It’s your final semester at a top law school and your grades are good. Graduation is two months away, and you’ve been concentrating so much on your studies and passing the bar that looking for that first real attorney job has taken a back seat. But now it’s time to search out viable opportunities in the legal profession, a daunting process that has you feeling a bit overwhelmed.
You’ve heard from some lawyer friends who graduated the previous year and they’re still trying to get hired at better firms. Soon you will have to pay back student loans, so now it’s “crunch time” with respect to finding employment and realizing a return-on-investment for law school. You certainly don’t want to be flipping burgers at a fast food joint six months from now! With all that said, here are some questions to consider when searching for your first attorney job after graduating law school.
Am I Effectively Using Legal Networking?
Social media is not just for socializing with friends. Used effectively as a part of an overall legal networking game plan, you can find job opportunities; including ones others didn’t know existed. Legal networking should begin well before law school ends, and continue on as your career progresses. Haven’t you heard the old saying: “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”?
Compile a geographic wish list of where you would like to practice and start connecting with established law professionals in those areas. Present your name and face to them using sites like LinkedIn and Twitter. These are some general ways to network:
- Attend legal conferences, seminars and other events where you can interact with attorneys. Carry business cards with all your contact information and hand them out to anyone who’ll take one.
- Obtain recommendations from your professors, other attorneys and judges that you may have worked with during an internship or clerkship.
- Use social media to reach out to established lawyers and ask for pointers and insight about legal careers and specialties. This makes them feel important, which they actually could be with respect to finding your first job!
- Cold call firms where you’re interested in working and ask to speak with one of the partners. Be persistent yet respectful. Once you get some time, talk with them about what it takes to work there, your background and willingness to volunteer for some “trial” legal work. Go back at least monthly to stay in touch. They may not have a position at their firm, but may know someone who does.
- Offer to treat a lawyer at a targeted firm to coffee or a nice meal and pick their brain regarding what it takes to work there, possible openings and how you might fit in.
- Use a friend’s insider connections at a firm to stay informed about potential openings and to learn how they got hired there.
- Distribute your resume and contact information to any law professional who’ll take it and also post it online.
All of these pointers will help you keep your face out there, while showing initiative. Oftentimes the “squeaky wheel gets oiled” as they say, and when an associate position becomes available your resume may be pulled before that of many other candidates because they simply have gotten to know who you are and what value you can offer them.
Could Lower-Level Legal Jobs Open Doors?
A huge mistake many law school graduates make nowadays is to be overly selective when seeking that initial job. In the event a firm you have your eye on doesn’t have a full-time paid position open, there are other ways to get them acquainted with your abilities and potential value as a lawyer. You’ve got those student loans to pay off, right? Here are some of those:
- Accept any lower level position at a firm including file clerk, legal assistant or document researcher.
- Volunteer to work pro bono at first, donating your time to write briefs and memos.
- Offer to do contract work for the firm.
- Register with a temp agency that works with law firms and get your feet in the door that way, possible in a vacancy mentioned above.
- Keep cold calling on the firm until you are able to get noticed, especially by partners.
When you are given an opportunity to do any type of work for the firm, no matter how menial you think it is, make the most of it! Dress for success, show initiative and continue to build a network of advocates there. Once you’re inside the door you have your fingers on the “pulse” of their day-to-day operations, the key employment decision makers there, and what they are looking for when hiring full-time lawyers at the firm.
Think about what it took a few years ago to get into a good law school, and recapture that moxie and determination when going after that first job you really want. Another often overlooked opportunity is to explore government attorney openings, which may pay less initially but offer invaluable resume building experience.
Am I Working with a Good Legal Recruiter?
A final option is to contact some of the reputable legal recruiters in your area and schedule a time to meet. It’s true they oftentimes place experienced attorneys into coveted positions, but there are many recruiters that will work with recent law school grads if they show many of the characteristics listed above. In fact, legal recruiters visit law school campuses regularly in an effort to screen viable candidates. Recruiters can be found at job fairs, social events and other legal gatherings at and around your law school.
Top legal recruiting firms use networking contacts, social media and other technology to stay abreast of attractive openings at firms nationally and even globally, and also understand the hottest law specialties in the industry. They have insider knowledge and experience that new graduates don’t, and thus can serve as a viable resource in your quest for your first attorney job out of law school.