The Legal Employment Search: Or Getting a Job and Not Disappointing Your Whole FamilyMay 24, 2001 Write an essay on this topic.
The Bottom Line Although the on-campus interviewing process may seem grade-centric, there are other, more effective means of getting the interview, and even the position, that you want.
The search for a job, no matter the profession or field, is an experience that can only be understood by those who endured (even Dante could not find a circle of Hell close enough to approximate the experience). Since most people gain their positions through the search and interview process, it is an almost-universal endeavor. However, for law students, the process is magnified exponentially for several reasons.
First – grades. In the law employment game, they are usually a prospective employer’s first impression of you. And exceptional grades are harder to come by in law school than in undergrad. “Pourquoi?,” you ask. Well, think back to your own college experience and, specifically, to finals. There were always one or two people who were known to, well, not care less about their classes. It interfered with their busy sleeping-waking-sleeping schedules. You looked at them and thought, “Well, there’s the bottom of the grade curve. I could memorize just the syllabus and still get a B with them on the curve.” Now, let’s look at law school (something I would rather not be doing during my break, but…). There will be nobody, nobody, in any of your classes like that, no matter what law school in the country you go to. Everybody is prepared for that exam within an inch of their Civ Pro casebook. Everybody is driven and everybody wants to be at the top of the class. Add to that a possible mandated curve (a certain percentage must be in the “A” range, B, C, etc…) and you have some serious Type-A pressure building. You can see why all those variables can make grades and grading a serious concern. With your career resting on a grade in a class you took your very first semester, it can make the whole job hunt a more daunting task. Which brings us to…
The Campus Interviewing Program.
It goes by different names on different campuses but the process is one that could be a part of your job hunt. It is similar to the program that many went through during their senior year of college. For the uninitiated, it is the process by which employers come to your school and choose students to interview from a database of résumés of students participating in CIP. Although many criteria may come into play when the interviewing choices, typically one’s GPA can be a deciding factor. This can seem like the end of the road for students seeking employment, but it shouldn’t be. According to the NALP (The National Association of Law Placement), only 17.10% of the Class of 1997 received post-grad jobs through this method, with nearly 30% receiving offers through "self-initiated contact" with employers. If you don’t interview with or receive an offer through campus interviewing, don’t despair. This opinion, with a little assistance from me, is here to help.
Now, I don’t guarantee a job as a result of this opinion. But I am going to illustrate some of the steps that I used to get my possible post-grad employment. Hopefully, it will help you, too. Soon, you’ll be working more hours in a week than most people work in a year, desperately trying to bill enough hours, spending lunches and dinners rainmaking, hoping that your work is of high enough quality that you aren’t perceived as completely inept. Trust me, it is not nearly as much fun as it sounds. It’s a lot, lot, lot worse.
Networking: It Isn’t Just For Desperate NBC Executives Anymore
As the saying goes, “A way to a man’s heart is through his, um, stomach.” Wait. Sorry, ignore that. Wrong epinion. What I meant to say is that “it’s not what you know but who you know.” This saying is never so true than when you are looking for a law position. But, if you think that networking involves going to an endless number of cocktail parties, listening to boring people telling boring “stories” about their latest “stock find” just to extract one contact name, then you have to stay out of DC because we have obviously met the same people. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. There are excellent sources of networking that don’t involve ever seeing Bob or his friends again.
Have you hugged your career counselor lately? Well, you should because he/she is just a treasure trove of extraordinarily useful information, including the names of alumni. “Why would one need the names of alumni?,” you’re asking. Because an alumnus is an excellent source of info on their particular firm and field & a potential “in” for an interview. So, how does one contact one of these gems? First, you could stand outside their home and harass them until they talk to you or could avoid my mistake, and the restraining order(s), and take a different tact.
Once you get their name, research their background before making the initial contact. What kind of information are you looking for? Well, several things. First, their specialization. Although this alumnus may work in a firm or a city that you want to work in, they may not practice in the area of law that you’re interested in. I’ll give you an example: My specialization is environmental law (I’ll pause here for any “Save the …” jokes that may be floating through your heads.) But I wouldn’t use an alumni contact whose expertise was in, say, ERISA claims, unless he/she could put me into contact with someone at her firm that could help me. Which brings me to researching their firm (if it’s private practice that’s your focus). Focus on any high-profile cases that the firm has had success in (either through a trial, settlement, arbitration, etc …), with a keen eye on any that your alumni contact has been involved in with any level of significance. Within that same vein, look for any articles that your contact has authored or co-authored – these give you a sense of what subtopics within their specialty that they are particularly interested in.
So, you may be asking, “Where am I going to find all this information?” There are several places that I can recommend:
1. Martindale-Hubbell. (http://lawyers.martindale.com/Executable/Lawyer.php3)
This allows you to search using first and last name, state and law school. Depending on how much information (if any is provided), you can find out their specialization, the name of their firm and their status (partner, associate, at counsel, etc …).
