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Lawyers have traditionally been reluctant to take up contract positions in the past, but in a downturn, this option can provide a foot in the door and lead to further opportunities, writes Mark…

Lawyers have traditionally been reluctant to take up contract positions in the past, but in a downturn, this option can provide a foot in the door and lead to further opportunities, writes Mark Harrison

The current financial crisis has seen an Australian-wide proliferation of headcount freezes, restructurings, redundancies and risk-averse recruitment strategies. The legal job market has significantly contracted and many private practice, in-house and government lawyers are feeling the effects. Recent forecasts grimly point to these trends persisting for at least the remainder of 2009.

Nevertheless, the silver lining to this miserable cloud hanging over the legal industry is that more employers are now looking to utilise contractors in their organisations.

Contracting provides numerous benefits to employers in a recessionary environment - including the ability to circumvent headcount freezes, tailor workforces to workloads, minimise the risk of poor recruitment by "trialling" potential employees and increased flexibility surrounding work hours and pay grades. Contracting is also cost-effective, because it is cheaper than secondments and more easily terminable than permanent employment.

Traditionally, many lawyers have been reluctant to accept contracting roles. This is now changing. Pragmatic lawyers who are recently unemployed or returning from overseas are jumping at the opportunities presenting themselves. The emerging view is that contracting is a positive opportunity to keep oneself in the market and a great foot in the door which can lead to further possibilities.

Even safely entrenched lawyers are considering those contracting roles which will allow them to take that next step in their career. Other lawyers, looking to change direction in their career, are finding employers more willing to take a chance on them when a contract is involved.

When it comes to contracting, the most successful candidates are those who tailor their CV to the specific role, are flexible regarding salary and hours worked and who can plausibly justify their interest in the role and their intention to fulfill the duration of a fixed-term contract. The resulting success stories are numerous. For a lawyer with a pragmatic approach in this recessionary environment, contracting may just be the next step to advancing their career in the right direction.

Mark Harrison is a consultant at Hudson Legal.

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