The Lateral Link team recently held our company retreat in Las Vegas, and it occurred to me that law firm life can sometimes feel a little like being stuck in a Vegas casino. You are in a place where you can make really big money, but it can require working around the clock, even to the point where you aren’t even sure what time of day it is. The upside is really good, but after a while you may start to feel an overwhelming desire to find an exit, get outside, breathe some fresh air, and regain a sense of balance in your life.
During these times, it can feel tempting to just draft your dream resignation email and press send! In these moments, all of the good advice you have heard to never give up and push through the pain flies out the window. Adding fuel to the fire, you may be at the point in your career where you have some savings built up so economically you can afford a break. You hear a little voice inside saying, “How great would it be to just quit and have time to figure out my next move without the constant stream of responsibilities and due dates hanging over me?”
As a former Biglaw attorney, I can tell you, this thought most certainly crossed my mind. But as a legal recruiter, I have a whole new appreciation for what I call “minding the gap.” As tough as it may be, there is undoubtedly value in avoiding any unnecessary employment gaps in your resume.
There is, of course, a huge carve out for time off for mental and physical health issues. I am a strong advocate for mental health awareness and am in no way suggesting that sticking it out is the answer in all cases as everyone has their own particular mental health and/or medical considerations. But barring these and other such extenuating circumstances, the simple truth is — it is significantly easier to get hired if you are currently employed.
Being employed gives you leverage — mind the gap.
In an ideal world, one would like to think that firms give candidates the benefit of the doubt when it comes to employment gaps in evaluating interview invitations. Sadly, though, that is not how the process usually works. Like many large companies, law firms sort candidates based on the limited information in their resumes and inevitably make assumptions based on this information. And gaps in your employment timeline can unfortunately raise questions of reliability, focus, and drive.
Of course, you can overcome this presumption by telling a compelling story about the reason for your gap. But, given the high volume of applicants for any one role, a firm may pass on your resume before even hearing the explanation.
Conversely, if you can manage to stay in your current role, you are only increasing your chances of getting an interview and avoiding unfair judgment. This will let you walk into your interviews with greater confidence knowing that you can focus on your relevant experience and how you will make a seamless transition into the practice group given this background.
And even if you are switching careers entirely, the fact that you are currently working will be reassuring to any potential new employers. Bottom line – this strategy allows you to play your strongest possible hand.
What happens when you are handed a gap you can’t mind? Build a bridge.
You might be thinking as you are reading — that is all fine and dandy when you are in control of minding the gap, but what happens when the “gap” is handed to you on a layoff platter?? This is where the story of the candidate who can’t be in the room to tell his/her/their story can have a different ending. Enter stage left – your trusted legal recruiter.
I know when some attorneys think of recruiters they think of stereotypical cold calls and emails that interrupt the workday, but one of my favorite parts of recruiting is being my candidates’ advocate and a source of career support for them. I love getting to know each of my candidates personally so I can present her/him/they to a firm in a compelling way that paints a detailed picture of why this candidate — gaps included — would be an asset to that firm. A gap can be an unknown, but when it gains a story bridge, it can transform into a stepping-stone to the candidate’s next destination.
Take the longview – it’s all part of the career journey.
I realize that all of this may be easier said than done. When you are feeling overwhelmed – whether it be from unrelenting work, roadblocks to business development, endless roads to partnership, or gaps handed to you — it can be really hard to focus on the bigger picture. I too have felt lost in the chaos of the moment, but I have also learned over the years how important it is to try to take the longview. In these times, I turn to my trusted friends and family to help me re-center and remember that my career is a marathon not a sprint.
Another way to help maintain perspective is to discuss your situation with your trusted recruiter. A recruiter can develop a strategy for you to find your next role and counsel you as you go on the path together to get there. Another favorite part of my job is that I get to be a legal industry data nerd. Everyday my colleagues and I read and share intel from trusted legal news sources as to what is happening in the market. We are also meeting with firms regularly to understand their specific needs each quarter. We witness the trends unfold in front of us in real time and have all of this information to share with you to help you figure out your longview.
For example, we are seeing and hearing about an uptick in hiring in the secondary markets right now. You might be staring down a layoff in New York City, but it has been your longtime dream to move to Denver. Now might be the time! How does dawn patrol skiing and logging into Citrix by mid-morning sound? Carpe diem! Feeling like you are ready for warmer weather? Try Austin, another booming secondary market. Whatever your frustration is – it might just be the path to something better. All you need to do is figure out what that bridge is for you and how to get there. We work with firms in all of these markets and can help you figure out what would be the best fit for you given both your legal and lifestyle interests.
Your recruiter will also be able to advise you on which firms might be a better platform/culture match for you and your practice. Maybe you need a firm with less hours or a more flexible schedule? Maybe you need more billing rate flexibility? Maybe you need a more international platform to grow your book of business? Maybe your business would thrive better at a boutique? These are all questions that can be a fork in the road that leads to a new and exciting career trajectory for you. Your recruiter can advise you on how they have helped past candidates in similar situations who have found success on a new path.
Hearing about other lawyers who have made a change and ended up thriving in their new geographic market, tripling their book of business at their new firm, making non-equity partner from a counsel role, or overcoming an unexpected gap may help you see the light at the end of the tunnel you are in and help give you courage to embark on that next phase of your career path. Mind as well have some fun and embrace the possibilities of where the path might lead you next!