Hiring in the legal field is accelerating, and law offices are vying for specialized talent, according to the Robert Half Legal Salary Guide. The great jobs are out there, but how do you, the applicant, get prospective employers to pull your resume from their overstuffed inboxes and invite you in for an interview?
The key to landing the interview, and ideally the position, is in knowing which skills are the hot commodities in legal careers, and then accumulate the requisite experience. Here are three areas to focus on to boost your marketability:
- Business acumen
Even if you’re not applying for in-house counsel positions, you need plenty of corporate insight. Client demands are a force to be reckoned with in the legal profession. To meet the expectations of your prospective firm’s client base and to develop deep partnerships, you should have a thorough understanding of the business’s operations.
Get up to speed on government regulations, compliance laws and issues pertaining to globalization. One way to boost your business acumen is to pursue a nontraditional degree such as an MBA. But if time and budgetary constraints are a factor, there are less demanding ways to familiarize yourself with business, finance, and world events:
- Read the news. Keep up with current events by turning to major news sources such as The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and BBC News. Magazines such as The Economist and The Atlantic are good sources for trends and international perspectives.
- Subscribe to blogs. Bloggers are often on the cutting edge in their fields. They monitor niche sectors and disseminate information quickly. SCOTUSblog and Robert Half’s Legal Blog are excellent resources for legal professionals, but also look into thought provoking, specialized and investigative sources such as Business Insider, Lifehacker, The Hill and TEDblog.
- Get out and network. Reading is fundamental, but nothing replaces in-person conversations with colleagues, mentors and leaders in your field. To develop your business acumen, talk with other legal professionals and be inquisitive about their work. Ask about the pros and cons.
A valued legal professional is one who understands market trends and can apply that knowledge when advising clients.
- Technology skills
Today’s law firms embrace tech innovations, and so should you. A developing trend, according to the latest Robert Half Future Law Office report, is that legal offices are becoming increasingly virtual. That means you should be knowledgeable about cloud computing, mobile apps, VPNs (virtual private networks), collaboration tools, etc.
Even if you’re applying for in-office legal jobs, you need to be well versed in the following:
- Litigation support software such as Summation and Concordance
- eDiscovery — both as an in-house process and an outsourced service
- Online libraries and databases
- Predictive coding
- Electronically stored information (ESI)
While many law practices accept — and even encourage — social media as a form of networking, there are many legitimate concerns and red flags about liability and privacy issues, particularly when it comes to client information. Legal professionals should be conversant in social media, both as an employee and job seeker, but use best practices to avoid ethical missteps.
Continuing legal education (CLE) is a good way to broaden your knowledge about technology and science. There are courses on cloud software, cyber security, information governance, artificial intelligence, biotech law, scientific evidence, the Internet of Things and more. To keep up with the fast-changing world of legal technology, there are sites dedicated to the topic, such as Center for Legal and Court Technology and Legaltech News.
- Specialized industry or sector knowledge
To become a sought-after candidate, develop expertise in a growth area. The Robert Half Legal 2015 Salary Guide noted that law firms are especially seeking professionals with several years of experience in corporate and general business, litigation, intellectual property and employment law. Due to evolving regulations, many practices are also seeking candidates with knowledge of new governmental mandates and experience in the area of healthcare.
Firms that serve the biotechnology and high-tech sectors are looking to recruit paralegals and lawyers who specialize in intellectual property. Real estate law is another high-demand market, where employers are looking for professionals capable of working with clients in commercial development, residential sales, property management and leasing issues.
If you feel you are lacking expertise in a particular area, workshops and seminars can enhance your knowledge. Another way to gain experience in a specialty is to look for short-term assignments or contract positions that allow you to gain more experience in a particular industry.
Law associates are in high demand, but employers want candidates with specialized knowledge and focused experience. When your skill set matches their requirements, you’ll be on your way to becoming practice ready and a perfect match for their team.
Charles A. Volkert is executive director of Robert Half Legal, a leading staffing service specializing in the placement of attorneys, paralegals, legal administrators and other legal professionals with law firms and corporate legal departments. Based in Menlo Park, Calif., Robert Half Legal has offices in major cities throughout the United States and Canada.