Lawyers: Maximizing Your Mobility

timon-studler-63413-unsplashGuest Post by: Inti Knapp

As legal recruiters, we work closely with employers to fulfill their lateral attorney hiring needs. Without exception, when legal industry employers describe their ideal candidate to us, they specify the following three criteria:

Level of Experience
In the legal job market, it’s possible to have “too much” experience because more job opportunities exist for junior to midlevel attorneys. That’s because most law firms and corporate legal departments have a pyramid structure, with more attorneys at junior levels reporting to fewer senior attorneys at the top.

For example, if you are a law firm associate wanting to move to a different law firm, the easiest time is when you have 2-6 years of legal experience. Once you have 7+ years of experience, law firms have fewer lateral openings at your level, unless you have a book of portable business.

If you are an attorney wanting to move in-house, most openings are at the corporate counsel/senior corporate counsel level, requiring typically a range of 5 – 15 years’ legal experience. Of course, attorneys with even more years of experience make moves in house, but often they are surprised they have fewer opportunities than earlier in their career.

Practice Area
Depending on the economy, some practice areas are more marketable than others (for example, in a booming economy, transactional work like M&A and IP licensing is busier than bankruptcy or litigation). After you have practiced law for a couple of years, you can market your experience to law firms that need a lateral attorney hire to hit the ground running with minimal training. If you want to change law firms, you’ll get more traction when your practice area is in demand, so don’t delay a job search even if you’re buried in work.

Consider also whether you want to go in-house, because certain practice areas are more attractive to in house legal departments. If you have the ability to choose your practice area, and want to go in house someday, be aware there are more in-house openings for transactional attorneys than litigators. Although lawyers of all specialties go in house, attorneys with desired areas of expertise—such as corporate or tech transactions—typically enjoy more opportunities to join startups and corporate legal departments.

Credentials
For better or worse, the legal industry is credentials conscious. Law firms and corporate legal departments ask us to present candidates from “top” law schools, with “top” grades, or from “top” law firms, as defined by that particular employer. As attorneys get more senior, law school pedigree becomes less important as law firms focus more on whether a candidate brings portable business, or whether the attorney has good training in a high-demand specialty.

Conclusion

If you are considering law school, or a current law student, consider how your choice of law school and practice area may impact your future job prospects—attorneys rarely stay at one employer their entire career. If you are a practicing lawyer who wants to change employers, be alert to your best windows of opportunity in terms of your experience level, practice area, and local economy. With strategy and forethought, attorneys can maximize their opportunities to make a fulfilling lateral move.

Inti Knapp (F’95) is Managing Director at Harris Legal Search in Seattle. Her search firm has placed hundreds of attorneys nationwide, including general counsel and in-house counsel at companies, and partners and associates at law firms. Inti has shared her legal recruiting expertise as a published author and speaker, presenting to law schools such as the University of Pennsylvania Law School, Georgetown University Law Center, and the University of Washington School of Law, and professional organizations including the Association of Corporate Counsel. Prior to becoming a legal recruiter in 2004, Inti earned her B.S.F.S. from Georgetown University and J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania School of Law, and practiced litigation at Perkins Coie. She lives in Seattle with her husband, John Knapp (F’93, L’97), and two young children.

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Top 5 Issues We See in Alumni Resume Reviews

Did you know Alumni Career Services provides free virtual resume and cover letter reviews?  
You can simply submit your resume and/or cover letter to acs@georgetown.edu with a brief description of the types of things you will be using it for and a member of our staff with respond via email with a critique within 10 business days.  Did I mention this service was free?  For full details visit our website.   In the meantime, get a head start  by reviewing the 5 most common pieces of advice we provide alumni in their critiques.

1.  You need a stronger professional summary.  Once you have gained significant experience in your industry/field (generally 10+ years post graduation), a summary statement is a great way to highlight key skills and strengths. It allows you to highlight themes in your work experience and skills.  Check out our recent blog post dedicated to the dreaded professional summary.

2. Consider a functional format.  Functional resumes can be particularly useful during career transitions to emphasize transferable skills or if you are re-entering the workforce and you want to de-emphasize a gap on your resume. Functional resumes organize your accomplishments by skill area (i.e., management experience, communications experience, technical expertise, etc) with employer information (organization, title, and time frame) listed at the end of the resume).

3.  Consider length.  Given the fact that recruiters only have a few seconds to take in all that is on your resume, typically resumes should not go over 2 full pages. In order to maximize the space on the page try increasing your margins to .5 all the way around and decreasing the point size between sections to 5. You can also try decreasing your font size but we do not recommend going below a 10 point font.  Check out our recent blog post on maximizing space on your resume.

4.  Create your bucket lists.  It is often a good idea to group like experiences into categories. Some examples may include “Related Work Experience,” “Leadership Experience,” “Community Outreach,” “Higher Education Experience,” “Research Experience,” “Writing Experience,” etc.  Always put the most relevant/important groupings toward the top. These “buckets” will help a recruiter very quickly be able to glean information about your skill set/experiences.

5.  Don’t undersell! Often alumni sell themselves short in their employment descriptions. Quantify where possible to give the reader a sense of scope. For example, budget numbers, employee numbers, business size, etc would all help paint a picture of your work and just how busy you are! Additionally, you may be able to give a bit more detail in some cases. For example, go through your bullet points and for each ask who? what? and how? Are you providing the reader with not only the task but the process and accomplishment associated with it?

Check out our recent webinar on Resumes, Interviewing, & the World of Work along with many others about resume writing on our YouTube channel:

Professional Summaries: Make It Count

The dreaded professional summary.  A good one is the Holy Grail of resume writing.  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’ve seen a ton of resumes.  And I’ve seen very few with really strong professional summaries.  My philosophy is if it’s not stellar, why waste the space?  Professional summaries that focus on fluff or soft skills take up precious space on a resume that could be used to highlight your results and accomplishments.  A stellar one, on the other hand, can make an already strong resume even stronger.  Caveat: Generally, I only recommend professional summaries for individuals with 10+ years of work experience.  They can be especially helpful in summarizing varied careers that have encapsulated different industries, sectors, or position types. 

Here are a few tips that may be helpful:

1.  Take a step back.  If your resume is your dissertation, what would the abstract say?  If your resume is a novel, what does the inside cover say? How would you thoughtfully summarize your career? Think about themes, highlights, and creating context.

2.  Balance.  You don’t want to repeat what is already on your resume but you also don’t want to be too vague (read: fluffy).  You have to strike the right balance of high level and detailed.  Instead of a 50,000 foot view try a 25,000 foot view.

3.  What makes you different?  People who apply for the same job will most likely have a somewhat similar background and education.  How does the combination of your skills, experiences, and training set you apart?

4.  Stick to 4 to 6 statements or bullets and start with the number of years of experience in your field. For example, X professional with 10+ years of experience in YInclude profession, areas of expertise, types of organizations/environments you have worked in.

5. Ask a colleague or mentor.  Find someone who knows your work and industry well and ask them to summarize your work to get you started.

6.  Tailor to fit.  Depending on what you are applying for you may have different professional summaries. I know, that means two Holy Grails.  Chances are once you get the first one down, though, the second will come easily – it’s just a matter of rearranging and slightly varying your emphasis.

7.  Avoid things that should be obvious. Respected.  Enthusiastic. Motivated. Prove these in an interview, not on your resume.

What is your biggest obstacle in creating a strong professional summary?

Did you know? Alumni Career Services offers free resume and cover letter reviews for alumni. Send your resume electronically to acs@georgetown.edu and we will reply with feedback.