One of the more interesting things to me is when people come out of law school and have a difficult time getting a job. This is intriguing because of the following facts:
You worked hard to get into law school.
You worked hard during law school.
You spent a lot of money on law school.
You have bills to pay.
The entire point of attending law school was to get a job.
Sometimes it is not easy to see the forest through the trees. When I think about people coming out of law school and struggling to get jobs, it is upsetting to me because the person could usually get an associate attorney job if they did the right thing.
You may end up working in a fast food restaurant (I’ve seen this happen).
You may end up spending the rest of your career doing something that has nothing to do with practicing law (I’ve seen this happen more times than I can count).
You may end up underemployed in a legal job that does not allow you to use your skills.
You may end up working for a bad law firm who will hire you only because you are “cheap.” You will then be expendable and will lose your job in short order.
I’m going to tell you what you need to do. Please listen to me. I’ve seen so many people fail, and I don’t want you to be one of them.
1. Apply to Every Job Opening You Can
Getting a job as an attorney is what law school and everything you have ever done to get there is all about. You can talk all you want about the value of education, but the real value is that it can get you a job.
One of the more insane and interesting things I have seen in my career are people who “hold back” when looking for a job. They may be lazy and apply to one place or another, but they don’t apply to many positions. They may be idealistic and want a “lifestyle firm.” They may be against applying for government positions, so they pass those opportunities up.
You need to apply to every single job opening there is. That is all there is to it. Just think about it mathematically. The more opportunities you apply to, the more likely you are to get a job offer. The more job offers you get the better off you will be. This is not a time to be selective. If you are graduating from law school and do not have a job lined up, you are in crisis. Apply everywhere you possibly can and use every resource you possibly can.
LawCrossing researches all of the job openings in the market and puts them all on its site. It is a very good resource. The small cost you pay for accessing this research will reward you many, many times over when you get a position.
2. Be Very Flexible Geographically
I am from Detroit. When I was interviewing with firms when I was in law school, it was not a fun experience. The firms in Detroit were shrinking, and the attorneys working in them were not very enthusiastic. In contrast, when I interviewed with law firms in California and New York, they were growing. You need to go where the jobs are.
Years ago, I was counseling an attorney who was attending a lower-tier law school in Florida I had never heard of. She was getting an LLM in education law. She could not find a job in Florida; however, when she did a targeted mailing using the company, Legal Authority, to law firms around the country, she received countless interviews and offers. Simply being flexible about where she wanted to work made a huge difference. The woman went from depressed and down on her luck to feeling like a superstar. It was all about geography.
Every attorney is marketable somewhere. I received a call a few years ago from an attorney working in a small town in the middle of the desert in California. He wanted to retire and was hoping he could hire and train a young attorney to take over his practice. I sat down and contacted thousands of new graduates of law schools who were unemployed. None of them were interested in the job. They would rather be unemployed than move to a small town.
The person who ultimately took the job was a hungry, young attorney from a mid-sized law firm who realized that this job was an opportunity (he was getting hundreds of clients, a good salary, the respect of being the only attorney in the area, and the opportunity to be a leader in city government). The people who are geographically flexible usually succeed.
You need to look at other areas. Just because you are not getting traction where you are does not mean you are not marketable. While living near the ocean or in a popular city may be reasons to work in a certain place, the fact of the matter is that wherever you end up you will be spending the majority of your time behind a desk. Most offices and computer monitors look quite similar. The most important thing you can do to improve your marketability is to get a job and more experience.
3. Be Enthusiastic and Make People Feel Important
One of the problems with recent law graduates is that they are opinionated and often overly idealistic.
Some may have heard negative stories about law firms and go into interviews with negative perceptions. Others may not be excited to interview with a small law firm. They only want to work for a huge prestigious law firm.
Regardless of any preconceived notions you may have, it is important that you are enthusiastic in all of your interviews and make people feel like you really want the job. The best jobs generally go to the people who want them the most.
I once knew an attorney in a very niche practice area who lost a $170,000 a year job with a major law firm. To my astonishment, she went to interview with an “insurance defense mill” firm in Los Angeles that offered her a job for $45,000 per year and told her that 2,400 hours of billable time was the minimum they expected.
“Wow, that must have been a tough interview,” I told her after she called me reporting this.
She was “up” and “chipper” and matter of factly told me she was positive she would get the job.
“I need a job. This is my only opportunity right now. I am sure I got the job. I did great in the interview.”
“What did you do?” I asked her.
“I imagined the job was going to pay a million dollars a year. I treated everyone the very best I could and was as confident and poised as I could be.”
The woman got the job. It ended up being an even better job than the one she lost. This is what good attorneys do. They do their best in every situation. You want to get a job offer from every job you interview for.
Here are some helpful tips about interviewing:
Off-the-Record Interview Tips from Law Firm Interviewers
4. You Need to Network and Talk to Everyone You Possibly Can
Networking is extremely important. People love to help people who know someone they know.