(http:// www.westlaw.com or http://lawschool.westlaw.com)
This is a great source if you have a subscription to this service through your job or your law school. If you don’t, individuals can access the same documents through WestDoc (http://www.westdoc.com). However, this service costs $10 per document. Because there are myriad of ways to find information, WestDoc should only be used if you can’t find the information any other way.
If you have access to Westlaw (or its counterpart, Lexis), doing an author search should be old hat. If they work within a firm (as opposed to a government agency), they will be more likely to publish since it gets the name of the firm out there, increases the firm’s rainmaking (always a priority) and, thus, increases an associates chances on the rainmaking track.
3. Other Students.
If you are still in law school, you may be able to find someone who has worked at the firm that you are interested in. If you’re a first-year, look to the law review staffs – we’re always looking to give people advice on our vast two summers of experience. Also, if none of the staff has worked at your firm, they’ll know someone who does. Don’t hesitate to milk every source that you can. You’ll need to know a great deal before you make that initial contact.
From the Frying Pan Into the Ice Bucket: Making the Initial Contact
There are several ways to initiate contact: (1) telephone, (2) email, or (3) letter of introduction. There are several advantages and disadvantages to each of these approaches, with different styles used for each one. However, all these forms of communication include:
(a) Contact information (who gave you the alumnus’ name, if it is not a “cold call”);
(b) Why you called – this includes:
(i) What position you are interested in (summer associateship, clerkship, permanent associate position, etc…) and
(ii) Why you called them -- this is the time to introduce the research that you did on them, which includes (if applicable to you):
* similar practice areas,
* interesting articles that they authored,
* cases that they were involved in,
* interest in practicing in their city, and/or
* a desire to practice with their firm (highlight cases of interest, partners or associates whose work is of interest to you, the firm’s commitment to your practice area, etc…)
(c) Your qualifications.
* where you went to college (include high-profile honors such as Phi Beta Kappa, valedictory/salutatory honors, scholarships – but don’t overload on any of these honors, one or two is sufficient),
* journals (particularly Law Review) that you are a member of (if a member of that journal’s board, make a mention of),
* competitions won (moot court, writing competitions),
* any relevant summer associate work,
* clubs that you are a member of (but only if related to the area that you would be practicing within the firm), and
* your GPA (but only if requested by your contact).
In using this approach, there is very little room for error. You need to know what you want to say when you make the call. Instead of making a script, which doesn't allow for any questions or comments from your contact, make an outline. In this outline, highlight the areas that you want to emphasize in the phone from the three-point layout that I described above. Additionally, emphasize why you want to work for the alumnus’ particular firm. This will distinguish you from other students who are cold calling without investigating the firm and its objectives. The more prepared you are before calling, the easier it will be for you to move around your outline and make a persuasive pitch.
This approach allows you to craft pitch before you make it. However, with this method and also with a letter of introduction, it is best to use these introductions in conjunction with a follow-up phone call. In the case of the email, individuals who receive a high volume of email will often delete mail that appears to be unimportant. That is why it is best to wait two or three days and then make the follow-up phone call. Again, re-emphasize the points that you set forth in your email, organizing them and any other salient points in the outline format that I suggested in the telephone section. I would caution against attaching a résumé because people are wary of downloading anything from individuals that they are not familiar with.
3. Letter of Introduction
This method mirrors the email approach in that it allows you to perfect the content of your pitch before making it. However, this method is more hands-on and personal because, well, nobody sends out physical letters (except for neo-Luddites and admissions officers, who are often, if one looks at the level of productivity in admissions offices, the same people). This personal touch may be set apart from others or you may suffer the same fate as the emailers and be sent to the trashcan. In formulating your letter, use a synthesis of a cover letter format (you can find my advice on cover letters in an epinion that I have included a link for in the self-aggrandizement section at the end of this review) and the three-point layout that I described above. In short, the introductory paragraph would include (a) the name of the individual who gave you the alumnus’ name (if applicable) and (b) the position that you are interested in. The middle paragraph would give a brief (and I mean brief, not the sequel to History of the World: Part 1) overview of your qualifications (as delineated in the third part of my layout above). The third, closing, paragraph would emphasize your interest in a position and a sentence stating that you would follow-up with a phone call. Because the U.S. Postal Service is delivering this letter, do allow for some time for the letter to be received before making that follow-up call.
God, Applying To Law School Seemed Like Such a Good Idea At the Time. Oh, Well.
If you are currently in law school, the grade-driven atmosphere of campus interviewing can often be disheartening for those who do not place in the top percentiles of their classes. However, as I stated at the beginning of this epinion (if any of us can remember that far back), only 17% of those who received post-graduate offers received them through their campus interviewing programs while 30% received offers through their own employer contact. Even though your law school career may be grade-driven, your employment search need not be. So, I ask you, punch us law review people in the stomach as hard as you can by taking a job that we wanted and lost to you. Come on, I dare you.
Creating a Cover Letter
Creating a Résumé
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