Scoring a Law Job in a Tough Market

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law-schools-jobsScoring a law job in a down market is a challenge. However there ARE ways. For instance,
by picking a major early in the process. But there are others.

Adam Gropper, the author of “Making Partner: The Essential Guide to Negotiating the Law School Path and Beyond”, a book that the ABA has used to assist those seeking law jobs after graduating, as well as being the founder of the blog, has written about those seeking law jobs but finding it – well, darn hard.
Sure, things are not so hard if you’re in a top law school and in the top 10 per cent. But most law graduates are in neither category. There is no single way, but there are some key things you can do to help the process

Law schools are not yet requiring you to declare a major but the sooner you make this informed decision which matches your preferences to existing demand and take classes in your major and gain experience in your major, the sooner more opportunities will open up for you.

To help with your informed decision, think about setting — Here are three examples. You could be a: (1) firm (of varying size) civil practice lawyer or criminal defense lawyer; (2) prosecutor or public defender; and (3) noncriminal government agency lawyer. Then, for each practice area in which you are interested, gather this information: (1) a general description; (2) salary averages; (3) average weekly work hours; (4) common credentials/qualifications hirers in the area expect; (5) accounts of what job holders do in a typical day; and (6) job satisfaction levels.

Take advantage of resources that provide an overview of the various legal settings for the top practice areas and ones that explain the skills and training required and narratives from practitioners about their daily work life. The Career Services Office (CSO) at your law school can provide these resources at no cost.

If you do not know where to start, analyze practice areas that are regulatory with high demand and multiple paths for obtaining a legal job. Take tax, for example. Legal jobs in tax are available at corporations, non-profit organizations, accounting firms, law firms of all sizes, in the Federal and state legislative (Congress member or tax writing committee), judicial (court clerks), and executive branches (Treasury). If possible, match your major to your background and have more than a passing interest in the subject.

Network (with a clear purpose)

Lots of people stress the importance of networking and the practice is crucial. However, you have to have a plan and reach out to people that can actually help you achieve your objectives.

Think of networking in two bites. First, meet with people to help you pick your law major. Second, meet with people who can be help you obtain a job (perhaps indirectly). There may be some overlap but generally they are different people. This post covers who, how, and goals for networking with the purpose of picking your major.

Who — Identify items you have in common with alumni (touchpoints) such as same hometown, same undergraduate school, same major, similar backgrounds, etc. and ask the CSO to print out lists of these people who have agreed to be contacted. Focus on people that are doing something in which you think you may be interested. If you have no interest in being a prosecutor, do not reach out to that person even if you share lots of touchpoints. Also reach out to professors who teach a class in which you have excelled or at least one in which you are interested. Professors can be invaluable as far as contacts and helping you think through different majors. A third group to reach out to are lawyers at places in which you may want to work. For example, you attend a panel presentation covering a practice area for which you have some interest and stick around after to request a meeting with one of the panelists.

How — The request to meet should be for coffee. Do not put a time limit because not much can be accomplished in five, ten or fifteen minutes but saying coffee at least gives a hint that the meeting will be brief. Most important, state upfront that you are not looking for a job, only information about their career path. That statement is true and it will put people that are not hiring at ease and make them more likely to respond.

Goals — One of the most helpful items you can learn about at these meetings is the decision making process that led them to that practice area and place. You may not want to be a tax lawyer but their thought process of how they ended up choosing tax could help you decide you want to be a securities major. Ask for permission to keep in touch with the person and update them on your progress. If they are open to the idea, you have a future contact for your next round of networking (when looking for a job). Last, ask the person for the names and contact information of two people they think may be helpful for you to contact. So even if the current meeting is not going well, one of that person’s contacts may end up being the most helpful person you meet.

Practice persistence

This part has the shortest explanation, but it is the most important. To be successful both in picking your major and eventually obtaining a job, it is helpful to have the long view. The entire process has ups and downs but if you put in the necessary time, you will generate strong results in the long run. There are at least two ways you can practice persistence for purposes of picking your major. First, be rigorous in your networking scope. Starting with the CDO lists, plan to target 30 or more people and know that lots of people will not respond or will not be willing to meet. No problem. Keep at it until you have a decent size list of people (say 5-10 people) that are willing to meet to discuss their career path. In other words, try again if you do not hear back from someone the first time. What is the harm? Second, once you meet with these people, follow-up with them from time to time (if they left an opening in response to your request) and make sure to follow through and contact the people whom they recommended you contact.

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