I run a small law office. Right now I have a woman working there who was referred by a guy who helped me with a real estate matter a few years ago. I hire and find people through referrals all the time. In fact, there are many people working in our company that came through referrals.
Here are a few articles I have done in the past about referrals:
Informal Networks and Referrals
Getting Referrals from Powerful People (We All Know Someone)
Here is how one attorney got his first job:
I ran into an associate dean during the second semester of my 2nd year at an event and she asked what I was doing for the summer. I said I didn’t have a job lined up, and she said she knew a place. When she gave me the info, I asked if I should call to set up an interview, and she said no, just go there on the starting date and they would find a place for me, which they did, and then they hired me full-time when I graduated.
Here is how another attorney got his first job:
I was networking with a local technology association. There was an IP lawyer who gave me a tip on a job. I was studying for the bar exam and decided to just go interview. They contacted me a couple days later and said I got the job. I love it. I work for the county and get great benefits, and I get to go home at 5 PM every day.
My dad met a partner at a mid-sized firm through his work, told him I was a 2L, and asked if I could send him my resume. I sent it in and got an interview back home (across the country).
Turns out, my best friend that I met across the country grew up next door to the other founding partner who conducted the interview. When I told him, he smiled, asked how my friend was doing, chit-chatted for 10 minutes, and offered me a summer job.
I killed it that summer, worked hard, impressed people, and got my offer to come back to work after graduation.
If you are unemployed and looking for a job, it is no time to be quiet. You should get out there and let everyone know you need a job. Every person you speak to could know of an opportunity and become your advocate.
5. Use Career Services and Other Resources at Your Disposal to Get a Job
When I was in college, I wrote a book about the horrible discrimination that African Americans had historically received in the city of Detroit. I was very passionate about this topic and even was invited to lecture in various classes at my school about it. I spent my summers living in one of the worst neighborhoods in Detroit doing research.
I also was interviewing with places like Goldman Sachs and other big banks when I was a senior in college. While my peers were going into interviews ready for business, I was eager to lecture about acute discrimination African Americans had received at the hands of large corporations and racist whites.
None of this went over well in interviews with white bankers. I spent an hour or so learning how to interview with the Career Services Offices and turned everything around quite rapidly. I needed to learn the rules of interviewing, including: not talking too much, showing interest in the position, and keeping my opinions in check.
Career Services Offices have massive resources that can teach you how to interview and give you tips on things you are doing wrong. They may also have jobs they can provide you with.
A few years ago, I called the Career Services Office at UCLA Law School and told them I was interested in hiring a recent law school graduate. They had several to refer me, but recommended I hire one girl in particular because she seemed to be very eager for a job. She had been hanging out at the Career Services Office, doing research, contacting employers and asking for advice. They put her at the top of the list because she was showing the most effort.
6. Get Yourself Together
I hate to be blunt, but I am just going to share the truth with you.
A few years ago I was interviewing attorneys for a position in my office. At the suggestion of an older I attorney I knew, I agreed to interview his niece. I interviewed her as a courtesy and did not even see her resume until she showed up for the interview. She was a former international model who had recently graduated from Pepperdine Law School. She was tall, thin, well dressed, very well spoken, had average grades and did not strike me as someone who was primed for success in the practice of law.
A few weeks after interviewing her, I called her to tell her I had hired someone else for the position. To my astonishment, she had received several offers from large law firms in Los Angeles. I could not believe it and, a few months later, did a search for her name on Google and saw she had gotten a job with the Los Angeles office of a large national law firm. The law firm was of very high caliber.
What does this mean?
I am not telling you that you need to be a “cover girl” to get a job. What I am saying, though, is you need to put yourself together and look good for interviews. Please see my discussion of interview dress here:
What is Appropriate Dress for an Interview?
Getting a legal job is one of the most important events of your life. It is right up there with starting a family. You want to look and feel your absolute best. You should be fit. You should look the best you can. You should be healthy.
The important point is that you want to look and feel your absolute best. This goes for men and women.
When I graduated from law school in the mid-1990s, probably the hottest law firm in Los Angeles was Latham & Watkins. I went to interview at the firm in the summer before completing my clerkship, and the day I did, there was an event for the summer associates that I was also invited to. I thought I was on the set of “Melrose Place.” The entire staff looked like they could be models. They were healthy, enthusiastic, and well put together. The law firm was hiring people like this because that was part of their image. You need to prepare for your interviews by being healthy and looking the best you can.
7. Mail out Your Resume
The most effective way to get your first legal job is to mail out your resume to potential employers. You ignore this advice at your own peril. This works.
Without getting into a lot of detail, (which you can get from the above references), the reasons this is effective are numerous:
People hardly ever mail their resumes now
People like receiving mail
People respect you for making an effort
People may realize they have an opportunity you are a good fit for once receiving your resume
You are able to “prod” people with openings to take action when they may not have advertised them yet
People may bring you in because you went to the same school, live in the same neighborhood or some other similarity
Mail is read, while emails are often deleted
It is marketing
The point is that this works, and it works well. There are detractors out there who may have negative things to say about this method of looking for a job. There is nothing negative about this. It is powerful and can give you incredible results.
