Looking for work in era of COVID-19
Thursday, April 23, 2020 @ 11:46 AM | By Brady Jones
Since the COVID-19 outbreak has forced us to stay home, law firms of all sizes have had to deal with similar issues. They are all working with skeletal staff and have been forced to implement (or draft) their “work from home” policies for their staff and lawyers alike. Thankfully, many law firms have the means and technology in place to enable lawyers to continue practising without having to be in the office. The justice system itself is also doing its part by conducting court proceedings remotely and allowing for electronic filings.
However, the main concern facing the legal profession right now is not whether lawyers are physically able to practise. Like most other businesses, the primary worry is revenue collection and bringing in new business during these hard times.
Over the past few weeks I have been speaking with hiring directors and lawyers throughout my extended network in order to get a sense of challenges being faced by law firms and what may happen if current social distancing measures continue into the coming months.
What has happened to law firms?
Some of the effects of the COVID-19 shutdown have already been felt. The majority of firms have postponed their students’ start dates. Students will have a shortened summer internship and there is talk of having students work virtually. The vast majority of firms have instituted a firm-wide hiring freeze but will continue to onboard new hires. Some firms are still looking to fill associate and partner positions but only for “essential” roles within specific practice groups.
With the enforcement of social distancing, a number of very reputable large and mid-sized firms have implemented more significant changes. This was noted in a recent Globe and Mail article, which outlined some of the steps that BLG and Norton Rose Fulbright Canada have taken to deal with the strain COVID-19 has put on their bottom lines.
From what I have heard, a handful of other firms, both big and small have also laid off a significant number of support staff and non-legal professionals. Partners’ distributions and associate bonuses are not being paid. Partners have had to accept substantial decreases in their draws and associates’ salaries have been frozen or cut by as much as 25 per cent annually. Whether or not that is constructive dismissal is worthy of discussion for another day.
However, the overall stability of the majority of large and mid-sized firms has not yet been substantially affected by COVID-19. Their large institutional clients continue to pay their bills and diverse practice groups allow these firms to continue to operate (employment / labour, commercial leasing and insolvency groups are still thriving during the COVID-19 outbreak). It looks like the majority of medium and large firms will be able to hold strong for the foreseeable future and may be able to emerge from this pandemic relatively unscathed.
How long can firms hold on?
If the social and economic conditions do not change by the middle of June, there may be industry-wide, large-scale terminations of staff, law clerks/paralegals and lawyers alike. With firm closures or partnership mergers to follow.
Many firms rely heavily on their large corporate/commercial groups (securities, M&A, corporate finance, emerging markets, etc.) to drive up their billable hours and generate revenue. If these groups continue to struggle and only receive a fraction of their usual influx of new files, there is a high potential for firm-wide layoffs of not only staff, but also associates and partners. There is potential that hundreds of lawyers throughout the GTA may find themselves out of a job.
If you lose your job
If you find yourself as one of many economic casualties of this pandemic, there are things that you should be doing to get yourself back on track when the time comes.
First and foremost, do not despair. Make no mistake, losing your job will never be easy, even if you are one of many people in the unemployment line. Tell yourself that you are not alone and it is not your fault. This will help boost your confidence and help you get back on your feet.
Next, given that the market for legal professionals will likely rebound almost as quickly as it fell, it’s important for you to stay active and get yourself on the radar when firms start hiring again. There are now more ways than ever for you to make a name for yourself while you’re trapped in your home. Use this opportunity and take advantage.
Get to work — become active on LinkedIn and Twitter by expanding your network, posting interesting content and writing articles. You should also be using these tools to stay on top of what is happening in the legal market, which is now changing faster and more dynamically than ever.
Next, target firms and other employers that you are interested in and start networking. Up until this pandemic, networking was typically an in-person affair. But that is no longer the case.
We now have a lot of great tools (most notably Zoom) to enable us to speak face-to-face without leaving our homes. This makes networking easier and more accessible than ever. We can speak at any time and we no longer have to take time out of our days to travel to meetings. Take advantage of this technology and use it to make new connections and expand your network.
Also, if you have clients or close client connections, reach out to them and find out how they’re doing. Offer to give them free off-the-record legal advice if they need it and try to engage with them in a meaningful way. Clients will remember this when things get better again and it may help you bring some business with you when you get back in the job market.
Finally, take the usual steps for job seeking — update your resumé and cover letter, reach out to a recruiter and check career boards on a regular basis. Once the legal market begins to recover, firms will be looking to add talent quickly. Be ready to jump back in and hit the ground running.
Brady Jones is a lawyer turned recruitment consultant, specializing in the recruitment of lawyers and compliance professionals searching for new career opportunities. He is the founder of BJRC Corp. He can be reached at email@example.com, @bradyjones_bjrc or on LinkedIn.
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