Thursday, September 29, 2011

Study concludes networking is key to finding job for unemployed attorneys

Nothing earth-shattering about that; everyone knows that many jobs are filled by word-of-mouth before an ad is even published. But this study by an Emory business professor adds empirical support regarding the importance of pressing the flesh during a tough economy. From the National Law Journal:

Six major law firms closed their doors in 2008 and 2009, forcing more than 1,400 attorneys into the job market during tough financial times.

The vast majority of those attorneys have since landed new jobs, according to a study by Emory University business professor Christopher Rider. He tracked the employment of 1,426 attorneys left jobless by the dissolutions of Heller Ehrman; Thelen; Thacher Proffitt Wood; WolfBlock; Dreier; and Morgan & Finnegan. By reviewing resources including LinkedIn, Martindale-Hubbell and other online directories, Rider confirmed that 88% found jobs.

Those attorneys landed at 400 different organizations, but 65% went to firms on the NLJ 250 — The National Law Journal's list of the 250 largest law firms in the United States according to attorney headcount.

Rider studies networking, and originally planned to track the employment moves of bankers who lost their jobs when Lehman Brothers failed in 2008. That project was not feasible, he found.

"There were just too many people," Rider said. "When Heller went down a few months later, I thought, ‘This would be a good group to follow.' We often don't know why people leave their jobs, but when a firm fails, everyone leaves at the same time and we don't have to speculate as to why."

For his paper, entitled "Networks, Hiring, and Inter-organizational Mobility: Evidence from Law Firm Dissolutions," Rider performed a statistical analysis of the employment data he compiled. He wanted to gauge the effects of alumni and co-worker networks on the ability to land a new job.

Rider concluded that the presence of law school alumni and former co-workers at a prospective employer helped jobseekers, but lawyers who move with a large number of their former co-workers saw the biggest benefits.

"The results of this study indicate that prior education and employment network contacts do indeed facilitate employee-employer matching but that only contacts made during prior employment experiences are likely to help individuals attain positions of greater intraprofessional status," he wrote.

In other words, lawyers who moved to new firms in groups were "more likely to experience upward status mobility" than those who didn't. Rider attributed that to the fact that lawyers who have worked together before bring complementary skills.

To Rider's surprise, his analysis found that alumni networks were more important for senior attorneys than for associates. That might be a result of associates depending on partners to bring them along to a new firm, rather than finding new employment on their own, he said.

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