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How to survive this recession

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An economy gone sour and law firms not hiring summer associates are familiar concerns for law students now, but these issues also affected lawyers who faced a recession when they graduated from law school in the early 1990s.

Since then, the economy has had peaks and valleys. So how can new lawyers and law students about to graduate learn from those who've gone on to succeed after a rocky start?

Attorneys interviewed for this article agreed the main thing is that those seeking jobs should be aware of their approach. That doesn't necessarily mean sending a resume to 100 different potential employers, but it does mean that effort is needed and finding a job is a job in itself.

"It's about sincerity," said Leslie Craig Henderzahs, a partner with Church Church Hittle & Antrim in Noblesville. "If someone gives their resume to someone else and expects to get a job the next day without spending time getting to know the other person, taking the time to find a common interest, it's not going to happen."

Henderzahs, who graduated from Indiana University School of Law - Indianapolis in 1990, said she's always happy to meet with young attorneys and law students looking for work.

She suggested job seekers not only call attorneys at firms where they want to work, but to do their homework. It doesn't take a lot of extra time or effort to look at a firm's Web site before meeting with someone from that firm, she said, but it can make a difference.

She has only had two jobs; the first was a judicial clerkship and the second is with the firm she's at now. The judge she worked for told her she got the highly competitive job because on the day of her interview she spoke about the job with a clerk already in the position.

Even though her academic record might not have been as good as her competition, she said, she was the only one to take that extra step.

Another tactic when looking for a job is keeping an open mind about where the job is, said Cindy Dean, a staff attorney for Child Advocates in Indianapolis.

Dean, a classmate of Henderzahs, said her job search was frustrating. She said she didn't have a clear plan of what kind of job she'd have right after law school. She graduated and passed the bar in May 1990, but she didn't get her first legal job until December 1990, when she started working for the United Auto Workers.

"It was disheartening not to have a job," she said. "I had to ask for a deferral on my student loans."

She was also willing to commute. For her first job, she traveled from Anderson to Marion; for another job she traveled from Indianapolis to Kokomo.

She eventually got a job in Indianapolis with the Indiana Gaming Commission, where she worked for eight years. She then took time off to raise her family. When she decided to start working again, she volunteered for Child Advocates in Indianapolis for eight or nine months before they hired her full time. She's been with Child Advocates since 2006.

Another attorney who didn't find a job in his ideal location was John Papageorge, who graduated from Valparaiso University School of Law in 1992. He now works for Taft Stettinius&Hollister, which was Sommer Barnard when he started about 10 years ago. But right out of school, his goal was to work for a firm of 30-40 lawyers in Indianapolis.

Instead, he ended up working for a small firm in Franklin because "it was close enough."

While he didn't think it was his ideal job at the time, he did get trial experience right away - something not likely to happen in a larger firm. He said while his current practice doing civil litigation isn't exactly like the criminal cases he handled as a young associate, he was able to learn things like time management and organizational skills at his first job.

"It may not be an ideal job, but treat it as if it's the job you'll have rest of your life. Work hard at it. Keep contacts, stay in touch with people," he said. "It took me a few jobs to get where I am, and this place is great and has been good to me."

He encourages attorneys to be mindful of how their work ethic appears to opposing counsel, because interactions with opposing counsel could also help or hurt when it comes to future job opportunities.

An attorney who used his hometown to his advantage was Tory Prasco, a 1993 graduate of Valparaiso University School of Law and an attorney with Burke Costanza & Cuppy in Merrillville.

Originally from northwest Indiana, Prasco was able to contact people he knew through connections in his hometown to get a job there. He said it was also helpful that he worked for a couple years for Arthur Andersen in Chicago as an accountant between his undergraduate days and law school.

Yet the economy still affected his job search prior to getting a full-time job. Prasco clerked for a firm after his first and second years of law school. He and his fellow summer associates expected a job offer, but none of them got one. He also recalled fewer on-campus interviews than he expected.

"We were all a little surprised," he said, "but ... I wrote letters to all of the business lawyers in northwest Indiana and had a few interviews that way."

His persistence paid off. By Thanksgiving before he graduated, he had a job lined up.

"I was probably one of the luckier ones," he said.

Sometimes the first job is also the one that will help in unexpected ways.

Tim Robinson, who graduated from I.U. School of Law - Indianapolis in 1990, started his legal career with the Marion County Prosecutor's Office. He wanted to work in business, but took the job with the prosecutor because his student loan payments were looming, not to mention other bills. He also waited tables for extra income.

After seven or eight months working for the prosecutor, he learned about a job at Indiana National Bank - from someone he served as a waiter. The bank was looking for someone with five to eight years of experience, including litigation experience.

Robinson played up his litigation experience with the prosecutor's office and that he was less expensive than someone starting with five to eight years of experience. He got the job.

He stayed with the bank until May 1997, when he took a job with Irwin Union Bank & Trust Co. where he worked until recently. He is now an investment advisor for the Private Client Group at PNC Bank.

Christine Corral, executive director of the Career Planning Center at Valparaiso University School of Law, has suggested many of the same ideas for current students and recent graduates looking for work.

She added students should consider getting involved with local bar associations. The school has also partnered with bar associations in northwest Indiana, including the minority bars there, to help students network.

She also suggested continuing legal education sessions as a way to network while sharpening one's legal skills.

She said students are used to immediate satisfaction, so if they don't hear back right away they get frustrated.

However, it's ultimately up to the job seeker to do the work, and she's surprised more students aren't doing more.

"All of that is time consuming, but the handful of students who are doing that are seeing success," she said.

And to handle the emotional stress?

"It can be difficult, but you're not alone," Dean said, suggesting those looking for work to look at it as "more of an economic problem than a personal problem."

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