Are You in the Next Round of Lay-offs? Coping in the Time of Covid-19

FearBy Chere B. Estrin

It's happening all over the U.S., the world and yes, even in the legal field. Lay-offs. That ugly, depressing, stress-ridden word.

I am usually a very upbeat, positive person. Yet, along with the rest of us, witnessing this world crisis is something that is impossibly hard to get your arms around. It's like living in a Kafka scene. I am not facing fear, rather, dread. I wake up each morning listening to the news and horrible events that have happened in the short space of 24 hours. It's unimaginable. It's a plague. And I keep asking myself, "Why, why, why wasn't the world more prepared?" But that's an article for another day.

Law firms, like everyone else, are laying off. It's quite possible that a number of readers have already been laid-off. I am hearing stories and getting calls from legal professionals who walked into the office or turned on their computer from home only to find out they were let go on the spot. No severance, no warning. It's a sign of the times. Firms are immediately reserving cash, tightening up and battening down. It's worse than the great recession.

Some people have been furloughed – meaning, they are laid off and expected to return when the economy comes back. Really? That's a terrible risk for you and unless the firm is paying people on a regular basis in order to hold them in check, there is no reason to expect there will be a job for you in the future – because we have no idea what that future looks like. We are barely able to predict it.

 "Why, why, why wasn't the world more prepared?"

Some people tell me that they are "safe" in their job. Trust me. No one, absolutely, no one is immune to these big bumps in the job market. No one. Unless you have a crystal ball and can predict what is going to happen, you have to act as if the worst will occur. If it doesn't, consider that a windfall.

There are areas that are now "hot" in the legal field because of covid-19. Interestingly, no matter what crisis the world sees, it is inevitable that critical areas of need pop up. Here is what is hot or getting hotter:

  1. Estate Planning – People are suddenly getting ready – just in case – for the worst by writing wills and preparing their estate plans.
  2. Healthcare – It stands to reason that there are going to be thousands of lawsuits against hospitals, doctors, nursing homes, and anything else related to healthcare including medical malpractice.
  3. Employment law – Lawsuits against employers for wrongful termination, age discrimination and more are going to pop up as millions of people are terminated or laid off.
  4. Insurance defense – Given the amount of lawsuits bound to happen, the insurance defense world will see an increase in case volume. Always go for the deep pockets, the mantra for a lawsuit.
  5. Divorce and family law – Reports from psychologists and elsewhere point to the divorce rate going up as people are house bound and the "real issues" start to come out. They have tine to think about their future and if their present situation is they way they want to continue. There is usually an uptick in divorces after holidays. This is hardly a holiday.
  6. Bankruptcy – Just as in the recession, bankruptcy for millions of businesses and individuals is not only around the corner, it is on our doorstep. Out of work employees, closed businesses, loss of revenue and income point to one thing – bankruptcy lawyers and staff will be in demand.

If you are in any one of these specialties, you may just stand a chance for survival. If you are not, for heaven's sake, get cross-trained now before it is too late! Take a class, learn from other departments in your firm, do what you need to do. In other words, always ride the horse in the direction it is going.

What if you do get laid off? I hope not. However, in the event it happens or has happened, don't run scared. This is a flight or fight situation. Choose fight. Running from the situation will not get you back where you want to be. By fighting, you at least stand a chance. Here are some action items you can do:

  • Get your resume together, even though you are certain nothing is going to happen to you and you are safe on your job.  I have received more bad resumes than good ones. People throw one together and expect it to sell them. Remember, you are now going to have tons of competition for the same job. During the recession, there were hundreds of applications for the same job. It was without a doubt, an employers market.

    The resume has to look professional and "pretty". It has to package you to stand out above the rest. Tailor your resume to the job description. I had a candidate just this week. who applied for a corporate paralegal position. By the looks of his resume, he clearly was not qualified. However, when we had the interview, it turns out that he was very qualified. He refused to change his resume. He had one line in the resume that matched the job description and two pages that did not.

    Somehow, he expected the firm to assume that he had accomplished the tasks in the job description because he mentioned "corporate paralegal".  Believe me, they make no assumptions, they have no imagination and if the responsibilities in your resume do not match the job description, they will definitely pass. Finally, I got him to change the resume to fit the job because he had, in fact, done everything the job description called for. At this point, he has made it past the HR Manager and onto the Hiring Manager. Fingers crossed.

  • Your future job is probably not on Indeed. Yes, there are plenty of jobs on Indeed. However, if you take a good look at what is going on right now, you will see that the majority of the jobs were posted before the stay-at-home orders were handed down. Check and see how old the job is. If it is 30+ days old, you might have two situations: the job has expired or is on hold; the firm did not pull the posting or they are having a hard time finding someone.

