By Erika Stallings • March 30, 2020•Writers in Residence
Back in December when I was envisioning what this column would look like I had envisioned that the March column would likely focus on how to succeed during a summer internship or an interview with a woman working in entertainment law. But the world has changed a lot since December. Most of the country is under shelter in place orders due to the coronavirus epidemic. Entertainment companies, particularly in the live music or events sector, have been heavily impacted. Firms are reconsidering timing for on campus interviews. Given the uncertainty that we’re all facing, I decided to re-focus this month’s column on how to navigate your legal career in times of uncertainty or career turbulence.
I distinctly remember where I was when I heard that Lehman Brothers had filed for bankruptcy as a result of the 2008 financial crisis. I was sitting in a hotel room in Los Angeles preparing to interview for a summer associate role at a firm with a well regarded entertainment finance practice. The news marked a dividing line during my job hunt for a summer associate role. I got offers at a majority of places I interviewed prior to the announcement and none at the firms I interviewed post-Lehman collapse.
I managed to secure a summer internship position and eventually a full time role at Proskauer Rose LLP but due to the lingering impact of the financial crisis, my start date was delayed from November 2010 to January 2012. It was definitely not how I had envisioned my legal career starting when I borrowed six figures worth of loans.
Although I always think my career could be better (a characteristic I think is typical of high achieving women), I have managed to have a successful entertainment law career despite my inauspicious beginnings. The biggest lesson I’ve taken away is that your career is not a ladder. Instead it’s a jungle gym. You will sometimes go sideways or even down but this is OK. Below is some of the advice that has been beneficial to me as I’ve navigated my career when dealing with forces beyond my control.
1. Ask for Help: This was a lesson I didn’t learn until midway through my career. I assumed that I had to figure things out of my own and that reaching out to my network for advice or a job lead would be too burdensome. This is incorrect. If someone is in your network they are invested in you and want you to succeed. If you’re a 1L or 2L who is still looking for a summer position or a 3L looking for full time employment after graduation, send an email to your network with some specific asks (i.e. introduction to someone at a company you’re interested in, asking someone to review your resume, etc). I find that specific requests get better results. People want to help but are also busy and if you give them a concrete task, it’s easier for them to mobilize on your behalf.
It also helps you stay top of mind. For example I am often forwarded job postings in the entertainment law field. When I have information about what a mentee or contact is looking for, it helps me to better make those connections.
2. Help People: Before everything was shut down due to coronavirus I was supposed to speak at the American Bar Association Entertainment & Sports Law conference scheduled to take place in mid-April 2020. I was invited to speak because I had assisted the attorney organizing the conference with a minor issue for one of his clients last fall and therefore I was top of mind when he was thinking about speakers who could discuss music royalties.
Many of my best career opportunities (for both jobs or speaking opportunities) have arisen from someone that I’ve helped in the past. Even as a law student, there are ways to assist older attorneys in your network, whether that’s inviting them to a networking event, inviting them to speak at your law school (attorneys love speaking opportunities) or forwarding articles that might be of interest.
3. Make Sure You’re Engaging in “Good Networking”: You’ve probably heard from your career services a million times about the importance of networking. But people often don’t discuss how to network effectively.
Since joining BMI, I usually get an email once every week or so from a law student asking if I can meet for a phone call to discuss my career path. 99% of the time I say yes. The law students that stand out to me are the ones who come prepared with questions and who I can tell have done some research about me online prior to the meeting. When I see those things, I’m immediately trying to figure out how I can help that student. In contrast, when there’s no agenda to the meeting or people are late (without giving a heads up), I still take the meeting but I’m less invested in trying to help that person. So you should continue to network during the shutdown (via Zoom, Skype or other virtual tools) but make sure you know what you want to get from the meeting before you reach out.
Additionally, following up is key. If you connect with someone through an informational interview, consider checking in quarterly. It can be as simple as sending a brief check in about how your semester is wrapping up. It’s another tool that helps you stay top of mind when opportunities arise.
I hope that by the time I publish my April column, there will be a better sense of when the shutdown will end and a path forward. In the interim, I hope everyone is staying safe and sane and remember, the only constant thing is change.