Career Advice for Lawyers: Be Prepared to Be Locked Out of the Office

In this tough job market for legal services, lawyers need to be prepared for the worst—and that means they need to be ready for the day when they are fired and locked out of the office.

Austin, Texas, lawyer Charles Peissel carries the warning in a column for Texas Lawyer. “The day will come when it’s over and a lawyer is toast,” he says. “The call from someone in power will come: ‘Mr. Jones, please come to my office.’ More than likely (and I mean 99 percent of the time) the recipient of that call is sent home, and the firm offers to send his personal effects to him at a later date. He is now a pariah.”

Peissel says firm loyalty is “an antiquated concept” in a world that is driven by the bottom line. Law firms “will not hesitate to chop away unprofitable associates or partners,” he says. “One department will not support another. If forced to do so, the profitable group will break away and leave the remainder of the firm to fend for itself.”

Peissel tells lawyers they need to act now and “incorporate disaster planning into their careers.” They should update their resumés at least once a year, preparing multiple versions tailored to different career objectives. They should watch job websites to get a feel for the market, should make friends with a headhunter and should build a network.

When the bad news does arrive, stay positive, he advises. Despite an unceremonious firing, lawyers should “exit with grace.” A job hunter needs to keep up goodwill when future references are needed, Peissel says.

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