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Karen’s column, Managing Your Legal Career, is a regular feature of the King County Bar Bulletin.
The following articles are reprinted with permission from the King County Bar Bulletin.

Q. I was a third-year associate at a midsize law firm until four months ago, when I was told that there was not enough work in my department. Despite my best efforts, I am having great difficulty finding a new position. I have sent out dozens of emails and letters, many in response to advertised positions. I don’t even get rejection letters – I just don’t hear anything. I am so discouraged. Are there any legal jobs out there?

A. Yes, there are jobs out there. But they are much harder to find. In these times, one must be willing to do much more than mass mailings and answering ads. Mass mailings are seldom effective, even in a strong legal market.

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Q. I have been practicing law for seven years.  Recently, I have become quite disillusioned with the practice of law. Because I put in such long hours at the office, I find that I have no time to explore my career options. Would it be a mistake to leave my current position before I even know what I want to do next?

A. The answer depends on a host of factors. First of all, can you afford to be without a job? Do you have savings set aside that could be used to cover your living expenses for nine months or a year? Without knowing what avenues you wish to pursue, you cannot predict how long it will take to find your next position.

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Q. I am one of the many attorneys looking for employment in these challenging times.  Everything I read indicates that networking is key.  I have already contacted every attorney I know, and I still don’t have a job.   I am getting discouraged.  Do you have any suggestions?

A.  Yes! First of all, you are correct in recognizing that these are challenging times for attorneys looking for employment.  And, you are also correct in recognizing that networking is essential—especially in this market.

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Q. I am a solo practitioner, and I recently ran an ad in the Bar Bulletin looking for a contract attorney. I received numerous responses, all but one of which fell into one or more of the following categories: 1) applicant assumed I was male (which I am not) and addressed the cover letter as "Dear Sir;" 2) cover letter contained numerous grammatical and spelling errors; 3) cover letter was "canned" and failed to address any of the criteria I had expressly stated in the ad; or 4) attached resume was not in Word format, and I could not even open it without first converting it. Only one applicant discussed the criteria outlined in the ad and explained how he was qualified. Even though he is a recent law school grad and hasn't even been sworn in yet, he is the only applicant I will be interviewing. Given the current economy, I was surprised that the attorneys who responded to my ad did not take extra care in preparing their resumes and cover letters. Wouldn't you think attorneys could at least use spell check?

A. I am probably as surprised as you! In dispensing advice on career searches, I have never used this column to discuss the basics. I assumed attorneys were, at least for the most part, careful wordsmiths who took pride in their writing.  

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Q.  I am applying for a coveted in-house position.  Having practiced for over seven years in the same firm, I have not needed a resume in a long time. When I was in law school, career services admonished never to exceed one page.  Does the one-page limit still apply?

A.  Excellent question!  This question comes up at least once a week.  In the past, a resume was essentially a simple outline, listing degrees, employment, and basic biographical data.  Bullet points were thought to be unprofessional – resembling ad copy. 

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Q. Recently I saw a classified ad for a non-legal position with the City of Seattle that looked perfect for me. Although I submitted my resume and cover letter, I never heard back. Because my qualifications appeared to be such a good fit, I couldn't believe that I didn't at least have an opportunity to interview. In discussing the situation with a friend, she asked if my resume was "scannable." Since I don't know what a scannable resume is, I can assume that mine probably wasn't. Please tell me what makes a resume scannable. And why is it so important?

A. Your friend is right to suggest that maybe you weren't called because your resume could not be scanned. More organizations, especially larger ones, are using document imaging technology, known as optical character recognition (OCR).  

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Q. Two weeks ago I interviewed for an associate position in a downtown firm. This was my second interview, and I met with five attorneys, including three partners. I thought the interview went very well, and I am still waiting to hear back.  Isn't that a bad sign? What should I do?

A. Your situation is not at all unusual. As for what it means, no news is no news. It is impossible to guess whether or not you will ultimately receive an offer.  

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Q. I am thinking about leaving the firm where I have worked for the past three years.  I thought the best way to make a transition would be to have a legal recruiter help me find a new job.  But I am so frustrated!  The recruiters have not returned my phone calls or even acknowledged that they received the resumes I sent them.  Why don’t they return my calls?

A. Many legal recruiters are inundated with dozens (sometimes hundreds!) of unsolicited phone calls and resumes each week.   

