A record number of jobs in the legal sector have vanished in the current economic downturn. From pay cuts, layoffs and hiring freezes to rescinding job offers and delaying start dates, today’s legal employers are trying to contain costs amidst economic uncertainty. As unemployment rates trend upwards and job layoffs continue, what can legal professionals do to keep their jobs? Below are ten ways to protect your job if you believe layoffs are imminent.
1. Contribute to the Bottom Line
When business is slow and every penny counts, contributing to the bottom line can save your job. Cost-savings is a challenge in every organization. Look for ways you can boost the firm’s bottom line. Can new technology help streamline processes? Can an internship program save labor costs? Can switching vendors save on office supplies? Findings ways to do more with less can help justify your own salary.
2. Raise Your Visibility
Office wallflowers won’t get noticed. Get out of your office and develop relationships with the partners, your boss and firm decision-makers. Join organization-wide committees, volunteer for projects outside your department and attend company-sponsored events to network with others beyond your legal team. Raising your profile within your firm will increase your chances for survival. It is harder to eliminate an employee everyone knows and likes.
Being tech-savvy will give you an edge in any legal career. Technology platforms exist for nearly every legal function from word processing, spreadsheet and case management to e-filing, research and telecommunications. Judges, lawyers, paralegals, legal secretaries and others will benefit from mastering new technology tools. Training others to use technology as well can also raise your value to the organization and save your job in the face of layoffs.
4. Step Outside Traditional Roles
Going beyond your job description to do what is necessary is a valued trait in today’s shrinking workforce. Break out of your comfort zone and avoid placing limits on the scope of your position. Layoffs and downsizing have forced employees to assume other roles and perform work formerly borne by multiple employees. A lawyer who refuses to use the copy machine or demands his own secretary won’t last long if layoffs are looming.
Opportunities come to those who subtly toot their own horn. By broadcasting your skills and achievements to others, you can demonstrate your value to the firm. Track your accomplishments and make sure your boss or the partners know about your latest court victory or new client. Do things to get noticed such as working late or volunteering for extra projects. In today’s competitive environment, you must be your own champion.
6. Be A Self-Starter
Be proactive in seeking out work rather than passively waiting for assignments or clients to come to you. Anticipate the next step, be forward-thinking and understand what your boss or the firm needs to have accomplished. For example, don’t just perform the research, write the brief; don’t just complain about outside counsel fees, draft discovery requests in-house. Being a self-starter will help you become an indispensable member of the legal team and will boost your job security.
7. Reinvent Yourself
Workloads and priorities may have shifted at your firm since the economy softened. Leverage your prior work experience into new opportunities. Diversify your skills to fill in voids created by downsizing and staffing changes. Today’s legal professionals wear many hats and may need to take on HR, IT, marketing, presentation or administrative responsibilities in addition to core legal tasks. Your job is less likely to be eliminated if you remain versatile and keep your skills relevant.
8. Maintain a Positive Attitude
No matter how smart or competent you are, negative talk or a poor attitude may put you on the layoff short list. Research shows that people prefer to work with an incompetent but friendly colleague than a capable, unfriendly co-worker. Moreover, it is easier to fire an unpopular employee even when they are a strong performer. Maintaining a positive “can do” attitude will draw others to you and encourage decision-makers to keep you around.
9. Keep Your Clients Happy
Whether your clients are external firm clients or internal personnel, providing the best possible client service will increase your value to the organization. Respond to phone calls and e-mails promptly and deliver first-rate service. Your job is less likely to be eliminated if clients find that your contribution is indispensable.
While it may be tempting to slack off if job cuts are looming, you should treat every day as a job interview with your current employer. Talent is a law firm’s most costly commodity. Therefore, act and dress to impress, be passionate about your work and always deliver a top-notch work product.