October 2012 - Attorneys in Transition
by Dimetria A. Jackson
This summer, I attended the ABA’s National Conference of Bar Presidents’ annual meeting, where we discussed what bar associations will look like in future years given changes in demographics, including the retirement of baby boomers and the influx of Generation Y (persons born between 1980 and 2000) into the profession, attorneys transitioning in and out of the practice of law, and how the bar association can remain relevant to its membership. The OCBA strives to provide its members access to various resources to assist attorneys during periods of transition.
Attorneys in Transition
Due to economic factors or personal and family reasons, many attorneys are in the midst of career transitions, including newly admitted attorneys seeking employment, parents re-launching legal careers after spending time raising children, attorneys entering and exiting the practice, and attorneys seeking to change firms, practice areas, or pursue alternative career paths.
According to a NALP Foundation study, 78 percent of associates leave their law firms by the end of their fifth year. Of those attorneys, 35 percent of women will leave private firm practice entirely, compared to almost 20 percent of men, according to the MIT Workplace Center 2007 report. The report also found that among junior or non-equity partners, 33 percent of women leave private firm practice, compared to only 15 percent of men. Among equity partners, 15 percent of women leave their partnerships before retirement compared to only 1 percent of men. As women leave their firms, the retention and advancement of women attorneys in law firms continues to decline.
Why Associates Leave
Associates leave law firms for many reasons, including a lack of career satisfaction, a desire to spend more time with family, to raise their children, care for aging parents, insufficient compensation, layoffs, or firm closures. While some attorneys accept positions with other firms, others start their own practices, accept in-house positions, government work, non-profit positions, freelance or contract work, or pursue non-legal work; many attorneys remain unemployed, especially in today’s economy.
Based on a survey of New York University law students conducted by A Better Balance, work-life balance issues are important to both men and women, especially members of Generation Y, the fastest growing segment of the work force. The survey found that “72 percent of male and 76 percent of the female law students said they were very or extremely worried about being able to balance work and family.” Nancy Rankin et al., A Better Balance, Seeking a Just Balance: Law Students Weigh in on Work and Family 3-4 (June 2008), Click Here. The survey also found that eight out of ten students stated their readiness to accept less money in exchange for flexibility and reduced hours. Id. If employers want to maximize the pool of qualified attorneys for hire, they should consider designing policies to integrate attorneys back into the profession and implement flexible work arrangements for both men and women.
OCBA Career Transition Resources
The OCBA website has an “Attorneys in Transition” section that provides employment postings and links to programs, articles, and materials that may help lawyers seeking career assistance.
Members are encouraged to attend OCBA networking mixers, including events hosted by the Young Lawyers Division (YLD), the Masters Division, Mommy Esquire, and affiliate bar associations. By attending section meetings, members can stay abreast of issues, regulations, and case law regarding their areas of practice. Through the use of social media, lawyers can network, increase their visibility, and become branded as resources in their legal fields. Based upon positive feedback from the August “Social Media 101 for Lawyers” presentation, the OCBA plans to offer additional social media seminars and computer technology courses for attorneys.
Those seeking to open their own practices should join the OCBA’s Solo Practitioner/Small Firm Section, and attend the monthly lunch meetings and annual MCLE program. This year’s program featured tips on how to start, build, and manage one’s practice, find office space, and identify practice management tools.
Members may also consider finding a mentor or sponsor for guidance during the period of transition and thereafter. The OCBA has a Mentoring Committee and HELP-Line, a hotline of experienced attorneys who will voluntarily answer legal questions for fellow OCBA members.
Attorneys in transition may also consider accepting paid and pro bono assignments. By joining the OCBA Lawyer Referral and Information Service (LRIS) panel, lawyers may build their client base through pre-screened referrals. Through the OCBA’s partnership with the Legal Aid Society of Orange County, members of YLD may participate in the Small Trials Program that trains attorneys with little or no trial experience to handle unlawful detainer cases likely to proceed to trial. Additionally, lawyers may participate in guardianship and bankruptcy trainings co-sponsored by the OCBA and the Public Law Center (PLC), and handle pro bono cases through PLC to enhance their skill sets and obtain experience. PLC is currently seeking volunteers with federal civil procedure and case handling experience to help pro se litigants in the Central District, and will train volunteers to handle naturalization matters to assist some of the 220,000 legal permanent residents in Orange County who may be eligible to become U.S. citizens.
If you or your firm is hiring, please forward the job descriptions to the OCBA. If you have any recommendations or resources for lawyers who are making transitions in their careers, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
OCBA Board Election
We rely upon the OCBA Board to manage the affairs of the association and serve the needs of our membership, so please remember to cast your electronic ballot this month for OCBA Secretary and for the three Director-at-Large seats. Online voting will be open from October 1st at 9:00 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. on October 23rd. Good luck to the candidates!
Dimetria A. Jackson is 2012 President of the Orange County Bar Association, a freelance attorney with Montage Legal Group, handling corporate transactional matters, and the Chief Executive Officer of redBAMBINA.com. She may be reached at email@example.com.