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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

August 1, 2016

I’m a litigator and am interviewing for an in-house commercial position. How do I best sell myself so I can get the job?

Julie Q. Brush

It isn’t easy for a pure litigator to sell him/herself as a commercial transaction lawyer. So if you are applying for a role that seeks transaction experience, there will be some hurdles. It can be a bit easier; however if the commercial aspect of the role is less prevalent than the litigation responsibilities – as employers may be more flexible on the deep transaction experience requirement. Regardless of which you encounter, below are a few suggestions of how to sell yourself more effectively.

When applying for a role that asks for transactions experience, never hide the fact with a slight-of-hand on the resume or your messaging…that you are a litigator. You won’t fool anybody and will reinforce to an employer that you think of your own background as a round peg in a square hole. Instead, do your homework and articulate how your great litigation experience provides you with the skill set that will add value on the commercial side – and to the employer as a whole.

There are other qualities to emphasize as well. “Softer” qualities that are important to employers – giving them confidence you will be the best hire regardless of your lack of deep commercial experience. For example, when addressing your qualifications in a cover letter or in an interview setting, articulate how your litigation experience provides you with a unique perspective and competitive advantage when it comes to drafting agreements: As a litigator, you often review contracts that are subject to close scrutiny – and know where the common weak points exist in commercial agreements. These weak points are almost always the basis for disputes. So this expertise provides you with a vantage point and type of targeted experience that a pure transaction lawyer may not possess – and will enable you to draft agreements that are more comprehensive and more effective for the company.

In addition, having a great work ethic is a quality every employer seeks. So include this as something you bring to the table as well. Your background as a litigator has demanded a strong work ethic so you’ve had to be organized, client-oriented and hard working in order to succeed in your current role. It’s this same work ethic that will enable you to hit the ground running and tackle any learning curves you may encounter in the role. Your strong work ethic is part of your core values and one you would bring as contributing team member.

Finally, a potential objection to your candidacy may include that your learning curve on the commercial side will be steep. Too steep. So address this potential objection upfront. Acknowledge that there would be some runway required to get up to speed, but you have the demonstrated ability of mastering a learning curve quickly (then provide relevant examples). Furthermore, there is a learning curve for any new employee coming into a new role regardless of expertise. The key is to assess which candidate has the experience and skills to make the smoothest transition. And this is where you excel (reiterate examples).

Addressing any deficiency or objection effectively requires a candidate to hit these issues head on – by acknowledging a potential concern and articulating how his/her current substantive and soft skills can add value. Some hurdles will be easier to overcome than others. So it’s important to know how your specific background and qualities can be called on to present the most effective case. As a litigator, you come well equipped with the art of persuasion to advocate and overcome objections. So do your homework, have a clear message and get ready to channel your inner Perry Mason to make your argument.

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