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Recession Hits GC’s Bonuses

The recession has battered markets — and jobs — over the past couple of years. According to Corporate Counsel 's 2010 GC Compensation Survey, publicly traded companies saw their profitability hammered, and compensation tanked even for the top lawyers at major corporations. Big chunks of take-home pay — particularly those bonuses — took a beating. Discretionary bonuses dropped nearly 40 percent.
According to Corporate Counsel, the new world of compensation has less love for discretionary bonuses, and stock options, too — two components of GC pay that, prerecession, knew nothing but good time. That said, there has been a silver lining. Salary has been up 3.8 percent, and stock awards have been up 5.6 percent. These aren't huge increases, but in a world where flat is the new up, they helped hold the doom and gloom at bay, at least for now.

So what should we make of all this — bonuses hammered, but salaries and stock holding their own, and even getting an uptick? "The days of super excessive pay may be over," said one compensation expert. "But companies still need to incentivize and retain people. They'll come up with packages."

Why the huge drop in discretionary bonuses? A bad economy and increased visibility. Recent SEC rules, for example, require companies to go into detail on their proxy statements about how they calculate compensation for their top executives: What companies does it compare itself to? What information did it look at? A narrative of the process must be provided — a Story of the Pay. And discretionary bonuses are a story not all companies want to tell. Yet companies had to keep their top employees — a point that helps to explain the salary uptick: that 3.8 percent.

In the end, the economy may return back to the good old days, but the process for determining top executive pay likely won't. There will most likely be more rigor and oversight involved in determining executive pay. In the meantime, GC’s need not worry too much, companies will still look for ways to keep their top lawyers and provide healthy compensation – just structured differently.

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1,000 Applications and Zero Interviews – Why?

In a recent post by the ABA Journal, Laurie-Allen Shumaker a 60 year old unemployed lawyer with 23 years of experience, who was laid off in January 2009 from her position as a shopping center lawyer, claimed to have applied to over 1,000 jobs—landing exactly zero interviews.

"Interviews are like seeking unicorns," she tells the blog, even though status updates for two positions reported she was the best-qualified applicant. "It's hard not to rake through one's brain trying to figure out why. Is it my age or my gender holding me back?"

Could something else be holding Laurie-Allen back?

Yes, perhaps her age and gender could be affecting her chances of success, especially in a market where employers have a plethora of highly qualified candidates to choose from. They can be very selective, and not always in a non-discriminatory manner.

Also, she is in a practice area that has but all dried up, and is facing a very large candidate pool for very few positions. It’s a number’s game – and when the odds are against you, unless you have a personal connection to the company or firm doing the hiring, your chances can be very slim. Laurie-Allen could simply be in a more difficult position because of the type of experience she is selling in this marketplace.

Is that the whole story? Hardly.

When candidates hit the proverbial wall, they inevitably blame factors outside of their control to explain their lack of success. Rather than looking at the things they are doing during the course of their job search, candidates are quick to point the finger elsewhere. Laurie-Allen’s story contains some red flags that indicate that there could be more to it than just discrimination.

Could applying to 1,000+ jobs have actually hurt her chances?

Laurie-Allen claims to have applied to more than 1,000 jobs—including positions as a clerk and a day care worker. Clearly there were not 1,000 jobs that called for someone with her particular skills and experience. Candidates who shoot their resumes indiscriminately to all of the jobs they can find, hoping that something will stick, often find themselves in Laurie-Allen’s situation—without a job or an interview.


While playing the numbers game may seem like a fine idea; a job search is not like playing roulette in Las Vegas. You do not improve your odds by scattering your resume to the wind. Doing this not only looks desperate, but it does nothing to increase your chance of landing a job. If anything it could hurt you. The legal community is smaller than you think, and if you are caught papering your resume all over the place, you will be perceived as desperate, unfocused, and not the candidate one would want to hire. Legal employers want to hire candidates they perceive to be selective, highly sought-after, and who have something special and specific to offer them. They are looking to land a "star." If you devalue yourself by sending your resume to everyone claiming to be good for any job out there, you lose that intangible value employers are looking for.

Sending your legal resume all over town in the course of your job search will only set you up for more failure, and take you right off the path to success. It may be counter intuitive, but before starting to blindly send a resume around town, you have to start by assessing your skills, figure out what you have to offer, and what type of employer will be best served by hiring someone like you. In other words, you have to be open‐minded, but selective. If Laurie-Allen had targeted her search better, the odds are she would have improved her chances to land an interview.

What did her resume and cover letter look like?

When you know that there are factors working against you, such as the fact that you were laid off or in a practice area not in demand, it is even more important to have a resume and a cover letter that set you apart from the competition. How much time and effort was spent on these two documents is unknown, but chances are that they could have been improved.

Clearly, by applying indiscriminately to over 1,000 jobs, Laurie-Allen most likely sent the same resume and cover letter, over and over again. Most attorneys and law students applying to jobs typically write one version of the legal resume they send to numerous job openings. While this approach may work in some cases, having a one-size-fits-all legal resume is not the most effective way to conduct a job search.

A one-size-fits-all legal resume is like junk mail. They are not personalized and customized toward an employer’s needs. When you receive junk mail that does not address you by your name or your needs, what do you do? Probably toss it. Employers are no different. They receive resumes by the hundreds. As a result, they are looking for an excuse, any excuse, to reject the majority of the resumes they receive. An easy way for a legal resume to earn a one-way ticket to the rejection bin is lack of customization.

Candidates planning to apply to more than one position should draft a resume that is specifically customized to each position. Granted this takes more time than mass mailing the same resume over and over again, most employers can tell the difference between a form resume and a tailored resume. The true value of a legal resume resides in its specificity vis-à-vis the position. If you don’t tailor your legal resume to the position you are applying to, you will most likely obtain few positive responses from your resume, as in the case of Laurie-Allen.

While factors beyond her control could have contributed to her lack of interviews, there are things that Laurie-Allen could have done to improve her chances. It’s never too late to start again, by being more selective in her application process and re-focusing her energy on her resume and cover letter, she might still land that coveted interview.

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