Here are some quotes from people about how they got their first legal job:
I got the list of members of the local criminal lawyers professional association from their website. I started at “A” and mailed resumes to everyone on the list. I got to “H” and got a job. I worked at the firm for three years and am now running my own practice.
I moved to a new place for my wife, so I started from scratch. I had no luck applying for jobs, so I sent letters to every firm around asking if they needed contract work. I got into a work-for-space agreement with one firm and did contract work for a couple attorneys for another six months or so. I got a ton of experience but barely made enough to live.
After that, I started applying to jobs again. I found the one I have now in the newspaper. I used a brief I did as a contract attorney and used the attorneys I had done work for as references. Now, here I am!
You should be pro-actively contacting every employer you can when you are looking for a job.
8. Adopt an Enthusiastic Mindset
Getting the best job is a psychological exercise as much as anything. You need to be enthusiastic and not allow yourself to see obstacles or get psyched out. This is not a time to see reasons why you won’t succeed. It is a time to charge forward without recognizing your own limitations.
See Opportunities Where Others See Obstacles
Living in Los Angeles, I have watched many people in the entertainment industry succeed. I have seen some of the nuttiest things.
I once knew a guy who was living in a $300 per month apartment in a bad neighborhood right next to Los Angeles International Airport. He had gone to high school with me, and I felt really sorry for him. He kept talking about how he was going to make a movie, and I thought he was insane. He had been living like this for years and could barely afford to eat.
I remember telling him he needed to get a job. It was as if he didn’t even hear me. He nodded and went about his business. Deep down he knew he was going to be successful no matter what.
To my astonishment, he sold a screenplay for close to $1 million, started going around with the “Hollywood elite,” and his entire life changed. He believed in himself and what he could accomplish.
I’ve seen numerous examples of this sort of thing among actors, attorneys and others. You need to constantly keep your dream alive and not give up. Your dream is the fuel you need to keep going.
Do not associate with people who tell you what is impossible. Do not listen to people who discourage you. Your mindset is the number one thing that will make you successful.
9. Remember: Your Job is to be a Soldier
Many people go to law school because they hear about the amazing salaries that new attorneys can get. The sad truth is that very few attorneys will make these salaries when they graduate. Just like the best football players command the highest salaries, so do the attorneys with the best credentials and interviewing skills. If you are not part of that group yet, just remember that this is a long race, and you can still get there.
Top 10 Ways Attorneys Can Move to a Better Law Firm and Get a Better Attorney Job
In the short term, remember that none of the people you are interviewing with could care less if you want a better job. They have work that needs to be done, and they need people to do it. If you do not do the work, someone else will.
The issue that you need to be acutely aware of is that if you show any hesitation about the work they are offering you, then they will find someone else to do it.
Not too long ago, I was doing a search for an in-house attorney placement company I run, General Counsel Consulting. We had an interesting opening for an intellectual property attorney. The caliber of candidates I was seeing was amazing–partners from the best firms with the best qualifications.
The company hiring for the position had a lot of work and just wanted someone to get it done. The firm did not want someone to try to change their processes or rework their legal department. Most of the high-ranking partners had an “attitude” that they could do things better (although they all still wanted the job).
The company rejected the “important” partners like viruses and ultimately hired the person with fewer qualifications. The issue was that he wanted the job, and they wanted a soldier to just do the work.
Most importantly, when you are young, you need to be aware that legal employers just want soldiers. They do not want people who are going to tell them how to do things.
Here is an interesting article about interviewing: Are You a ”Me-Focused” or a ”You-Focused” Interviewee?
10. Make Sure Your Application Materials Are Perfect
While I hate to say this, I have seen more people not get jobs due to typos and other issues with their resumes and cover letters than I can count. If you make a typo on a resume, for example, the odds are you will not be hired due to this alone.
Why? It is simple. Attorneys are paid to be extremely detail-oriented. If you are not careful with your application materials then you may not be careful with your clients’ work either.
It is a good idea to have a company, like Attorney Resume, review your application materials. You should also have a few colleagues review your resume and cover letter.
Here are some articles you might enjoy about resumes and cover letters:
Developing the skills to write a perfect Law firm Resume
The Dos and Don’ts of Cover Letter Writing
Essential Resume Profiles
Tips on how to write a great cover letter and a Resume
Formatting Your Resume
Broadening Your Resume When Job Experience is Scarce
Your Attorney Resume: Use a Statement of Qualifications and a Cover Letter Instead of an Objective
A cover letter is considered to be an important asset while applying for a Paralegal Job
How to Write a Legal Resume: Tips on Writing a Legal Resume to Get an Attorney Job
Legal Research Writing
There are a myriad of mistakes that recent law school graduates make when applying for jobs. Do these things well and you should succeed.