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WLC Career Panel Offers Advice to Legal Practitioners

April 13, 2009

On March 19, the USF School of Law Women Lawyers Committee (WLC) presented "Managing Your Career in a Challenging and Rapidly Changing Economy."

Left to right: Yuliya Oryol '96, Mike Gotham, Meg Catzen-Brown, Sue Mendelsohn '80, and Dean Jeffrey Brand.

The panel fostered ideas for lawyers to navigate their careers in the present economy. The event was co-sponsored by Nossaman LLP, Academy of Art University, and the USF School of Law.

"The economic downturn has been brutal and it has impacted almost every industry," said Yuliya Oryol '96, president of the WLC and a partner at Nossaman LLP. "We thought this was a very important topic to talk about...(to) give you a realistic picture of the current legal market and provide concrete ideas for lawyers and law students so we can position ourselves for the future."

Panelists included Mike Gotham, director of attorney recruiting and retention for Perkins Coie LLP, Ann Gray Miller '70, senior partner with Nixon Peabody, and Meg Catzen-Brown, senior policy advisor for Nossaman LLP. Dean Jeffrey Brand moderated the event.

According to Gotham, 12,000 jobs were lost in the legal sector in 2008. This year, 1,300 jobs were lost in January and 4,200 jobs were lost in February. He said the Bay Area has been hit harder than other legal markets, noting the dissolution of Heller Ehrman and Thelen Reid & Priest. Although the legal sector has experienced other downturns, Gotham said "we've never seen anything like this."

Gotham said the impacts of the struggling economy are being felt across the board in both the private and public sectors. In the private sector, real estate, finance practices, corporate practices, and IPOs are being impacted hardest, he said.

Ann Gray Miller '70 (right), Mike Gotham (middle), and Meg Catzen-Brown prepare for the panel.

On the brighter side, Gotham said the legal market is very cyclical and will rebound. Some areas of law are surviving or doing well, such as bankruptcy, litigation, and labor and employment law. Catzen-Brown believes the stimulus package will create legal work as there will be an increase in contracts and mortgage refinancings. She said the public field still has opportunities on the local level—in cities, counties, hospital districts, and water districts.

Panelists suggested that the economic downturn presents opportunities for people to explore their options, and encouraged those that are unemployed to utilize their skills by volunteering and writing for law publications. Miller, who has extensive hiring experience, said that while good grades are incredibly important, resumes should highlight activities that distinguish an applicant from his or her peers. Panelists also advised the audience that they should stretch outside of their comfort zones by networking and remaining open to different career paths.

"Don't be your own worst enemy by trying to narrowly define the parameters of what you think is the perfect job," Catzen-Brown said. "Really stretch...and start thinking about the long-term. If, for example, you have an interest in labor law perhaps you might consider going to the Department of Industrial Relations and get a job in their legal division, or as an administrative law judge hearing officer, and begin your career path in that direction. It's not quite as instant as walking into Nixon Peabody or Nossaman and becoming an employment lawyer, but it will give you good solid background as you move forward in your career."