Bill Wilson spent over 20 years in legal departments at corporations large and small, from high tech to brick and mortar, and is writing about various topics while trying to find that next great career opportunity.
(With apologies to the folks at “Saturday Night Live” who do such a wonderful job on their skits with this tag line…)
This post is going to be a little bit different, addressed not to the candidates, but to employers and those who serve them. The reason for this post is simple: if employers are going to act like they have taken complete leave of their senses, no amount of advice is going to get some of the unemployed a job.
“The unemployed are really the people who weren’t any good in the first place” I have seen variations on this quote in several places. This statement is so arrogant, so elitist, so blind, so divorced from the facts of unprecedented massive layoffs in the legal field, with entire firms imploding, that no response is even possible – or necessary.
“Only top law schools and class rank need apply” My hat is off to my classmates who were on Law Review. I remember well the No. 1 in my class. He was so smart that one of my professors commented that he knew his exam when correcting papers because he inevitably saw issues the professor didn’t realize were included in the question. Not only that, he was poised, articulate and very much a nice guy. Even today I would be a bit nervous if he walked in on the other side of a deal. But only at first.
With all due respect, some of the other people in our class have actually done things that merit a mention. There is a fairly respectable and growing body of quantitative and qualitative evidence that the correlation between class rank, journal participation and other traditional criteria employed by many employers have a far lower correlation to partnership, general counsel appointments or other indicia of legal success than the articulated hiring preferences of many employers and recruiters would warrant.
“You’re overqualified.” Let’s see. I have a chance to hire a) a newbie five years out of school who spent time at a large firm, but decided they no longer want to chase the partnership gold ring, or b) someone who spent 15 years in a legal department, with a diverse skills set, having responsibility for a major business unit that got sold in the latest version of corporate merry-go-round. This decision requires exactly four seconds of thought, all other things being equal. You hire the more experienced lawyer. For the same amount of money in salary, you get “been there and done that” instead of “potential,” which anyone who follows the Cubs farm system knows is a curse worthy of a billy goat. Their position as the responsible attorney for a major business unit means they were able to keep a senior executive happy, have a broad range of legal knowledge, and an understanding of the business side. They have a tested maturity of judgment that isn’t likely to cause you to stay up nights wondering if/how they will adapt to a situation outside their comfort zone. The perceptions that older workers don’t feel comfortable with computers and technology, lack flexibility, or don’t have the stamina to keep up with the “more with less” of today’s workplace environment usually don’t stand up to scrutiny. Their experience and perspective often enables them to differentiate between the great new idea and the tried and failed miserably. In addition, anyone who has been to a management 101 course knows that good managers hire people who are better/smarter than they are, so the older lawyer’s experience should not be a threat to a younger manager who isn’t terminally insecure. As far as the old chestnut “But you’ll leave as soon as a better job comes along,” based on the resumes I have seen, most younger attorneys these days have three or four jobs on their resumes by the time they are ten years out of law school. That trend doesn’t exactly scream “stability” to me.
The economy is still in the doldrums. Hiring under the best of circumstances is going to be tough in this environment. To create artificial barriers that, when examined in light of available evidence, bear little or no relationship to actual performance and often simply reflect the naked prejudices of those who employ them serves no one’s interests. As we inexorably move from a “brick and mortar” economy to an “ideas and imagination” future, finding the talented people who will enable that process should be everyone’s number one priority. But you can’t do it with your eyes closed. Examine your conscience, and do the right thing.