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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

July 29, 2016
Question

My company was acquired and I made good money, but I’m anxious about sitting on the sidelines. Don’t I need another job right away in order to remain marketable?

answer
Julie Q. Brush

When it comes to taking time off, lawyers are the most nervous of Nellies. Trained for risk aversion, many lawyers view being “unemployed” (by choice or not) as the ultimate career risk. And many lose sleep….and hair over the notion of standing in the unemployment line for eternity.

Let’s look at a few of your facts: (1) You’ve just made “decent” of money; (2) You are anxious about not having a job…because you’ve always worked and have known nothing different; and (3) Because of that, you feel you have to find another job right away.

The driver that’s creating your anxiety and pushing you to find another job right away is…Fear.

But fear of what?

  • Fear that being unemployed for a longer period of time will put you at a disadvantage when looking for another job
  • Fear that the longer you are unemployed, the more you are unemployable
  • Fear that you’ll become disconnected and forgotten
  • Fear that the break will “look bad” on your resume
  • Fear that you miss out on a good opportunity
  • Fear that you will run out of money
  • Fear that you won’t know what to do with yourself during your time off
  • Fear that you’ll like the time off too much
  • Fear you won’t know what to say in an interview when asked about the work gap

In today’s market, lawyers are more mobile than ever and employment gaps are more frequent. As a result, employers have become more socialized around these types of work histories. So what is acceptable and what is not for lawyers has evolved.

The market reality is that you have 12-18 months to be unemployed before people start asking more heated questions. And even then, it won’t mean the end of the world. In addition, the market has picked up considerably for in house lawyers since 2009. So barring any future global economic meltdown, opportunities (both private and public company) will continue to present themselves when you are ready to engage in a proactive search. In addition, having a strong financial outcome from your company’s last exit will give you some financial breathing room. As for how to articulate the gap in an interview, below is some messaging:

“My company was acquired in 2016 and I was very fortunate to have received a meaningful financial benefit. Since graduating law school, I have always been employed and have worked extremely hard. I saw the acquisition as the perfect opportunity to take some time off, decompress and do many of the things I didn’t have time for in the past. And it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made. I am rested, relaxed and very enthusiastic about this next chapter in my career – and am ready to get started.”

This company “exit”, while creating career stress for you now is actually a gift. So shed the fear and capitalize on this window of opportunity to do something you’ve wanted to do, but never had the time: travel, learn how to cook, spend more time with family, volunteer, teach, write a book or get in shape. If you are still anxious, set a date to refocus on your search so that you know you have a plan.

Now kick back for a spell and hang loose. You’ve earned it.

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