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Law careers in the wake of COVID

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Thinking broadly now can help you make smarter choices about future opportunities.

Nobody can predict the future, something COVID has so painfully taught us. Anyone who feels certain they know what’s going to happen next is either prescient or prophetic. While I’m a huge believer in doing what you love, I’ve also been around the career-transition business long enough to allow for the fact that the perfect job may not be accessible at every given moment.

So what can you do next to avoid doing nothing? You always have options if you’re looking in the right places and applying the right mindset.

Move ahead by moving back

If you find yourself unemployed or underemployed for the upcoming summer or post-graduation, you’ll likely benefit more from working anywhere in your field than not working at all—even if that means taking a lower-level position than you’d like.

Why do I say this? Because just working in your area offers several advantages.

It gets you up every morning. It gives you the chance to learn and apply new skills.

And it gives you something current to talk about when you do get the chance to interview for a better job.

It also brings in some money, which is a pretty useful commodity. And it ups your chances of meeting others who work or are connected in that world.

Can taking a step backward be problematic once the economy recovers? Sure. But if you can explain why you were willing to retreat professionally, I’d argue that your decision demonstrates a pretty decent amount of motivation and a serious work ethic, both qualities to be praised.

The most helpful and truthful explanation might simply be that you needed to work while in the midst of a global pandemic. If you follow this path, try to take on any and all opportunities for growth while you’re in this sub-optimal role. Also avoid getting locked in to a long-term commitment whenever possible.

Move ahead by moving sideways

While there are no guarantees, this isn’t the time to rule out a lateral move. If you worked before you went to law school, and even somewhat liked what you were doing, why not consider returning to a similar position?

Under the best circumstances, you might not jump at taking the same type of job you had before starting law school. But you do have a strong working knowledge of that job and industry, and things are tough right now. A lateral move to a stronger, better-managed organization offers the potential to withstand a longer-term fallout from today’s economic downturn.

A lateral move might also allow you to expand your network within your old industry.

And since you’ve developed an entirely new set of skills, you may find that other, previously closed doors in the field will now be open to you.

Another potential plus? It’s not uncommon to experience a real sense of accomplishment when a new employer recognizes your abilities instead of taking them for granted. If you go this route, make sure to cultivate contacts within the organization who have a legal background to identify legal and JD alternatives that might become available.

Move ahead remotely

The internet may not be the best way to land a new job, but it’s an amazing tool for learning about what others with similar education and values have found as their own life’s work. Whether legal, quasi-legal or nonlegal, read about those cases. Let their stories motivate you to reach out to learn more. Chances are pretty good that those people don’t possess something you lack, except maybe a big idea and a passion-fueled plan to realize their dreams.

While the pandemic is still interfering with a robust job market and the ability to safely conduct in-person networking, online research, telecommuting, and videoconferencing are all useful methods for connecting with other people. Less commuting may even result in others having more time to speak with and mentor new and curious career seekers.

Resources from around the country and the globe are available at the click of a mouse. You can virtually access and mine articles, newsletters, and reports from trade associations for content, names, and ideas on which people to add to your follow-up list.

Move ahead by dreaming on

The past year we had and the challenges we face going forward have been beyond difficult. Each of us has been changed, and each of us has lost something we’d hoped for. But I believe there will be a rebound. And when that happens, be prepared. Be closer to and more aware of what you want and what you need to know to make that transition possible.

Use these tough times to challenge yourself. What do you really want to do? Dive deeper into what a dream job in a dream industry might look like. Find someone locally or virtually who has a job that in any way resembles your fantasy role, and reach out to ask them to talk with you about their experiences.

Once you have their attention, be sure to ask that person to suggest others you might speak with for more insights.

Also ask about what they recommend for you. What should you be reading, listening to, or learning to help you be ready for that next possibility? Is there a night course or certification worth your time and energy? Or maybe there’s even a new degree you could start earning to demonstrate your sincere interest in this new direction.

Just move

Don’t let the current shutdown shut down your future career plans. If you sense your forward momentum is temporarily blocked, parry to the side or even backwards to stay on your feet until a path is cleared for you to move ahead again. Planning your best career moves today may not be intuitive, but creating a more resilient you and a more satisfying career in the end is worth the extra effort.

Cheryl Rich Heisler Cheryl Rich Heisler, President/Founder of LAWTERNATIVES, offers individualized career consulting to lawyers and law students on exploring careers inside, outside & around traditional legal options. Her own career paths include big law, brand management, professional speaking/writing and mixology! Heisler currently sits on the ABA Career Center Board and writes for both Student Lawyer and Experience Magazine.