Redundancies as a result of coronavirus are going to be inevitable in a lot of law firms, and they have already started in some firms. As the furlough scheme winds down and if law firm income does not return to its pre-coronavirus levels, it is anticipated there will be more.
If you are on furlough leave or working in an area where your work has decreased, you may want more certainty from your employer about whether your role is safe from redundancy but, in many cases, law firms won’t be able to provide this clarity because it depends on work levels returning to normal, which is currently being monitored.
Therefore some of the issues raised in this blog might be worth considering in advance of possible redundancy in case there is anything you can be doing to prepare.
The aim of this blog is to provide some tips for those in the legal sector who might be facing redundancy.
Specific Tips for the Legal Sector
- Trying to stay put
Consider seeing whether you can stay in your firm, even if you have to take a slightly different (lower) role or reduce your hours/pay. Staying put is better than joining the job market where there may be a lot of candidates for very few jobs. This is particularly true for more junior lawyers and paralegals who are reliant on their firm or partners to provide them with work and or require supervision.
Your firm is likely to admire your attitude if you ask if there is anything else you can do to stay on. They are also likely to need fighters if they are making redundancies. Consider trying to present a convincing case for another role you could perform better than someone else e.g. in a related area or in the same area but a different capacity.
If you do manage to stay on, you will be in prime position to return to your previous role when work picks up again. It is entirely possible that work will pick again later in the year and firms will need to recruit again. Trying to stay put is worth a go and of course it does not preclude you from considering job opportunities as they arise.
- Job Hunting
There is no point sugar-coating it. This is going to be an extremely hard period coming up for some people in the legal sector. Jobs will go and they won’t come back for several months and in some cases probably not at all. This is as described in our last blog and it means that a point may come in your job hunting when for the time being you are forced to accept that if a large number of redundancies have been made in a particular area and this is the area you want to remain working in then there just may not be any viable vacancies/opportunities for the foreseeable future.
However, this is not to say that there will be no opportunities at all and there is definitely no need to give up without trying. We have already dealt with candidates who have been made redundant by big firms but have found a similar role at smaller firms. This may not have been your intended career path but it may well be better than the alternative.
Please consider these tips – and the ones about evaluating other options in the articles linked at the end of this blog – and try to move forward in a considered manner, making each of the following elements (CV, LinkedIn etc.) as good and as focused as you can before you get going. Keep in mind also that it is hard to beat someone who won’t give up.
You should update your CV and send it to a trusted industry-specific recruiter; ideally someone you know and trust already. Your CV is the difference between securing an interview and not for any given role, so an experienced set of eyes can make all the difference.
Please read our previous blog: How Lawyers can Substantially Improve Their CVs.
You should have a LinkedIn profile. This can help you be found for opportunities both by direct employers and recruiters. Use key words that will appear in searches, for example ‘Legal Secretary’ or ‘Solicitor’. The first 90-120 characters should describe exactly who you are e.g. Solicitor specialising in Commercial Property with 2 years’ PQE. This part of your profile may appear as a preview in any search, so make it targeted. Generic terms such as “professional, confident, calm” etc. are of no use on such a profile and their use should be minimal if at all, as it is unlikely such terms would be used in a search.
- Social Media
You should pay attention to your social media profiles – how easily you appear in searches and what appears. All references to anything divisive such as politics, preferred football team etc. should be removed. Likewise for anything which could give the wrong impression e.g. references to drinking. These kind of things can cost you a job at the best of times and these are not even the best of times.
If you can obtain personal as opposed to generic firm references from your most recent employer, you should aim to. If you can, get these on your LinkedIn profile. If you can’t achieve that, try to have something in an email format you can send to a potential new employer/attach to an application. The more relevant these can be in terms of describing work you’ve been involved in the better. By way of example, look at Legal 500 submissions and see if you can get something similar. Generic references full of words such as “fantastic” or “friendly” etc. really aren’t much use.
In some cases, you can even suggest to a former boss that you write it for them. This way they can copy and paste it into a document/email it to you from them. Firms often have standard policies about references but there will be some guilty-feeling bosses following redundancies so they might go further than normal and arguably should or may want to do something extra to help.
- Contacts/firm clients/In-house roles
If you have any contacts, now might be the time to use them. Is there anyone you can think of who might be able to help? Have you left behind clients who might consider an in-house lawyer to reduce their legal spend? A lot of businesses and organisations are faring well in the current circumstances so this angle might be worth considering. Just be careful to check that you would not be in breach of your employment contract.
The in-house legal market is set to grow as companies and organisations seek to save money on legal fees and they may take the opportunity to entice lawyers out of private practice now that the market has loosened compared to before when they had to pay a premium.
- Commercial Awareness
This is awareness of how a business operates. Like all other businesses, law firms exist primarily to make money. Bear this is in mind in any application. There are some smaller firms at the moment, for example, who are faring better than bigger firms because they don’t have such high fixed costs and they are using this opportunity to consider attracting lawyers in areas or of a calibre that they were not previously able to attract. This is because they think they might be able to make money in these areas.
If you are applying for a job or contacting a firm on a speculative basis you will do well to try to convince them how you can help their firm make money, either by bringing clients with you, bringing new clients in, or or by making more money from the firm’s existing clients.
- Change of Scenery
Lots of us at the moment are considering where we want to be based and why, so it is worth thinking about whether working in a different part of the country could be part of your search for your next legal role.
- Multiple agencies
A scattergun approach of using multiple agencies in a rushed way is unlikely to yield results and using one agency may shut you out from using another that could otherwise offer you different opportunities. Get your CV right for what you are applying for and consider carefully whether it is sensible to send your CV to multiple agencies.
You will need to be realistic about salary levels. If you are applying directly to a firm you may not have the advantage of a recruiter’s knowledge of changing salary levels. If you’re going through a recruiter, you should discuss this upfront. Again, we’ve covered this and salary negotiations in general in another blog here.
What must surely be the right way to look at redundancy is that “it is the job that is made redundant, not the person”.
Usually redundancy is based on factors completely out of your control, often the decision is made by someone who has never met you and almost always it is a decision-making process that is led purely by financial considerations e.g. if a law firm has high fixed costs, including wages and offices, but falling revenues then something will have to give. Often the first to go are those with less than two years’ service because they are the cheapest redundancies for a firm to make.
If you are made redundant try to remember it is not your fault; before the coronavirus pandemic almost all areas of legal practice were booming and it was a tight labour market, meaning that there were more candidates than job vacancies. Now and until things recover in some practice areas it is likely to be the opposite situation, as described in our last blog.
Redundancy will cause huge financial and emotional difficulties for a great many people in the legal sector (and other areas of course). It can crush the desire to be important that drives us and the uncertainty it creates will be hard to cope with.
One thing is clear: lots of people will need support and we should all be ready to provide this and do what we can to help and be understanding, as this situation could affect any of us as well.
Below are links to two of the best sites we have found that offer advice about how to cope with redundancy financially and emotionally.
We hope these tips may be of some help. Whatever position you find yourself in, we at Olsen Recruitment will do what we can to help. You can call, text, WhatsApp or FaceTime any time of day – 01603 516261 or 07960 743650. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org