Lawyer must make his case with more active job search

By Cindy Atoji Keene
Globe Correspondent / August 7, 2011

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The legal profession was hit hard in the economic downturn, and lawyers such as Jeffrey Koval, who specializes in real estate and retail development, were struck particularly hard. As development slowed to a crawl, so did business at his law firm, Jeffrey Koval Associates Inc. in East Greenwich, R.I.

Koval, 57, is looking for a corporate position doing legal or compliance work. But with so many lawyers laid off in the last few years, and even more unemployed law school graduates, competition is stiff. Despite pursuing job postings on Lawyers Weekly and other industry sites, attending networking groups, and meeting with colleagues to brainstorm, his search has been unsuccessful.

When he met with Margie Boone of Margie Boone Consulting in Boston for a Boston Globe Career Makeover, Koval asked for help jump-starting his job search. “It’s difficult not to get discouraged,’’ he said.

Boone, a Boston career coach and a former lawyer, applauded Koval for his enthusiasm about practicing law.

“You really love the work, and often that’s not what I hear from attorneys,’’ she said. “You can’t fake enthusiasm, and that will work toward your advantage in interviews.’’

Negativism can kill any job hunt, said Boone, whether it’s complaining about a company or supervisor, appearing desperate, or having a sense of entitlement and superiority. Like many high-achieving professions, attorneys tend to be smart and ambitious. But whether lawyer, engineer, or scientist, Boone said, what’s often lacking in cerebral types is the mindset to “sell’’ themselves.

“For many lawyers, a job search means going outside one’s own comfort zone,’’ she said. “It is not about going into a room and handing out business cards. It is about reaching out to people and asking for advice and information.’’

Many services have sprung up to help lawyers looking for jobs, including so-called blaster services that promise to send resumes en masse to law firms across the nation. Not a good idea, said Boone.

“Mass mailings rarely work,’’ she said. Instead, spend time and energy making new contacts, talking to law school and college classmates, or volunteering.

“This is a more active job search and certainly requires a lot more effort,’’ Boone said. “It also works.’’

Finally, Koval asked for Boone’s advice on his resume. The two-page resume was wordy and jumbled, with random capitalizations and underlining that didn’t follow any format. Boone noted that the typical hiring manager scans a resume in 10 seconds or less.

“This resume has a lot of good substance but there’s too much information,’’ she said. “It’s difficult for someone to look at and quickly absorb.’’ She added that using all capital letters throughout the resume did not emphasize statements, but rather “jumped out like a warning signal, like yelling at someone.’’

On the bright side, Boone said, the legal industry may be finally rebounding. “Keep positioning yourself and stay focused,’’ she said, “and remember that looking for a job is full-time work in itself.’’

Jeffrey Koval
Goal: Find corporate law position since his own law firm is struggling in a post-recession slump.
Problem: Mass layoffs and scaled-back hiring have created a glut of unemployed lawyers.

Recommendations from career adviser Margie Boone:
■ It’s hard to fake enthusiasm, so be positive and avoid criticizing or complaining about a previous company or manager. Don’t have a sense of entitlement or superiority, or appear too desperate.
■ A marketing mindset is necessary in a competitive job market, so work on going outside the comfort zone.
■ Rethink networking. It is the building of relationships, instead of focusing on job hunting.
■ Avoid resume blaster services because they typically generate few leads. Spend time and energy instead on making connections through alumni groups, doing pro-bono work, or making new contacts.
■ Resume format should be easy to read and succinct. Too many fonts or capital letters can confuse the eye. Information should be pared to a minimum.
■ Devote yourself to finding a job, remembering that it’s a full-time task.