The US economy is full of isolated stories of success. As recent law school grads know well, the job market is one that forces the employment seeker to be creative in their job search. If a job seeker does what everyone else is doing in their search, they will get the results everyone else is getting, either good or bad. Most attorneys are individualistic at their core, so thinking outside of the box in a job search should be second nature to them. When beginning the search process, remember some basic rules of engagement to keep your focus, sanity and self esteem intact through the rather introspective and sometimes degrading process of job searching.
Wholly unrealistic jobs are just that. Unrealistic. A relative of mine got a job at Twitter. I took the tour of Twitter in San Francisco across from Fillmore West. The micro brews at the food court, the liquor bar, the five-star guest chefs, the rooftop astro-turf play area for families over a fabulous lunch (see photo), the unlimited vacation days. They are all there for those who are hired. The salary, stock options and bonus payouts are pretty impressive for a young person, and tough to spend without saving some, as there are only so many hours in a day. I am certain the Covington and Burling attorney positions are similar in compensation (without the booze and the chef) and locally, Piper Rudnick is, as well. I recall when sitting for the Florida Bar two years ago, sharing a table with a young associate at King & Spaulding who, as a first-year associate, his sole job for the first two years was to travel the country and take bar exams. He had sat for Georgia, California and New York/New Jersey (there is a way you can sit for both NY and NJ at the same time).
Before we all drive to BMW dealership and sign on the line thinking these dream jobs are all ours, let’s do the numbers. For every advertised opening at Twitter there are 263 qualified applicants. More apply, but the system for a variety of reasons rejects the applicant preliminarily. There are four phone interviews before a person is flown to San Francisco for an in-person interview. I suspect the major multi-state law firms have similar numbers as well. The rebuttal to this point is simply that while unrealistic jobs are just that, someone does get hired at these dream jobs. For every one hired there are hundreds who are not. The reasons people aren’t hired are probably as unrealistic as the jobs themselves, although the decision on applying for these jobs should be based on an assessment of how much rejection can one person take. Were you the crease attackman on your varsity lacrosse team in high school? Did everyone cheer for you? Or were you a nerd who got turned down by a half a dozen prospective prom dates? In my opinion the latter is far more suited to run this gauntlet then the former. It’s not that the two aren’t equally qualified for the position, it’s just that when the inevitable rejection comes (some firms are so callous they don’t bother to send a rejection letter, you just stop hearing from them) how does the prospective young attorney handle it? The ability to pick ones self up quickly and move on to the next good idea and not dwell on the disappointments is key.
New grads must be willing to reinvent themselves, often more than once in the same day. While its true that modern law practice requires an attorney to focus on one area of law over the others in an effort to master one area to the exclusion of others, new grads who are job searching should not be excluding all other areas of law to focus on one narrow field in which to apply for positions. That is not to say you should apply in fields of practice where you have some experience and have a decided aversion to it. If after an internship or clerkship you decided you did not like criminal law at all, then do not apply for positions that are in that field of practice. An attorney who enjoys what she does makes for a more effective lawyer than the one who is miserable, the misery shines through their work and makes every one around them miserable as well. Do not however, exclude any practice area you have not yet experienced from your job search. Let the interview and recruitment process weed out those who aren’t really interested. If you don’t know exactly what admiralty law is; but the firm is nearby, send your resume and see what happens, just because it wasn’t what you had in mind when you decided to go to law school in 11th grade doesn’t mean you should reject it off hand.
Resign your self to the fact it’s going to take longer to get the position you want so make extra time for it. Part of out of the box thinking is that the time clock of when the job you want is going to come must be thrown out of the window. First get Sallie Mae off of your back. Read the regulations about student loan repayment (you should be your first client) and get a hardship deferment so the nasty grams concerning repayment stop or never start in the first place. Explain to them they have a better shot of getting their money if you are allowed to focus on getting a job as opposed to sitting on hold to talk to them. Do not ignore them; simply respond to their first inquiry by making the extension request. Also focus on practice fields that reduce or forgive student loans. When evaluating positions to apply for, remember to factor in loan forgiveness as additional compensation. The job that pays 30k that wipes out 20k of debt is a better deal than the job that pays 45k. Don’t be afraid to get a bridge job outside of law to make ends meet while you are still looking. There is no shame in taking a position in construction, retail, or service industries, while you continue to beat the bushes for a career job in law. Take the civil service exams in fields you may be interested in. http://www.federaljobs.net/agency_testing.htm. Testing should not stop there. Take other states civil service exams as well. Consider sitting for a bar exam in another state, if financially feasible. For new admittees, bar exams are cheap, you have less baggage so the background checks is easy, and it allows you to apply for positions in other states.
If you have done all of the other things I have said and still don’t have your dream law job, then maybe you can hang out a shingle if properly mentored. Just because another seasoned attorney cant afford to hire doesn’t mean she wouldn’t assist you in getting started. You will find that most attorneys don’t mind answering questions from young attorneys; in fact they enjoy being called upon to share knowledge. Most CLE programs are geared towards all levels of practice and experience, including no experience at all. Bar associations allow new admittees reduced or free membership, BCBA membership is free and the cle programs are free to members so it costs nothing for new admittees to learn about practice areas they want to be involved in. After you have tried a case or two, join lawyer referral and accept referrals in areas you want to practice in. It will expose you to other members of the bar who practice in the area, allowing you to network and build a client base at the same time.
Hopefully this piece will offer some advice and encouragement to those who are striking out as newly minted lawyers, and if taken to heart my only hope is that some portion of it resonates with them and they find success as a result. Remember that success in practice is not solely monetary, it is more a measure of true happiness; are you passionate about what you are doing, whatever it may be? If you are passionate, then the satisfaction from that passion is true happiness, the enjoyment of ones labors. If you enjoy your work its all downhill from there. Go home at thinking “I can’t believe they pay me to do this” and you are truly blessed.