Older but Wiser: Stay the Course

Older but Wiser: Stay the Course

Valerie Fontaine and Roberta Kass
Special to Law.com
September 21, 2009

Editor's note: This is the eighth and final article in the series about job transitions for older attorneys. Links to previous articles in the series are listed following this article.

Looking for work is tough, especially for senior candidates in the current legal marketplace. Understand that the vast majority of employment inquiries end in rejection, regardless of experience level. Stay focused on what you have to bring to the table, and remember that despite how many "no's" you receive, it only takes one "yes," the right one for your career, to proceed toward success. After receiving a rejection from a particularly attractive opportunity, or after several in a row, it is tempting to give up. The only way to make a smart career move is to keep looking.


Whether or not to hire any particular candidate is a business decision, not a personal one, although personality fit can be a factor. The employer is looking for the candidate best able to perform the job as well as being a "fit" with the culture of the firm. A rejection for a particular position does not reflect upon your worth, or necessarily upon your capabilities as a lawyer. There may have been a candidate whose experience was a more precise fit. It could be that the firm lost a client or settled a major case, so it no longer needs to fill that position. There could be a potential client conflict. Or, your billing rates do not fit in with the firm's fee schedule. Job hunting has enough stress without beating yourself up for circumstances beyond your control.


Each job search rejection is a singular, temporary event, and does not mean that you will never find the right position.  Do not dredge up all past failures to create a disastrous pattern in your mind. Just because you are not the perfect lawyer for a particular firm at this time does not mean that there may not be an opportunity there for you in the future
if circumstances change, or that you are not perfect for another job right now.


Ask the potential employer for feedback, but don't demand an explanation. Look for ways to improve your approach.

Do a "post mortem" with a trusted and knowledgeable friend and with your recruiter, if you are using one. If you see a recurring pattern, get help with those particular issues.


Looking for a new position is stressful whether you are working long hours for your current firm and trying to keep the search confidential, or out of work and worried about paying the bills. If you were fired or laid-off, you may experience anger, shame or grief. It is important to take time to deal with your feelings so they do not sabotage your job search efforts by surfacing during an interview, causing a crisis of confidence, or paralysis.

Although, as attorneys, we think we can handle stress, outside support can be very helpful. With their permission, use your spouse or partner, close friends or colleagues as a support network, allowing you to vent your frustrations and air your doubts while not reinforcing your negative feelings. Tell them that what you need to hear is   encouragement --then listen. If necessary, visit a counselor or therapist.


Eat well, sleep, exercise and be gentle with yourself. Participate in activities you enjoy to relieve the stress and keep your spirits up. If you are stuck in an unhealthy rut, get help, because you need to keep moving. Besides the obvious physical and mental health benefits, you will appear more youthful and energetic, which can only help your
presentation in the job search.


Be realistic about your chances for landing the position by assessing your qualifications and comparing them to the credentials of the lawyers currently in the organization and the requirements sought by the prospective employer. Only apply for positions for which you have the appropriate background and relevant experience. Furthermore, if a job posting specifies a very junior candidate, realize that your chances of success are slim if you are much more senior.  Although it is frustrating, there may be internal politics or structural issues that make it unworkable to hire a senior candidate.

In an interview, ask how many other candidates the firm is considering, and whether they believe you are a strong contender for the job. The more accurately you determine your realistic chances for being hired for any particular position, the less disappointing (or surprising) any rejection will be.


Do not put all your eggs in one basket, even if you think it's the perfect basket for you. A job search is a numbers game to some extent. The more options you explore, the better chance you have of making the best career move. If you have inquiries out to many different firms, the sting of rejection by any one of them will be diluted by the
opportunities still open with others.

Be flexible regarding title, starting compensation, the type of organization, area of practice or geographic area, to broaden your options. In the meantime, consider contract work to make contacts, fill the gaps on your resume, gain further experience and pay the bills. A temporary position can turn into a permanent one.


Although rejection can be a blow to the ego, remember that the legal community is very small. Do not burn any bridges with your anger, or humiliate yourself by acting desperate or begging (or having others beg for you). If you legitimately believe that the decision was based on incomplete or incorrect information, you may calmly inquire whether certain facts were taken into consideration. If they were, stop there, and thank the prospective employer for their time and consideration. In fact, after every rejection, you should thank the prospective employer, and state that you would like to be kept in mind should anything appropriate open up in the future.


We want to close this series by paying homage to Capt. Chelsey Sullenberger who, at age 57, was a great example that there is no substitute for down-in-the-trenches real-life experience. He's the pilot who landed his crippled airplane in New York's Hudson River. As one aviation expert said, "as a pilot you are trained to handle emergencies, but it also
helps to have been in some."


Read other articles in the "Older but Wiser" series:

  1. Winning Strategies for Older but Wiser Job Seekers
  2. Older but Wiser: Get With the Program!
  3. Older but Wiser: Resume Strategies
  4. Older but Wiser: Crafting Your Business Plan
  5. Older but Wiser: Finding the Hidden Job Market
  6. Older but Wiser: Acing the Interview
  7. Older but Wiser: Handling Touchy Subjects
  8. Older but Wiser: Stay the Course