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The Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) is the world's largest organization serving the professional and business interests of attorneys who practice in the legal departments of corporations, associations, nonprofits and other private-sector organizations around the globe.

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The changing business landscape during recent years has caused a marked shift within the legal profession. Heightened competition, globalization, a changing workforce, and regulatory imperatives are among the factors that have prompted corporate legal departments and their outside law firms to re-examine their practices in order to more successfully navigate today's realities.

To secure a meaningful position today, it's no longer enough to simply be good at what you do. You also must distinguish yourself and successfully convey your value to potential employers, recruiters, and your professional network. Or, if you are looking to advance internally, you must demonstrate your value to your current manager and colleagues. In addition, you should be able to manage change, implement career development strategies and network effectively so you stand out from the crowd. This ACC QuickCounsel discusses how to navigate the ever-changing legal environment, continue the growth of your career, and the best ways to tap into your professional network.

Manage Change


Identify Market Needs

Keep tabs on the employment environment in your area to track the level of hiring activity for the types of positions you are considering, salary ranges, and which organizations are adding new staff. Law school career centers, professional associations, online resources, and publications, such as the Salary Guide from Robert Half Legal, can help.

As you explore opportunities in your area, be aware of the current market realities and hiring environment within the legal profession. Corporate legal departments and law firms alike are focusing on operational efficiencies that contribute to enhanced value of legal services. They are seeking experienced attorneys who possess targeted skills and practice area expertise, as well as technical proficiency, business acumen and interpersonal skills.

Create a Yardstick

To determine whether the best opportunities lie with your current employer or exist elsewhere, make a full and fair appraisal of your current situation. In addition to salary and benefits, consider factors such as the nature of the work, your professional relationships and the potential for growth. Define and prioritize which job elements are most essential for you, and which factors contribute to your ideal work situation. Are compensation and benefits packages more important than intangibles, such as an easy commute, the ability to work remotely, an attractive corporate culture or flexible scheduling? Is work in a particular practice area more important than the geographic location of the position? Be as specific as possible about your motivations. Rather than decide that you want "a better job," clearly define what "better" means - e.g., "a position where I can use my bachelor's degree in accounting to assist in corporate compliance standards"; or a position with a nonprofit organization where you can use your knowledge and experience to provide legal services.

As you examine your interests, experience and priorities, take into consideration the practice areas where lawyers anticipate the greatest opportunities will be in the coming year, for example, in the areas of litigation, general business/commercial law, healthcare, and labor and employment law.

Make a Lateral Move

Lateral moves are ideal if you are seeking to reignite your passion for meaningful work without abandoning the profession. To determine what path you might want to pursue, compile a list of your career highlights and identify why those projects were most rewarding and appealing. And then refine your job search accordingly.

Consider Working Outside the Profession

Many potential employers outside the legal environment consider a law degree an attractive credential. Explore openings with the state or federal government. Teaching law or working in law school administration at a community college or state university also are viable possibilities as are editorial positions with a legal publisher or law journal. If you wish to remain in a corporate setting, look beyond the legal department to finance or human resources or public affairs, where knowledge of the law will give you an advantage.

Become a Project Attorney

Consider working in a new practice area or industry on a contract basis. A few weeks or months spent as a contract attorney can provide you with the opportunity to sample a career or employer without making a long-term commitment. You can benefit from such a position by gaining relevant experience that can impress a prospective employer as well as build vital connections.

Implement Career Development Strategies

Audit Your Qualifications

Assess your professional and personal assets and liabilities. All skills - "soft" and technical skills - should be itemized and weighted for relative importance. Technical assets include academic degrees, professional certifications and practical experience. Soft skills cover activities that are often difficult to quantify but may be essential to working in a corporate environment, such as negotiation of fees with outside counsel, diplomatic communication with corporate directors and major clients,conflict resolution and negotiation expertise, creative problem-solving and strategic- thinking proficiencies.

Close Gaps

Before launching a job search, address any shortcomings or skill deficiencies that may exist within the field you are targeting. Mastering a legal software program or completing a technical class or continuing legal education (CLE) course demonstrates a commitment to keeping pace with rapid changes in the legal field. In addition, corporate attorneys must possess sophisticated business knowledge so they can offer counsel about strategic initiatives and compliance. Specialized business strategy seminars can help lawyers hone their financial and business expertise. Finally, consider taking on some pro bono work if your schedule permits as a valuable way to not only broaden legal skills and experience but to expand a professional network.

Revisit Your Resume

Attorneys looking for new positions sometimes fail to properly tailor their resumes to reflect the work they are targeting. Your resume should highlight the skills and experience that your targeted positions demand. It should describe specific accomplishments and provide details about the legal issues you have handled, cases won and management experience acquired. Update your resume to reflect current credentialing, awards, pro bono work, and professional activities.

