A few weeks ago, my career as a lawyer was in potential jeopardy so I set up an appointment to discuss my situation with CheekyLittleCareers’ associate editor Husnara Begum. By the time we spoke, my fortunes had started to turn. My search for a new job was in full-swing and I was on the cusp of receiving a formal offer. At the end of our chat, Husnara asked if I’d be happy to tell my story and share some top tips on how to navigate a difficult jobs market. So here goes!
I initially trained at a regional practice and qualified into Real Estate. In December 2019, I bagged a role with a firm in central London, which at the time felt like the dream ticket. The start of 2020 was the dawn of a new era for me and I felt excited for the future, but we all know what happened next. Covid-19 struck and sent shockwaves across the world. Sadly, I was one of the many economic casualties of the pandemic and put on furlough leave in April before eventually losing my job a few months later.
This was, obviously, a huge blow. At first, I was angry and upset, but then I realised that it was a purely business decision. I didn’t have a long notice period to fall back on, and my savings would only get me so far. As hard as it was, I knew I had to brush myself down and get back out to work as soon as possible. What had happened had happened – now was the time to look to the future and not burn any bridges by holding a grudge. Thankfully, I’ve now started at a new firm and enjoying getting stuck into being a lawyer once again.
Whilst writing this blog, I stumbled upon the following quote, allegedly attributed to former US President and Founding Father (and star of Hamilton) Thomas Jefferson: “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.”
This quote (regardless of its origin) stood out for me. Whilst I consider myself lucky for the opportunities that have come my way, they wouldn’t have materialised had I not actively put myself out there and frankly sniffed them out. In an ideal world, opportunities often come knocking with very little effort on our part. However, you don’t need me to tell you that the jobs market is currently far from ideal. I discovered that if you’re to succeed and stand out from the crowd, you need to take ownership of your situation.
1. Stay positive. I know it’s easy to say, but the economy will pick up again. The legal market, particularly for Real Estate and Corporate lawyers, is cyclical. I had former colleagues reach out to me with stories of their former colleagues who were made redundant in 2008/2009, but who’ve now gone on to forge very successful careers. Have faith, it will bounce back.
2. Speak to former employers. If you’ve been let go and struggling to find an alternative role, speak to the partners / senior lawyers at your previous firm(s) / teams. They might have contacts and words of advice. I spoke to many of my old partners, and they all offered me encouragement, and in many cases, access to contacts. For example, one of my partner contacts picked up the phone to an ex-colleague I was interviewing with to put in a good word. I think it’s really important to use every possible contact you have. Network as much as you can (now and always).
3. LinkedIn does work. After losing my job, I posted an update explaining my situation and that I was looking for a new role. I even thanked my old firm for the opportunity. My post resulted in two interview invites, including one from the firm I eventually accepted an offer from. Indeed, almost immediately after putting up the post my LinkedIn inbox started to fill with messages from ex-colleagues, contacts, recruiters and sometimes complete strangers. Some messages referred to job specs and potential opportunities whilst others contained introductions to other contacts or simple words to lift my spirits and spur me on.
4. Consider short term contracts. Whilst my priority was to secure a full-time, permanent role, I was also open to discussions about short-term contracts to help ride out the storm.
5. Explore direct applications. I spent time trawling through the websites of law firms I was interested in joining. To my surprise, quite a few were advertising roles directly on their websites, presumably in a bid to cut down on recruiter fees. So, it’s worth keeping a look out here and applying for any roles that are suitable.
6. Treat your job search as a job. I tried to log on at 9am every day and spent as much time as possible researching, emailing, applying etc. It’s important obviously to allow yourself some downtime, but unfortunately the roles are unlikely to just come to you. I felt it was important to make the most of the time I had available, with the end goal of getting back into employment as soon as possible firmly in my mind.
7. Network, network, network! As well as former colleagues think about who else is already in your network and how they might be able to help. And remember, they needn’t be senior. if you’re a member of a society or alumni associations of a school or university, get in contact with them. I tried to tap into every available network I could. Now is not the time to be proud/shy! As I found, most of the people I approached were more than happy to help.
Most of the points I’ve made above are common sense. Indeed, I’m certainly not an expert but hope my story can offer some inspiration and encouragement to others during such uncertain times.
Jamie Brown is a junior Real Estate lawyer