omnipotent – what’s going on worldwide doesn’t apply here. This is simply an inconvenience
  • Fear: People are afraid that if they say no, they will lose their jobs
  • Cowards: The partners are too afraid to personally go, so they send their employees to slaughter for absolutely nothing that can’t be accomplished remotely
  • Hero: You are an employee with a hero complex
  • Stupid: No one is thinking this through
  • Mentally unfit: Oh yes, and frankly, wouldn’t you think the partners are self-centered. acting like sociopaths, thinking of no one else but themselves?

I am not exaggerating here. In our support group sessions and webinars on Stress in the Time of Covid-19, several people spoke up. One HR Manager said she is asked to go to the firm weekly to gather mail and checks. She said that she is extremely frightened and has two children. When asked why she continues, she says she is afraid she will lose her job. I pointed out this is not necessary. The firm can forward the mail to someone’s home. The checks can be deposited online. Wouldn’t you rather lose your job than lose your life or your children’s?

Her response was that it was too complex to send the mail home. So, let me get this straight. It's too complex to figure out a system, so you need to risk your life? I honestly don't get it.

I stated that if the firm is too big, it could send different departments to different employees i.e, real estate department is sent to John; Litigation is sent to Sally, etc. Her response was that she put gloves on, a mask and takes sanitizer with her.  She reiterated she might lose her job. How about: Lose your job or lose your life or that of your kids?? The process of dividing up the mail was simply too hard. In essence, this employee would rather risk her life for the firm, rather than say no. And sadly, the firm would rather that she did risk her life than take an extra hour or two to figure this out in the name of safety.

Another employee stated that she was asked to hire a temp and go into the firm and supervise the temp. Working remotely was not an option. The partner wanted her to stand over the temp. Rather than risk her life, this employee quit and went on unemployment.

The stories go on and on. Here’s the deal, folks:

Unless you are a partner, you are not an owner of the firm. This is not your business, you are an employee. Nowhere in your job description does it say that you need to risk dying to keep your job.

If you go to the firm, you don’t know if you are going to run into someone who is carrying the virus and doesn’t know it.  One employee said that there were very few people in the building when she went. Excuse me? There doesn’t have to be a lot of people around to catch the virus. Only one. The employee was not counting the security guard who may have it, the parking attendants, people passing her in the hallway, the virus still on cardboard, metal, computer keyboards, what the cleaning staff left, the mail and more, Wearing gloves and a mask still does not fully protect you. Just remember the bus driver wearing protective gear when the only person on the bus coughed on him. He died four days later.

Part of the problem with the way that wearing masks and staying at home is presented, is that it is portrayed that you are going to be a willing participant in bringing this virus to a halt, a team player and help to not get others infected. We all want to do that. However, hardly anyone is anyone saying that staying home, wearing protective clothing when going out, can prevent you from dying or bringing the virus to your home, kids, parents and others. The way it is mostly portrayed is that by staying home you will stop the virus from spreading.  It's doesn't personalize your risks. The most effective ad I have seen, however, is the one that says: Are you willing to kill someone today?

Get this: Many, many people don’t care about others and furthermore, they firmly believe they don’t have it and won’t get it. Just recall all the kids on the Florida beaches who are now sick. The bottom line is, yes, you can die and cause your family to die – for the sake of the firm.

I would do anything, anything at all for my husband and kids. I would go on unemployment; I would stand in line at the Food Bank. I would do whatever it took.  Listen up: A job is not a marriage. At some point, you leave.

Let’s look at it this way: If the stay-at-home order lasts another 12 weeks, and given you go to the firm once a week, that is 12 times more you will be asked to risk your life for the sake of the firm.  Twelve times of uncertainty and chance. For what???? Because partners would rather you get the virus than they? Let the partner go in. It’s his business. Let him risk his life if he thinks going is so important. Why should you? Really - think about it - why should you?

For those of you fearful of getting fired, I doubt you would get fired now. It would be clear retaliation. You may get let go in the future by some vindictive partner, that’s true. But is that a firm you want to stay in? I am not an attorney but I will betcha $.25 (I never go more than $.25) that if you do get fired and sue, there isn’t a judge in the world who would rule in favor of a firm who asked a staff member to risk their life. (Perhaps you should suggest the firm have a virtual meeting with a labor lawyer before this comes to a head.)

Say no. Yes, say no. You can do it in a non-confrontational manner:

Dear Partner;

This firm has always been known for its teamwork. It’s one of the reasons why I enjoy working here. However, these are dangerous and unprecedented times. Sometimes we just don’t know how to handle it or what to do.

While I appreciate the faith you have put in me by asking me to go to the firm once a week, at this point, I am going to have to decline. I have given the situation a great deal of thought and while I never want to let the firm down, given that the risks to disobey the stay-at-home order will likely substantially increase my chances of getting the virus, I will no longer be able to make those trips.

I would like to have a virtual meeting next Wednesday to brainstorm how we can accomplish exactly what you need to get the job done. I have a couple of ideas I am sure will you will like. Would 10am work or would 2pm be better?

Best regards,

A mom who loves her family so much

If it were me, I would not want to see this written on my tombstone:
Here lies Chere Estrin who died in a foolish attempt to fetch mail for the firm.

Please think before you undertake a dangerous and unnecessary act. Stay safe for your sake and the sake of your family. Nothing is forever and I don’t think I am wrong in saying that in a not too distant future, we will be looking at the light at the end of the tunnel and it will not be a train coming at us. Guaranteed.

PS: We are holding one hour sessions for Managers and Administrators on Coping with Stress During These Times on Wednesdays, 10am Pacific/1pm Eastern with Mark Gorkin, The Stress Doc. There ae four more free sessions. Send me an email to register: chere@estrinlegalstaffing.com

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.