You probably started feeling the “job pressure” during your last few months in law school. You worked very hard for three or four years tackling the rigors of the curriculum coupled with demanding assignments from tough professors. Then suddenly a future reality sets in: transitioning into a very competitive job market—one that’s in constant flux. This pressurized moment leads us to our first bit of advice:
Whether you’re a recent law school grad or a seasoned attorney, ALL job searches are stressful. You’ll experience a wide range of emotions including nervousness, feeling overwhelmed, intimidated, frustration, false hope, and unfortunately what may appear to be rejection. Why “appear to be?” Because not getting the position is usually not rejection but rather a negative outcome of a numbers game. The competition is fierce. If there are ten final applicants for one position, you don’t have nine losers, you have one person who landed the job. Move on and stay on track.
It’s also important to gauge your own stress level. You don’t want negativity to tiptoe into your personality or presentation. Hiring managers and potential employers—especially attorneys who by trade are good at reading people—can spot frustration and desperation in your demeanor. Again, stay calm, be cool, remain confident. The job search is tough enough. Don’t damage your own chances.
Connect & Network
Connecting and networking may seem obvious but both important actions can sometimes be unintentionally neglected. Building and maintaining successful relationships takes diligence and time but in the long run can offer big dividends.
For instance, make sure to stay connected with your law school’s career services office. Many alumni will seek candidates through their alma mater. A great position could be hiding in plain sight. As well, many of these offices offer career counseling with experienced counselors who not only know the marketplace and associated trends but may have an inside track on a position that hasn’t posted yet, giving you a head start. Remember the fierce competition: you will need any and every break you can get. Many of these counselors also offer help with resume writing and prepping for interviews.
Next, we cannot emphasize enough the importance of networking and the best place to start is with the “low-hanging fruit”—friends and acquaintances as well as professional connections already in your sphere. Without you knowing it, they may have a lead on a new position or an individual that could help open doors. Don’t be afraid to “shake the tree” and to continuously shake the tree for unexpected possibilities.
Networking also involves searching for new connections. This will undoubtedly expand your horizons. Check out online groups such as the American Bar Association’s Career Center or LinkedIn for attorneys or law firms (or hiring managers) in the specialty you believe fits your career goals—then try to connect these promising leads with your own connections or with the counselors in alumni career services for an introduction. People know other people in the industry and can usually be counted on to pay it forward.
Networking can also involve finding and attending industry functions and seminars—great professional settings to meet professional (soon to be) colleagues. And remember, go old school and have business cards at the ready.
The Bar Exam
Many positions in the legal field do not require passing the bar but most experts agree that passing this industry standard is probably the most important accomplishment you can achieve after graduation. Passing the bar will open up a world of opportunity. If you don’t simply walk into a position after graduation, this could be a great time to study for and pass the bar. Think of it as your full-time job until you secure your first position.
Some recent grads may have to be creative and think outside the usual lines since many of the more traditional career paths have narrowed considerably. Across the board law firms are simply not hiring “partner-track” associates as was popular for decades. Many legal employment experts believe that recently-graduated candidates should also consider JD Advantage positions—jobs outside the legal field where a law degree is either required or preferred. These roles include positions in corporate compliance, accounting firms, and consulting organizations. These “outside the box” endeavors could lead candidates to exciting new opportunities.
If the opportunity avails itself, volunteering at a legal clinic or joining a team of attorneys working on pro bono cases is not only a great way to build and sharpen your skills but also a constructive way to meet attorneys and network with professionals in the industry. The position will help bolster your resume—and if you make a strong impression it may lead to a job offer.
Write an Article
Or two! While you’re searching for work, you may have time to write short information articles or topic blogs for one of the many online legal outlets. Contact various publications, academic journals, or the various bar associations—they’re always looking for content. Again, getting your work published will help bolster your resume to potential employers.
Focus Your Job Search
It’s imperative that your job search strategy be a very targeted endeavor. Of course you need some flexibility but you don’t want to have the attitude that you’ll take any paying job that comes along.
Develop a plan that defines your objectives. Make detailed lists that include: potential firms or employers, your background qualifications and motivations for each firm and/or specialty, and why the firm or company is the right fit for your future goals. You don’t want to take shots in the dark. That’s why this type of precise and analytical approach will help you stay on your career track.
Work with a Great Recruiter
Partnering with an experienced legal placement firm can make all the difference in the world. An effective recruiter will have a superior knowledge of the marketplace as well as strong personal relationships with the firms and corporate legal departments searching for talented candidates. Legal recruiters should also rely on strong technology: data-driven strategies designed to underscore your personal proficiencies and talent—not a general strategy tailored for all-comers. An experienced recruiter is looking to find you a strong organizational fit. Keep in mind, many legal recruiters are playing a numbers game when looking for clients—they contact as many attorneys as possible and attempt to interest a few of them in positions that may (or may not be) the right fit for the candidate. This approach is arbitrary and depersonalized. It doesn’t have to be this way.
You also want to select a recruiter that’s “right for you”—use your instincts. Ask yourself: Do I feel comfortable with the personalities? Remember, the firm you select and work with should be a trusted and reliable asset to your career growth. Their communication with you should be proactive and transparent. Their work for you should have an impeccable attention to detail.
You want to partner with a recruiter who’s plugged-in and busy—speaking with firms, companies, and attorneys on a full-time basis; consulting on resumes; scheduling interviews and then helping candidates prepare for those interviews. You want a recruiter who is attending conferences and staying ahead of the curve on industry trends. You ultimately want a recruiter with vision—one who knows you, the marketplace, and how your career can take off and flourish in that marketplace.
Remember, the very best recruiters are great matchmakers.
Be persistent. Always remain flexible. Don’t be afraid to seek help. Be strategic. Have vision. And above all else, be honest with yourself—know your strengths.
Also, please check out our other job searching blogs here. We offer great advice on resume writing, legal interviewing skills, phone and Zoom interviewing skills, the legal job market and more.