To review or not to review?

Jill Rorem, Esq., is senior manager, legal staffing at Blackman Kallick (www.blackmanstaffing.com). Jill oversees the successful recruitment of attorneys, paralegals and contract legal professionals. Jill (and the Blackman team) staffs document reviews using qualified contract attorneys and thus, works with attorneys-in-transition daily. You can follow her at twitter.com/roremlegalstaff.

I am often asked whether working as a contract attorney is a help or a hindrance to a career as a lawyer. My answer is always the same, I really don’t know. Some of my direct hire clients are, in fact, turned off by document review on a resume. Others would rather see some legal work on a resume than months of doing nothing at all. What I DO know is that in this economy, with loan payments mounting, most people don’t have the luxury to say no to working on a document review.

The real problem with document review for those who are not planning to make document review their career, is that attorneys can easily get too comfortable and become lazy about their job search or even shelve it altogether. Let’s face it, document review brings steady (albeit low paying) work. Document review doesn’t keep you up worrying at night after you leave the office.  When you are working on document review, you don’t have to panic before a motion in front of the judge. It is social and many people wind up with life- long friends after they spend months on a project together. So, it’s easy to see why people get comfortable and forget their intended pursuits.

But there ARE jobs out there and not just for those who lateral in to firms. I have seen it with my own eyes – people have left our document reviews to take full-time, salaried positions on many occasions. It can be done. If document review is not what you intend for your career (for some it is – the above mentioned advantages are very enticing!), please don’t drop the ball on your search. Rather, consider these suggestions on how to keep your job search alive:

  • Read the job boards and law firm career pages every day. Something new is bound to pop up that is a fit for your background.
  • Network, network, network! Instead of going home after a long day of coding, attend one of the many networking events and conferences that are put on by various legal organizations and charities in the city. Give yourself a twice per month quota. Some are free and some cost money but eventually, it’ll be money well spent. Don’t leave an event without meeting at least three new people and connecting with a few old acquaintances. You never know how these people will be able to help you out and/or connect you to potential job contacts.
  • Participate in social media. It’s the most efficient way to network because you can meet a lot of people at once. Polish up your LinkedIn profile and start connecting with others.  Create a Twitter account and follow people who have interesting things to say about the legal field and contact them. Stop poo-pooing Facebook and make some “friends.”  The more people who know you are looking for a new position, the better.
  • Stay on people’s radar to be the first considered when their firm or organization is hiring.  Request informational interviews and/or informal coffee meetings with hiring managers, attorneys, friends, friends of friends. Listen to what they have to say about potential needs at their firms and tell them how you might fit in when their need arises.
  • Touch up your cover letter. As someone who reads cover letters daily, I recommend giving it personality and humor. Keep the reader from falling asleep at all costs! Give them insight into you beyond what you have already provided in your resume.

It is perfectly fine to decide to work permanently as a document review attorney. Believe me, it would make my life easy if I didn’t keep losing some of my favorite contract attorneys to permanent positions! But if you want to practice in a traditional setting, keep at it. If you are persistent and talented, you’ll land something.

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