Steps to Take Before Seeking a New Job in the Legal Industry

3/28/19 10:37 AM Pete Newsome Pete Newsome

Whether you are a paralegal, business development professional, senior associate, there are certain steps you should take before attempting to obtain new employment with a different law firm, government agency, corporation, or other area of the legal profession.

Conduct a Thorough Self-Assessment

Before pursuing a new job in the legal industry, it is important to go through a candid self-assessment to determine if a particular job is the right fit. This self-evaluation can provide insight into which areas of the legal profession you are most viable for new employment. For example, if you are a senior associate at a mid-size Florida law firm who has spent the past five years specializing in commercial transactions, pursuing a new job as a trial attorney with a boutique law firm or as a tax attorney with the Florida Department of Revenue may be quite challenging. This is because your skills and experience may not automatically translate into the new position.

When you conduct a self-assessment, create a detailed list of your strengths and weaknesses. Objectively review your work experience, educational background, professional connections, and references to help determine whether it is realistic to pursue the new job.

Your self-assessment should also contain a pros and cons list addressing the benefits and risks of leaving your current one and pursuing a new job. Complete a probabilistic analysis of the possible outcomes associated with lateraling to a different law firm or making a dramatic shift to a different specialty in the legal industry.

Changing Specialties May Require Furthering Your Education

If you are unsatisfied with your current legal position and want a fresh start in a completely different area of the legal industry, it would be prudent to consider furthering your education. For example, it is possible for paralegals, e-discovery professionals, legal secretaries, etc. to obtain certifications in their area to highlight a level of expertise that may help differentiate them from other applicants for a new job opening. Lawyers can also expand their options in the profession with additional education. For example, if you are interested in practicing tax law, it may make sense to pursue an LL.M. degree with a specialty in tax. An LL.M. is a post-graduate "Master of Laws" degree that may be pursued by an individual who already holds a Juris Doctorate or by someone who holds a legal degree from a foreign country and wants to practice law in the United States.

Other advanced degrees that may be pursued include a JSD (i.e. Doctor of Science of Law) or an MLS (Master of Legal Studies).  The JSD is a research doctoral degree that is typically pursued by someone who wants to specialize in legal education or legal science. The MSL is a master's degree offering the ability to study legal theory or a particular aspect of the practice of law.

Research the New Job or New Practice Area Thoroughly

When you decide to pursue a new job within the legal industry, you should approach the change with eyes open and an in-depth understanding of the implications associated with that career change. For example, if you decide to leave your paralegal position with a large Florida law firm to become a contract administrator with a Florida real estate company, make sure you take into consideration the differences in compensation structure, the work-life balance offered, and the prospect of further advancement within the company. The same rationale applies to a junior associate at a boutique law firm who is considering a lateral move to a large Florida law firm. Make sure to weigh the additional demands on your time that are likely to occur with such a move and assess the viability of pursuing a partnership track with the new firm.

Revamp Your Resume

If you've been at your current job for a number of years, do not blindly send your resume from 2010 to a prospective employer. Open up the document and revamp it to ensure it encompasses the experience you've attained at your current job and still has relevant information that would interest a new employer in the legal profession. If you are targeting a specific new job, consider tailoring your resume to that job, if possible. Keep in mind that every word on your resume should serve the objective of helping you secure the new job.

Touch Base with Your Professional Contacts

When someone is considering a job change in the legal industry, they are usually on top of the aforementioned resume update. What they usually forget is to confer with their professional contacts, especially the people who may be asked to provide a recommendation by your prospective employer. Talking with your professional contacts can also help you in landing that new legal job since a colleague at a different firm may know someone who works at the firm you want to join. You will be surprised at how small the world can seem when you start asking colleagues who they know at other firms, government agencies, businesses, etc.

Improve Your Technical Skills

One of the best ways to improve your marketability as a professional in the legal industry is improving your understanding of legal technology. This includes having a general understanding of technological applications used for document proofing, document automation, contract analysis, transaction management, and legal research.

Learn More about How You Can Better Position Yourself for a New Job in the Legal Industry

As a legal recruiting and law firm staffing company that works with an array of laws firms in Florida and across the country, the 4 Corner Resources (4CR) team is ready to help you if you decide to pursue a new job in the legal industry. Consider speaking with a legal recruiting expert to get a better sense of the options you may have within the legal market.

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