How to Bounce Back From Long-Term Unemployment

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on April 08, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

You graduated from law school when not a single firm was hiring. You've sent out hundreds of resumes but can't get anyone to call you back. Or you've been stuck in a series of short-term, dead-end doc review and non-legal gigs. Our condolences. You're part of the long-term unemployed, and you're not alone.

But long-term unemployment or under-employment doesn't mean you have to give up on your legal dreams. It's not easy, but you can recover from long-term unemployment.

1. Build Your Own Career

If you've been unable to find legal work (or good legal work) for a few months, or even a few years, many employers will assume that you're either incapable or unmotivated. Well, forget them. Prove the haters wrong by taking the DIY route to career success: starting your own solo practice.

Solo work isn't easy and it isn't inexpensive to get started. It can cost a few grand to $10,000 to start your own firm. But hanging your shingle can be a great way to start your legal career, allowing you to build a book of business, connect with other attorneys, and create a good reputation for yourself. You might move on to something else later, or you could make your solo firm your life's work.

2. Consider an Incubator

Law firm incubators are a promising, but often overlooked, legal tool. If you're a recent grad or interested in representing under-served groups, there are more than 50 incubator programs out there ready to help you get your start. Operated by law schools and bar associations, these incubators offer training, a place to work, and mentorship opportunities to lawyers starting out in everything from entertainment law to criminal defense to family law.

3. Give It Away

We know. You've got rent to pay and an amazing amount of student debt. But, sometimes working for free is the best way to start working at all. Volunteering with nonprofit and pro bono organizations can allow you to develop valuable experience, build your legal resume, and expand your network. If you're doing a non-legal job to pay the bills, volunteering on the side can be an excellent way to keep yourself in the legal employment game.

4. Start Over

Change your name and run away to Indonesia. Fake your own death. Enroll in an LL.M. program.

We're kidding. Don't do any of those things. But, do consider shaking things up. If your job search has been going nowhere for an extended period of time, consider relocating to a growing market or refocusing on a new legal specialty. After all, if you've been unemployed for an extended period of time, the grass probably is greener somewhere else.

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