The current legal market has given clients greater leverage in influencing the delivery of legal services. Clients are weighing in on staffing, scheduling and strategies in an effort to control their legal costs. While this trend has decreased the number of entry-level attorney positions, it has increased the demand for qualified litigation support staff. Furthermore, e-discovery has increased the scope of the discovery process and created even more opportunities in litigation support.
Some lawyers chose litigation support as a career path, with document review positions leading to jobs as a Litigation Analyst, Project Manager or a Litigation Support Manager for a large law firm. These positions typically don’t require the same long hours and stresses of legal practice, but also offer less in terms of compensation and intellectual challenge. Currently, however, a growing number of recent law graduates are taking document review positions while continuing to search for a traditional legal positions. In that situation, what is the best strategy for transitioning to a full-time attorney position while working on document review?
The ideal job search strategy is fairly consistent. It begins with knowing yourself and having a goal for your legal career. Once you have established that, you can focus on which jobs you should apply for, and develop a networking strategy in order to identify viable opportunities that are not advertised. In my experience, job seekers often neglect the first step, which can lead to a frustrating job search. The key is to assess your strengths and the areas of law that interest you, and stay focused. Inexperienced lawyers often think that remaining open-minded and “willing to do anything” enhances their chances of success. Actually, the opposite is true. When organizations have a need to fill, they are most drawn to candidates who have a focused interest in their particular field, and those who possess both confidence and self-awareness.
For example, if you are a good public speaker, enjoy challenges and trial practice was your favorite law school class, your goal might be to become a litigator. If so, you would only apply for jobs that will help you reach this goal and you would develops a resume and cover letter that focus on your aptitude and interest in litigation. Since the guts of any case is discovery, what you are learning through document review—the methodology, predictive coding, understanding the technology involved, etc., becomes a part of your narrative about what you offer an employer.
Alternatively, if you are very detailed oriented, do not like high-stress situations, and have always had an interest in real estate, your goal may be to become a transactional lawyer with a real estate emphasis. You would also focus your search on only those positions that will help you achieve your goal. But, your narrative about your document review experience will be different. You could talk about how your experience has honed your attention to detail, while confirming that you do not want to litigate.
Of course, that is just the first step. The substance of your job search is networking. Not just attending Bar events, but arranging one-on-one meetings with lawyers who do what you want to do. At first this seems onerous and awkward, but it gets easier. Keep in mind that the skills you are developing in the process are the same skills you will need to succeed as a lawyer. In private practice, networking skills lead to client development; and in the public sector, these skills allow you to work effectively with other agencies, departments and lawyers to accomplish your goals.
If you don’t know where to start, ask a lawyer at the firm where you are working or call your Career Services office and get the names of a few lawyers who practice in the area you wish to pursue. Call or email them and ask if they would meet you for coffee, lunch or after work to talk to you about your career path. Be clear that you are not looking for a job, but rather information and advice. Once the meeting is arranged, prepare for it as you would a client meeting. Go armed with good questions about their practice, daily activities, how they developed their client base, and what entry-level jobs best prepare someone for their practice. Ask them if they would let you know if they hear of viable opportunities: this is significant since it is estimated that 80% of all jobs are never advertised. Tapping into this hidden job market is why networking is so important. Finally, ask them for the names of other lawyers that they think you should meet, and always follow up with an email to thank them. You may also want to attach your resume so that they have an electronic copy to forward to others. It is also important to periodically touch base with those in your network. One of the best ways to do this is to forward them an interesting article that relates to their practice, or even a hobby they mentioned. This indicates that you see networking as two-way relationship and makes them more inclined to want to help you, plus it keeps you on their mind should they hear about opportunities.
In summary, if you are working document review but would like to transition to a full-time legal position, your job search should consist of an initial assessment of your strengths and interests which helps formulate your career goals. You should identify and apply for those jobs that would bring you closer to your goal. I recommend setting aside one or two times per week that you will devote to researching and applying for jobs. Most importantly, you should work to develop a professional network by attending seminars and Bar functions (one per month) and actively engaging with practicing lawyers through intentional networking. I suggest trying to schedule three meetings per month while working, more if you are between assignments.
If you establish a goal and diligently work towards it, you can successfully transition from document review to a position that puts you on the path to your ideal job.
By Ann Skalaski, Partner, MillerBlowers, Inc.