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by Mary Kate Sheridan | March 23, 2020

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Whether you are a law student or attorney, the coronavirus pandemic has likely derailed your legal job search or career planning. Below are some tips for navigating this uncertain time.

For Law Students Preparing for OCI and Summer Associate Interviewing

A few weeks ago, your law school was either hosting its introductory session on OCI or was planning to host it at some point this month. Now, you are probably wondering whether your class will be the guinea pigs for virtual OCI or if OCI will even happen this summer. Amidst all of the uncertainty due to COVID-19, the truth is that no one knows for sure what the state of summer associate interviewing will be this year. But the best course of action is to prepare as best you can:

1. Proceed as though OCI will occur as planned. Under this mindset, you should start reviewing your school’s procedures for OCI bidding so that you understand what will be required of you in the coming months. Begin researching law firms so that when it comes time for bidding, you can have a well-thought-out, whittled-down list. (And since much of April and May will be spent preparing for and taking finals, it is good to get a jump start on researching now.) Most importantly, stay in contact with your law school’s Career Services office, and pay attention to their updates.

2. Read up on video interviewing and practice. The dynamics of video interviews are significantly different than those of in-person interviews. Sharpening your virtual skills so that you appear professional, while also allowing your personality to shine through via video are critical. You don’t want to be left scrambling to understand the best practices of video interviewing at the last minute—start working on these skills now to give yourself time to polish them in case OCI moves from your campus to the internet.

3. Make an appointment with your career counselor. You are not alone if you are starting to panic about the repercussions this outbreak will have on the future—and your future specifically. Although your school’s Career Services office doesn’t have a crystal ball, the career counselors are working hard to develop plans and understanding employers’ plans. They also know the industry inside and out. Schedule an appointment with your career counselor, and consider their advice on how you should be preparing.

4. Read Vault’s Summer Guide. The 2020 edition of the Vault Guide to Summer Associate Interviewing & Top-Ranked Programs launched this month in ebook form. If your school subscribes to Vault, you will have free access to this guide, which includes dozens of articles on interview prep, interview tips, resume and cover letter advice, and how to succeed as a summer associate. The guide also features Vault’s Summer Associate Program rankings and detailed law firm profiles, complete with quotes from real law firm associates. You’ll also find comparison charts at the back of the guide. Being stuck inside doesn’t mean you have to go without useful resources for your OCI prep.

For Law Students Planning to Work as Summer Associates or Legal Interns this Summer

Whether you have a summer spot at a law firm, government agency, nonprofit, prosecutor’s office, or some other entity, chances are you have been excited to jump in and test the lawyer waters. Now you are probably anxious over what the current situation means for your summer job—and your long-term career. The truth is, everyone’s life has been upended, so first, know that you are not alone in your worries about the future, both near and distant. Second, take some steps to stay informed and prepared:

1. Move forward. For now, act as though your summer associate position or internship is going forward as planned. Unless your employer has indicated otherwise, you should operate under the assumption that it is and ready yourself accordingly. Keep abreast of the organization’s recent matters, research attorneys that you are hoping to work with, and consider which practices you would like to work in so that when you walk in the door, you have well-researched goals.

2. Remain up to date. The firm/organization will likely send you updates about what you can expect and how they will be moving forward. And given the uncertainty that coronavirus has brought to the professional world, these updates may change daily. Make sure that you are checking your email—or any other means of communication the organization has used. And be sure to respond, so the employer knows you are engaged.

3. Stay in touch. You put in a lot of work to land your summer offer, and the firm/organization likewise put in tremendous effort to recruit you and offer you a position. Even if the worst-case scenario transpires, and the summer program gets canceled, you should stay in touch with the firm. You both made an investment in each other, and you should foster those connections for your future career.

4. Consult with Career Services. You don’t need to be on campus to meet with Career Services. Your career counselors will be available to you virtually, and you should take advantage of that. Their job is to keep their fingers on the pulse of the legal job market, so they may be able to give you insights on what firms/organizations are thinking for this summer or may be able to provide advice on what you can do now to prepare for every possible situation.

For Lateral Attorneys on the Job Hunt

So you finally decided to take a leap and search for a new position, and then COVID-19 introduced itself. Not ideal timing. That doesn’t mean it is impossible to find a job—some employers are still hiring. But it is certainly a challenging time to embark on an active job search. What’s a lateral candidate to do?

1. Find a search firm you trust. There are countless search firms out there, but they are not all made the same. Do your research; speak with multiple headhunters; and find one that you connect with, who understands your goals, and who will be straight with you during this rocky time. Now is not the time for coddling; you need to know what is happening in the legal job market and where you stand.

2. Brush up on virtual interviewing. In most places, in-person interviewing is not an option, which means you will be meeting your (hopefully) future colleagues and selling yourself via your computer’s camera. Make it count. Research best practices on video interviewing, practice in advance, and find ways to convey your personality through video. You should treat a video interview like any other in terms of your research or preparation—just because you are home doesn’t mean you can interview on the fly (they will see if you are shuffling through papers for answers or trying to look up information on other devices). And you have the added burden of connecting to strangers without being face to face.

3. Don’t forget to network. You won't be able to grab a quick coffee or glass of wine with a contact or meet up over lunch for an informational interview. But you can find ways to network virtually so that you can maintain and grow your network. First, make sure your LinkedIn profile is polished and then take time every day to check in with connections and also research new connections. If you are interested in doing an informational interview, phone or video chats are just as effective, so don’t shy away from those options. And if you just want to catch up with some connections, schedule time for a virtual coffee or happy hour—which will probably do wonders for your stress level too.  

For Lawyers Who Are Currently Employed with No Plans of Leaving

Happy with your job but uncertain what the future holds? I’d say you fall with the majority of employed people right now—working remotely and waiting for the next company communication for any news or plans. Hopefully, your organization is in a “business-as-usual” mode in terms of your tasks and output. But if you are worried, here are some tips for staying on track:

1. Keep working. It is simple advice, but some people aren’t following it. It’s easy to let the stress of this situation distract you from your work. And for some, working from home is a new world that brings some challenges. But you are a professional, and your firm/organization is relying on you. So create a schedule and deadlines, and stick to them. Save the binge-twitter reading for after hours, keep your TV off until you sign off, and use your work to keep your mind off the things you can’t control.

2. Avoid the noise. Look, we can all go down a lot of rabbit holes right now, and your coworkers may be inviting you down a “what if” rabbit hole about the future of your jobs. The best thing to do is avoid that kind of self torture. Unless you have heard otherwise, you have a job right now, so do your best work.

3. But protect yourself. No one knows what is coming, and you don’t want to be left unprepared. Keep up with your network—as mentioned above, virtual meetups are just as effective—keep your LinkedIn profile up to date, polish your resume, and stay abreast of what is happening in the legal job market so you understand your options.

Do you have additional questions about how to navigate your professional development, job search, and virtual learning/working during the COVID-19 outbreak? Email me, and our team will try to cover it on our blog or social media: msheridan@vault.com.

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