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Q. Yesterday I had a telephone-screening interview with an in-house recruiter for a technology company. This morning she called to tell me that I was one of three attorneys who would be brought in for interviews with the general counsel. I am delighted, and I am doing everything I can to prepare. One of my concerns, however, is what to wear to the interview. I have an acquaintance who works at the company --  but not in the legal department. He assures me that no one ever wears a suit or tie. He suggested that I just wear a pair of khakis and a polo shirt so I would look as though I already work there. What do you think?

A. Ah, yes, life used to be so much simpler when we all knew that a tailored suit and conservative tie were the only choice for an interview. Now, in addition to researching the company and preparing your questions and answers, you need to figure out what to wear!  

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Q. I was a second year associate in a large firm, and I left recently because "things weren't working out." What do I tell prospective employers when they ask me why I left?

A. You are wise to anticipate this question. Too many people go into interviews hoping they won't be asked the difficult questions. You should not only expect the difficult questions; you should prepare your response in advance.  

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Q. I am a fourth-year associate at a large firm. My reviews have always been very positive, but I wonder if I wouldn't be happier at a smaller firm. About a month ago, I saw an ad for an associate position that caught my attention and submitted my resume. After the second interview, I received an offer. I decided, however, the firm would not be a good fit for me.  

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Q. I am a third-year associate, and I recently returned from a three-month maternity leave. For the most part, the feedback I have received over the past years has been positive. Lately, however, two partners have expressed some dissatisfaction. In particular, they have complained about the timelines and, in some instances, the quality of my work. Unfortunately, I can appreciate their concerns. I think I have probably never been terribly well organized. But until now, my inability to work efficiently was never exposed. Before the baby, I could always stay late or come in on weekends to finish up a project. I no longer have that "luxury." What can you suggest?

A. Yes, your life certainly has changed, and you will have to make some adjustments. Before you buy a new calendar and start organizing your files, take a deep breath and think about how you define success.  

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Q. I am a third-year associate at a midsize firm. My practice is a blend of litigation and commercial transactions. My preference is to focus on the transactional work and minimize my involvement in litigation. The partners have given me mixed messages. Although I was encouraged to develop my transactional practice, I continue to receive new case assignments in litigation. These cases take up so much of my time that I can't really devote enough time to the transactional work. The firm's critical need is for a litigator, and it has traditionally been a litigation firm. I want to be a team player, but I also want to ensure that over time I will be able to develop a transactional practice. What should I do?

A. You are very wise to recognize your dilemma. It is not at all uncommon for newer associates to be asked to do work in the area of greatest need within the firm, without regard to the associate's desires to develop a different practice niche.

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Q. I am working as a summer associate at a large, downtown firm. The firm has an official "Casual Friday" policy. The code specifies "business casual" and states that blue jeans are not acceptable. On several recent Fridays I have noticed at least two partners wearing blue jeans. If they can wear them, why can't I? It would be great to be able to work in comfort one day a week.

A. My question to you is, "Do you want an offer at the end of the summer?" If not, you can probably wear whatever you like.  

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Q. I have been practicing over fifteen years with the same firm. I am contemplating a lateral move to another firm. So far I have met most of the members of the new firm, and I think that it may be a good fit. The managing partner of the new firm has asked me to put together a proposed business plan. What should I include in my plan?

A. What the firm wants to know before they add a new member is whether it makes economic sense. You want to demonstrate that you will bring more than enough business to cover your own overhead and salary.  

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Q. I am in my early fifties and contemplating a career move. Should I avoid using dates in my resume so I don't give away my age? Will my age put me at a disadvantage? 

A. Not unless you let it! In the right position, your life and work experience can give you the edge over other candidates.   

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Q. I keep hearing about attorneys who moved from the practice of law into exciting, new careers outside of law. How did they do it? I know that I have many talents and abilities, but I can't seem to get an employer to take a chance with me. During the past several months I have responded to numerous ads for interesting positions. I have had only one interview, and it did not go well. Do you have any suggestions?

A. Yes! First of all, employers don't like to take chances. You need to convince an employer that you are the preferred candidate. That requires a lot of work on your part before you even submit your resume.  

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Q.  I am going into my fourth year as an associate at a midsize firm, and I am dreading the annual associate review process.  My first two reviews were very positive, but last year my review was not glowing.  No one suggested that I look for another position, but I am concerned about my future.  What should I do?

A.  First, let’s look carefully at the information you received at your last review.  Was the review generally encouraging but with suggestions for improvement?   If so, have you taken the necessary steps?  Have you spoken to partners with whom you work closely for additional suggestions? 

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