J. Nick Augustine J.D., “The Law Publicist,” is the principal of Law Publicist Communications, an ALR/PRA Inc. agency. Nick advises and assists attorneys in transition in legal marketing, public relations and practice management. Nick shares career growth experience and tips for legal job seekers.
The legal job market remains bleak yet there are steps you can take to add value to potential employers. Efficiency consultants offer outsourcing and software resources to help reduce law firm staff. Contract attorneys have taken the place of many associates. If you want an associate position today, you need to be all in – adding value every hour.
Adding value, every hour of every day, requires a level of entrepreneurial effort that associate attorneys had not previously considered until launching solo firms. So long as you are a credentialed match for the position, you have a good chance of receiving an offer if you prove you will not be an overhead drain.
Hiring partners often look for contract attorneys because they are project-based and there is no drain during periods where there is no work. Sure, you might work as an associate and have non-billable time, but if you can add value during that non-billable time, you become valuable.
Adding value during downtime requires planning and organization. I suggest you make a list of tasks you performed at your last job. Maybe you performed a market research project. Possibly, you managed client contacts and communication. Consider software upgrades and efficiency efforts. Make a list of things you can do and remember them in an interview.
Approaching the value add proposition in the interview is easy. Simply ask the interviewing member of the firm if there is ever a lack of work or down time for associates. In today’s economy, this is hardly an insulting question, and nobody will be surprised to hear you ask. You set yourself apart from other position candidates because you are the potential hire who really wants to earn the position and keep busy, adding value to the firm every hour and every day you come to work.
Nobody wants to continue checking in with associates to make sure they are on the right track. Have you heard about the associate who finished drafting the motion to strike and dismiss then spent an hour on Facebook, waiting for her supervising attorney to review her work? Managing attorneys prefer employees who are going to know what to do and when to do it. If you finish a task and need to wait for next steps, work on your list of projects, maybe some marketing.
Communicating to your management that you are working on some non-billable matters is important. For all you know, there could be cases with deadlines and emergencies, and you do not want to be the one who spent all day reorganizing a filing system while others scrambled. Remember, a key component to adding value is working in a team environment and “calling it” when the ball is coming your way.