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How to bounce back from unemployment

Written by: Ruth Fenton
Published on: 1 Dec 2015

Becoming unemployed for whatever reason has a roller-coaster of emotions attached to it.

Everyone experiences it differently depending on their personal circumstances. Unless you have been there yourself, it’s often very difficult to understand what the person is going through. Common emotions include: anger, frustration, desperation, depression, despair, sadness, grief, hope, excitement, hopelessness, helplessness and jealously. Self-esteem and confidence, especially in women, often falls to an all-time low.

For some people it gets overwhelming and they turn to drink, drugs or leave the profession.

Here’s Lucy’s story. Lucy was made redundant from a top London law firm. She was working in her perfect job and suddenly it was all over. The firm she loved cast her out with no support. This was during the recession, and she joined the ranks of hundreds of other talented unemployed legal professionals desperate to pay their mortgages and get back into work. She applied for hundreds of jobs, signed up with recruitment agents, went to networking events, cold called partners, spoke to contacts, got a mentor, attended conferences, applied overseas, did volunteer work, applied for both in house and more junior positions but was unsuccessful. She got very depressed and disheartened.

Ruth Fenton
Ruth Fenton
The disappointment and anxiety was made worse by firms not even acknowledging application forms she that had spent hours writing. Firms did not honour their commitment to diversity by offering guaranteed interviews. One recruiter told her that he was only putting forward British candidates. Agents advertised jobs which did not exist, just to get new talent on their books.

Lucy hit rock bottom and ended up calling LawCare a help line for legal professions in need of support. LawCare was very supportive and reassured her she was doing all the right things to get back into work.

Here’s what helped Lucy:   

Reframe the situation. Redundancies normally happen for two reasons; The first: an unforeseeable downturn in work. The second: poor management of people and resources. Either way, it’s not normally personal or a reflection on the person’s skills and talents. Switching your outlook from ’What’s wrong with me?’ to ’This is an amazing new opportunity to work somewhere which appreciates me and my talents,’ provides you with the motivation and positive outlook which recruiters will pick up on.
Being made redundant does have positives once you put to one side the need to earn immediately money. This is your opportunity to take a step back and think big, get rid of all the things in your life which are holding you back, do something you are truly passionate about, help others less fortunate and decide how you can make a difference to the world. The Law Society Book Career Planning for Solicitors offers great advice and a section on how to create and land your dream job.    
Be mindful with whom you surround yourself. Negative, doom-and-gloom people will bring you down to their level, which will not help you. Conversely, surrounding yourself with positive people will lift your spirits and give you the confidence and push you need. Reach out to ex-colleagues and contacts. Find someone successful who you admire and ask them if they will mentor you.
Apply directly to law firms and speak to partners who you would like to work for. Create a business case to show the value you will bring to their firm. Law firms are looking for people with initiative who will bring in clients and add value to their team.
Career coaches can help you rekindle your confidence, energise you and help you decide what direction you want to head in.
Volunteering is very rewarding. Charities like LawWorks provide pro bono advice to individuals. This also allows you to keep your legal skills up to date while you are looking.
Have a support network to bounce ideas off. LawCare and your GP can offer support too.  
Remember the amazing, talented, dedicated person you are and how you have helped so many people. The right job for you will appear, but it may be when you least expect it. As for Lucy, a great US law firm headhunted her 18 months later, offering her dream job! Follow your passion to be successful.  

Ruth Fenton is a solicitor, executive leadership coach and communications expert who specialises in helping junior and mid-level lawyers excel in their careers.