    You are going to have to take a number of steps:

  •  Tap into your network. The best person who knows where the jobs are, are employees at the firm. Colleagues confide in each other about their desire to seek another position. They don't go running down to HR and say, "You know, I am thinking of leaving. What do you think?" Colleagues know where the next vacancy is.
  • Go to Martindale-Hubbell, a well-known law firm directory with thousands of law firms listed. Start looking up firms with the hot specialties and firms within your practice area. Check out their websites. They may be hiring. Even if they are not, send an inquiry to the Hiring Manager and throw your hat into the ring for upcoming positions. You just don't know what can happen.
  • If you are not on LinkedIn, by all means, put yourself on it. If your fear is that your current employer will see your profile, be aware that LinkedIn does not mean that you are looking for a job. It is a sign that you are a professional in today's workplace. Be sure and list the types of responsibilities that you have had under each firm.  Just putting, "Litigation Attorney" means nothing to recruiters and employers seeking candidates. They need it spelled out.

    Recruiters buy a package from LinkedIn that allows them to key word search candidates for specifically the right candidate. If your profile doesn't look right, if you don't have a professional picture and if you skimp on the details, you will get passed over. Be sure to write a compelling summary. Just saying, "Highly motivated legal professional with corporate transactional skills, team player, works well independently" ain't gonna do it! Get away from the routine description and make yourself stand out. Listing job responsibilities that thousands of other people have, is not good enough. 

    Check out samples on LinkedIn to make your summary compelling and show some personality.  Put your full name and the firm you are with. None of this "confidential" stuff or name like, "Anne D.". You will get passed over. Guaranteed.

    Don't overlook that LinkedIn also has a job board. However, you are going to have to have that profile on because when you respond to a posting, employers click on the link that goes right to you.

  • Get registered with staffing agencies. They may not have something for you now but when they do, they reach into their database and contact you. Don't get discouraged if you are not hearing from them right now. Staffing agencies are hurting as most of their clients have put their jobs on hold for 60 days or more until the future clears up. But please, don't hound them to death as they are in this just as you are and times are tough for everyone.
  • Check out what's going on with your alumni. People tend to stick together. Reach out and don't be shy. They may know something.
  • Consider working temp or contract. Usually, when a recession hits, the jobs for direct-hire go down but the temporary staffing goes up. That's because firms do not have the budget for full-time employees or they have a project-by-project need. You may not get the same rate you got on your job but hey, the rent will be paid and the kids will eat. Don't get caught in temping too long, if you can help it, because that backfires when you go to find a full-time position. Firms don't like long-term temps as a rule. They think you won't stay.
  • Consider taking a job outside of the legal field just for now. You can even temp. We all have typing skills, know Word, have good communication skills, are pretty intelligent and have excellent work histories (well, most of us, anyway). Sign up with a general clerical agency. Take a clerical job if things are not panning out. It's not forever and will get you through having to otherwise go on unemployment or go hungry.

    I honestly do not know if temping will heat up in this unusual market. No one seems to be predicting much of anything. But it just doesn't hurt to have backup plans.

  • Check your email constantly. I cannot tell you how many candidates tell me how desperate they are but fail to constantly check email for responses to their application or from staffing agencies.Even worse, their voicemail is constantly full. In this market, it is going to be survival of the fittest. Be proactive. Check several times a day.  You have to have a sense of urgency because someone else will beat you to the job.
  • Not a member of your local association? Now is the time to join. You will get the newsletter, network with others both working and not and many times, they have a job board. Plus, if you can get out of the house and don't have a stay-at-home order, you can meet them and network. Some associations are holding meetings virtually now. Be sure and attend. You probably have plenty of time on your hands.
  • If you haven't been laid-off, now is the time to be sure your firm sees you as indispensable. No more just suiting up and showing up. You have to become an expert so much so that the firm would really suffer a loss if they let you go. That could be a deciding factor when the firm is faced with who to cut.

    That may mean initiating a political campaign, gaining new and different responsibilities, getting someone in the firm who is the conduit to the power to speak for you, and rising above everyone else in all areas. Just plain old hard work that is excellent will not do it in this unprecedented market. Everyone is expected to work hard and provide excellent work.  This is not criteria strong enough to keep you at the firm.

Protecting yourself in your career today is just as important as washing your hands, practicing social distancing and staying at home. You don't want to get the virus and you don't want to be unemployed or helpless when you are.

Here's the deal. Nothing lasts forever. While going through this is one of the worst possible situations that can happen to our magnificent country, we are tough enough to fight it through. I believe in my heart of hearts that we will see the light at the end of the tunnel and realize, it's not a train coming at us.

Have faith. Keep washing your hands, stay calm, stay positive and most of all, stay strong,

Chere Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing, a top staffing organization in California. She is also the President of the Organization of Legal Professionals. Chere has written 10 books on legal careers, hundreds of articles and has been written up in publications such as the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Trib, Newsweek, Entrepreneur and others. Chere is a recipient of the Los Angeles/Century City Women of Achievement Award and a finalist for the Inc. Magazine Entrepreneur of the Year award. She is a former administrator in an AmLaw 100 firm and Sr. Vice President in a $5 billion company. She can be reached on Sundays from 3am-5am. Reach out at: