How to Keep Calm and Leverage Your Experience to Land a Better Career
You aren’t the first to pass this way.
Lawyers have been hired and fired over and over again since the very first meeting of the minds.
You’ve already been through the first part of that process. Now it’s your turn to endure the latter.
No one likes it. No one ever has. But storms always come, whether or not they were in the forecast, and all we can do is seek shelter until they pass. They do pass, though.
Today, we’re writing to you about the opportunity that being fired represents.
Yes, we said opportunity, and that’s exactly what it is… if you choose to see it that way.
It’s all a question of how you handle the unexpected. So let’s look at some steps you can take to rise anew from the ashes of disaster and end up with a better job / career than you had in the first place.
The First Step: Find Out Why You Were Fired
What’s worse than hearing “you’re fired”? Never finding out why? Or finding out exactly why?
Neither sounds all that appealing.
But like an “American Idol” contestant booted off the show when you felt sure you’d belted your best note ever, you need to watch the playback. It’s the only way you’re going to get better.
In a perfect world, your law firm will let you know why they’re letting you go. Indeed, many will. Just ask.
Try to have this conversation after you’ve calmed down. You will need to resist the urge to argue and defend yourself, because that isn’t the point of this meeting. You aren’t trying to save this job; you’re trying to prepare for the next one.
In some cases, it might merely be that the firm had to cut back. That’s good to know. It means you were laid off, not fired, and that’s valuable knowledge for future employers (though you might still ask why you were the one they chose to let go).
Then again, there might be some issues in your work performance, your work ethic, or your workplace demeanor that you have been entirely unaware of. Here’s your chance to find out how you were viewed — and then learn from it.
Even if you decide to hang your own shingle (something we will talk about below), understanding why this job didn’t work out will serve you immeasurably in the future — perhaps in ways you can’t even anticipate right now.
Now, Negotiate a Peaceful Transition.
If you’re leaving on good terms, your law firm might be perfectly willing to negotiate a departure that helps to keep you on your feet.
Here are some things to ask for:
- Craft a mutual letter of notice to the firm’s clients, informing them of your departure and providing your independent contact information. It’s important for your clients at the firm to know you’re leaving on good terms and in cooperation with the firm.
- Ask for a window of time before you are officially no longer part of the firm. This allows you to honestly tell other law firms (and prospective clients, if you’re going solo) that you are still currently with a law firm but seeking new opportunities.
- See if they’ll agree to keep your name on the law firm website for a set period of time. This can help to establish your legitimacy during a future job search or client hunt.
- Inquire about any contacts or opportunities that partners or associates in the firm might be aware of. Perhaps there’s casework they are planning to turn down, or an in-house counsel position they’ve caught wind of.
- Consider staying on board as an attorney of counsel. For example, some law firms have agreed to allow departing counsel to stay on the firm’s official roster, so long as they agree to provide the occasional research memo or demand letter, or perhaps to handle firm-related tasks (e.g. coordinating the firm’s marketing efforts) — even while the attorney builds up business of their own elsewhere. This will typically require an extraordinarily good relationship with the firm, and you’ll want to double-check the ethics rules for attorneys of counsel in your jurisdiction.
Don’t Panic. Don’t Get Desperate.
It might feel like the sky is falling, but rest assured: the clouds are still where they’re supposed to be.
Now is not the time to panic, running headfirst into the first paying job you can find. You probably have at least a little time on your side. Make the most of it.
Don’t take a doc review job within 24 hours of being fired. Do not call a headhunter while you’re crying. Don’t apply to get an MBA. And definitely don’t let potential employers sense that you need them.
These are acts of desperation. You aren’t desperate. Yet. So don’t act like it.
Real Talk: Are You in the Wrong Box? (Is Working in a Law Firm Right for You?)
Few life events better present the opportunity for reflection and honest self-assessment than getting fired.
So it’s worth considering that the reason this job didn’t work out is simply that the law firm life isn’t for you — or at least not the same type of law firm life.
As humans, we tend to put ourselves in boxes. It’s our nature. The biggest and most obvious box for a lawyer is a law firm. Nearly all of law school is oriented toward getting a traditional job in a traditional firm, and so that becomes the path of least resistance.
But there are many other ways to practice law or use your law degree, and you owe it to yourself to mull them over.
Get Your Head in the Game (If you Want to Work for Someone Else)
If, upon reflection, you determine that a conventional law job is still for you, then a quick refresh on the job application process would behoove you.
True, you’ve interviewed before. And obviously, it’s worked out. You were hired.
But the law market grows ever more competitive each year, and interviewing is almost never easy (at least not for most job candidates). So take some time to practice. Refresh your résumé. Browse some job-hunting blogs for hot takes and new trends. Get your head in the headhuntin’ game.
Seriously Consider Hanging Your Own Shingle.
This is risky. It’s scary. Certainly it’s not the easiest option. But starting your own law practice just might be your best ticket to the career you actually want.
Launching a business is never easy, and success is never guaranteed. But consider this: law firms aren’t as difficult to start — and to succeed with — as many other kinds of businesses. (Restaurants, for example, are notoriously challenging upstarts.) …Provided, of course, that you have a law license.
You’ve already taken care of that part — the hardest part.
So if non-lawyers can start difficult businesses like restaurants and find success, there is no reason you can’t do the same with a comparatively straightforward operation in your own trade.
Heck, lawyers right out of law school, without so much as an hour of experience, hang their own shingles and grow a practice within a year or two. You have a leg up on them, at least. You’ve worked in a law firm already. You’ve seen how it works. And you’ve learned the hardest lesson of all: you’ve been fired. So go make the most of it.
Take Control of Your Own Career. Hire Juris Digital and Start Getting Your Own Clients.
Starting your own practice isn’t for everyone. We aren’t here to tell you otherwise. But if you decide to go that route, we can help.
Juris Digital is an experienced team of legal marketing experts who help to put law firms on the map — and by the map, we mean Page 1 of the relevant Google search results — and get them a thriving client base along the way.
We’ve worked with some of the biggest law firms in the country, and also plenty of small-to-midsize firms and solo practitioners who’ve found great success. So we know it can be done. For that matter, we know how to do it.
And consider this: even for law firms that have extensive resources and experience, we always advise that they not fall back on those facts in their marketing campaigns. Why? Because clients don’t care all that much about their lawyers’ résumés. They just don’t. What they’re really looking for is a lawyer who will work hard, who knows what they’re doing, and who will fight to make a difference in their story. That’s a message we can convey on behalf of any legal practice, whether it has just one shingle or a legal army of 500 J.D.s
So whether you decide to go solo or to seek opportunities at a new firm, remember that the right marketing campaign can make all the difference.