Set Realistic Goals

Rather than sending out a blitz of cover letters and resumes, take a methodical, strategic and targeted approach. One week, for example, you might contact three companies whose legal departments have vacancies that match your qualifications. The following week, you might further research these organizations and network to meet contacts who may be able to provide an entree. Then, once you have leads to specific individuals, you can submit your resume.

Tap Your Professional Network

Expand Your Existing Contact List

Because many jobs in the legal profession are filled by word of mouth, wise candidates make networking a priority. If you've been spending most of your job-search time in front of the computer, limiting your networking to social media or responding to online ads, step away from the screen and forge new contacts in person. Good ways to broaden your network include attending industry conferences and seminars; becoming more involved in the local bar association, business groups and civic associations; reconnecting with law school alumni; attending social events; or participating in charitable work and other meaningful activities.

Hone Your "Elevator Pitch"

When networking, it's essential to have a brief self-marketing pitch that succinctly conveys your background, experience and career goals. Limit the pitch to a minute or less, and close with a subtle question or opening that motivates the listener to respond with some type of useful information.

Return the Favor

Always let people know you value their help. A simple thank-you note or e-mail is appropriate. And if someone in your network is unable or unwilling to help you out, you should thank them anyway; it will be noticed. In addition, to demonstrate you are sincere about building a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship, always be willing to help others in your network.

Work with a Recruiter

Recruiting or staffing firms can significantly enhance job-search efforts by extending existing networks, offering job leads you would not otherwise hear about and providing background on prospective employers. Specialized staffing firms typically offer access to more opportunities in their areas of focus than generalist firms and have a strong sense of the marketplace in a given location. As a result, they can help you accurately assess your worth and point you toward positions that are a good match.

Use Online Social Networking

Create a Professional Profile

The ease and immediate access to online sites has dramatically enhanced the resources available to job seekers in all fields. The same holds true for law professionals who want to connect and network professionally online. Beyond Facebook and Twitter, there are numerous websites such as LinkedIn and collaboration platforms, including Legal OnRamp, that can help you expand your network and learn about job leads.

To start networking online, you will need to build a solid profile with basic information such as your name, title, a brief description of your current (or most recent) position, the name of your company, current responsibilities and contact information (usually e-mail) and photo (optional). You also can post your latest work-related accomplishments, such as professional recognition or awards. Other information you can add to your profile includes credentials (degrees, certifications, memberships, etc.), recommendations and/or testimonials from colleagues and links to your website and/or legal industry sites and professional blogs you value.

Avoid Common Online Networking Pitfalls

Think of your profile as an online resume or executive biography and keep it concise. Similarly, refrain from posting information that is better shared in private, with friends or family. A good test: would you want a prospective employer to read it? If you maintain a profile on Facebook, monitor what friends and acquaintances post on your wall and delete inappropriate comments.

Experienced attorneys know that continued career satisfaction requires periodically considering new options. Improve your chances of success by taking decisive, proactive and strategic steps to increase your visibility and showcase your abilities on as wide a scale as possible.

Additional Resources

  • American Bar Association - member resources include a career center, sections on professional development, technology resources and a member directory. Law Jobs - features career advice, profiles, salary information, news about hiring trends, job alerts, resume posting and a job search function. Law Link - one of the first social networking sites exclusively for attorneys. Martindale-Hubbell Connected - new global networking site for lawyers. ACC Inhouse Jobline- this premier corporate counsel resource includes job postings, career-related advice and other professional development resources. Robert Half Legal Salary Guide- This annual publication features salary data for more than 70 positions in the legal profession. It also contains a comprehensive analysis of current and future hiring trends, based on research conducted with recruiting and staffing professionals and senior lawyers throughout the U.S. and Canada. Future Law Office - This annual research project conducted by Robert Half Legal examines key trends in the legal profession.

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The information in this QuickCounsel should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinion on specific facts and should not be considered representative of the views of its authors, its sponsors, and/or the ACC. This QuickCounsel is not intended as a definitive statement on the subject addressed. Rather, it is intended to serve as a tool providing practical advice and references for the busy in-house practitioner and other readers.

Published July 15, 2009 (Updated MAY 16, 2013)

Region: United States
The information in any resource collected in this virtual library should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinion on specific facts and should not be considered representative of the views of its authors, its sponsors, and/or ACC. These resources are not intended as a definitive statement on the subject addressed. Rather, they are intended to serve as a tool providing practical advice and references for the busy in-house practitioner and other readers.

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