Kathy and Laura will answer your questions about the legal job market in Asia.

Latest Question  December 2012

Questions: I am a “senior” associate (8 years) who has been laid off by my firm. The partners have told me that the lay-off is not performance related. When I interview for a new position, how do I answer the question, “…why did you leave your old firm…?”

Answer: Getting laid off can be a traumatic (embarrassing) experience and not a particularly enjoyable one to revisit in interview after interview. However, the way you handle this subject can make or break an opportunity to re-launch your career on another platform. Here are some tips to guide you in preparing a response to this inevitable question that will help you move on to your next job.

As a first step, you should be clear on your old firm’s reference policy as your new employer will check references as part of the hiring process.  This point should have been covered as part of the exit process.  But in the event it wasn’t, you will need to cover it prior to going on any interviews to make sure that you understand the process.  Most importantly, you need to nail down that your version of the events is consistent with what the firm has committed to say to a prospective employer.  For example, if you are going to tell potential employers that you were laid off because the firm could not offer you an opportunity for partnership, then you had better be certain that your reference is willing to say that the reason for your departure was related to the fact that currently associates are not being elected into the partnership.  Remember, the firm may also be in an embarrassing position because cutting the associate ranks likely means that the firm is feeling the effects of the recession and is unable to predict when business will again justify promoting associates.  Given this sensitivity, your need to understand what the partner(s) who is giving the reference is willing to say on your behalf and work with it.

No matter how sensitive you are to how the events unfolded, the golden rule is not to bad mouth your past employer.  This is just unprofessional and could make your interviewer suspect about why you were laid off.  Focus on the positive aspects of your former role, such as the great experience you gained that you are now able to offer the new firm.

The job interview is one place where honesty is the best policy.  And you can be truthful without volunteering a lot of unsolicited detail.  Remember the legal world is very small and you never know who knows who.  Informal reference checking goes on all the time.  Just remember that lies often come back to haunt you and you should carefully consider the possible consequences of any misstatements  as you craft your story.

Don’t weave a complicated story.  You may still be feeling a little wounded from the layoff, but this is the time to shake off that sensitivity and avoid getting mired down in unnecessary details.  Your answer should be brief and to the point.  Focus more on your achievements and why this potential new employer offers what you are seeking.

Whatever you decide to say, be sure to practice in advance and know the answer to this question backwards and forwards.  Your answer should be credible, succinct and end on a positive note.  It might be the non-existent partnership track, a lack of challenges, a desire to face new challenge.  Just be sure, to practice your answer, keep it short and consistent, and move on to what you have to offer to this new employer.

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Article 1
Is the Grass Really Greener?
Switching from Law Firm to Financial Institution

Article 2
The Year of the Junior Partner

Interview Tips

Effective Video Conferencing

Dressing for an Interview

Interview Tips


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