I’ve noticed an uptick in recent weeks in news stories, blog posts and general chatter about all of the “opportunities” available to attorneys in these harsh economic times. For example, there have been numerous articles about what a great time it is to put out your own shingle or to shift to a boutique law firm that may be able to weather the economic downturn better than BigLaw. While my personal career success is dependent upon attorneys moving from one firm to another, I recognize that there are many attorneys more concerned about hanging on to their current jobs than undertaking a dramatic (and potentially risky) new venture. What is the best strategy to hang on to what you already have?
Well, it’s simple: Get Back to Basics.
While there are a lot of factors outside of your control that may affect whether you keep your job (economic times, partner business development, cases settling or transactions being put on hold), there are a host of things that you can do to keep yourself off of the short list of the next round of layoffs or firings. All of them boil down to one essential strategy: Demonstrate to your employer that you are valuable and, ideally, indispensable.
By this I don’t mean that you should send a firm-wide email outlining your positive attributes, but rather that you should strive to outperform expectations and to raise your profile so that the decision makers know what you are doing. In tough times, the strongest performers survive. What does this mean?
- Be loud, aggressive and persistent in seeking new work. There may not be much, but everyone in a position to dispense work should know that you want to be first in line. Take partners to lunch or coffee. Visit partners’ offices and remind them that you want to work with them. If you are aware of specific new matters, ask the decision makers directly to staff you on them.
- Volunteer for the most unattractive and unpleasant assignments. Be enthusiastic about completing them quickly, professionally, and without complaints.
- Talk about yourself. Be sure that everyone knows your skills, expertise and interests. This is not the time to be a wallflower or to downplay your capabilities.
- Be positive. No one wants to work with (or to give work to) someone who is negative, complaining and unpleasant.
- Be a team player. Demonstrate that you are willing to do whatever it takes for the success of clients and the firm.
- Latch onto successful people. If there are partners, counsel or other associates in the office who seem to be busier than most, do whatever you can to connect yourself to them. Success breeds success.
- Lastly, and perhaps most importantly: Do excellent work. Now is not the time to be making careless mistakes or, frankly, any mistakes. Your goal should be to exceed expectations on every project.
None of these strategies is new, innovative or pioneering. But that is the point. Getting back to basics is the surest way to making sure that you are recognized for the right reasons, and to improving your chances of hanging on to what you have, at least until you want to make a move.