Q: I'm thinking of making a job transition, and I'd like to work in a different industry. I might also consider going to a law firm if the right opportunity came along. To help me determine which of my skills are most valuable now, can you tell me which practice areas are in demand? Also, what about specific positions?
A: When Robert Half Legal recently asked lawyers which areas of law they thought would experience the most growth in the next 12 months, most pointed to bankruptcy and litigation. The economic downturn and other repercussions of the global financial crisis are expected to result in additional government regulation and an uptick in litigation of all kinds.
Other specialties that are generating demand for legal services and resulting in employment opportunities for experienced legal professionals include:
Intellectual property and patents An increase in patent prosecution has heightened the need for attorneys with three or more years of trademark or patent experience.
Healthcare The healthcare sector, especially biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, continues to generate steady demand for legal services.
Energy/environmental As "green" initiatives and the quest for alternative energy sources gain traction, demand for attorneys with experience in these areas is expected to pick up.
Contracts and licensing Corporate legal departments have an ongoing need for lawyers with experience in contracts and licensing, as well as contract administrators.
Corporate counsel Attorneys with at least three years of experience in transactional, litigation and regulatory law are being recruited by companies to help them address ongoing requirements and reduce reliance on outside counsel.
Q: I'm looking for a new position as a corporate attorney. My previous job ended when my employer significantly reduced the size of the in-house legal team. I'm considering working as a project attorney in hope that this could lead to something permanent. Is this a good idea?
A: Working in a temporary role is an excellent way to get your foot in the door and demonstrate your value to a potential employer. Many corporations are reluctant to add permanent staff until they see convincing evidence of a business turnaround. Yet they need help managing workloads and are looking to project professionals to fill staffing gaps. When companies are ready to add staff, they often consider hiring someone serving as a project attorney in their organization because they've had a chance to evaluate the individual's skills and cultural fit. Temporary assignments will also help you decide if the fit is right for you; they give you an inside view of the corporate culture and nature of the work before you must make a decision on accepting a job offer.
These suggestions may help you convert a project role into a permanent one:
Choose the right partner You can often land higher-quality assignments by working with a staffing firm that specializes in the legal industry. Firms such as ours have a deep understanding of legal staffing from both the client and candidate's perspective, enabling us to make placements that are likely to be successful for both parties.
Make your objective known Let staffing firms as well as your contact at the firm to which you are assigned know upfront that you're ultimately looking for a full-time job. They may be able to place you in roles more likely to lead to that result.
Don't take a 'temporary' approach Carry out your responsibilities in the same way you would if the assignment were your full-time job. Show initiative and strive to add value in everything you do. Also, try to address problems that arise, rather than leaving them for a staff member to resolve.
Cultivate relationships Prospective employers will evaluate how well you fit in with the legal team. If you can build a genuine rapport with others in the office, you're more likely to be considered for a permanent role.
Employment opportunities in the temporary industry are expanding, according to labor statistics, making this a particularly good time to work as a project attorney. You'll be able to take advantage of interim work while you continue your job search and may uncover the perfect opportunity in the process.
Q: Although I am happy to have an assistant counsel position right now, I am interested in making a move when the job market recovers. Where do you think there might be opportunities?
A. We're seeing a number of trends now that are likely to gain strength. According to our Robert Half Legal 2010 Salary Guide, corporate lawyers with experience in transactional law, litigation and contracts and licensing are in steady demand. Activity in these areas may pick up even more as business conditions improve. Also, if corporate legal departments continue to perform more work in-house in an effort to reduce outside counsel costs, this is likely to enhance opportunities for corporate lawyers, both generalists and those with expertise in areas of specific concern to a company. Regulatory and compliance experience also remains in demand and may be an area of growing emphasis if additional regulations are imposed on businesses.
International law is another bright spot. With the growth of business globalization, cross-border transactions and international litigation have become fairly common. As the economy begins to recover, and more organizations establish a multinational presence, overseas employment opportunities for lawyers should increase. According to research conducted for our Future Law Office project, in-demand practice areas for firms doing business in other countries include energy, climate change, global restructuring, litigation and compliance. In general, lawyers with experience in environmental law and energy issues should see expanding opportunities in the years ahead as greater priority is given to "green" initiatives.
As you prepare for the next phase of your career, be sure to increase your networking efforts and focus on acquiring new knowledge and skills. It may sound basic to suggest that you update your resume, but many candidates put this off until the last minute and don't devote sufficient time to a document that is likely to create your first impression at a new employer. These actions will allow you to enhance your value in the short term while positioning yourself to take advantage of any new opportunities that may arise.