If this was the case in a market the size of Los Angeles (and the market in Los Angeles is huge), I cannot even imagine what it must be like in smaller markets. For example, I am from Detroit. I grew up in a suburb of Detroit. When it came time for me to decide where to work during law school and I started interviewing with firms in Detroit, I knew many of the attorneys before I even arrived at the interviews—they were the parents of people I grew up with.
The following are my suggestions regarding how to best prepare for a job search
1. Know that you are always being watched, observed, and judged.
One of the best-looking girls at my high school was known to be a "prude"—someone who would date boys but never let anything all that exciting happen. She was also a star athlete, a student council leader, and a highly respected student.
My parents were divorced and lived about an hour apart. I lived with my father. This same girl also had parents who were divorced and spent a lot of time in one city visiting a parent.
The funny thing about this girl was that she had the exact opposite reputation in the city where she did not live most of the time. Her strategy, it seemed, was a strategy many people employ; she had two separate personae. She knew that if she behaved one way at her school and around people there, she would experience fallout. She also knew that if she kept her "wild side" in another town, her licentious behavior would not affect her directly in her own backyard.
In life, we are always being observed. We are being observed in our communities. We are being observed at our jobs. We are being observed by our peers, and we are being observed by our superiors. Many people understand this. The smart young woman discussed above certainly understood that she was being observed.
When I began to look for a job in Detroit
, despite the fact that I had not spent time in the city since high school, I already knew which firms would be likely to offer me jobs and which ones likely would not. This had nothing to do with the prestige of the firms; it had to do with the people inside the firms. I knew that I had been close to certain people growing up and that their parents liked me. I also knew that I had not had close relationships with others and had made some enemies along the way. Sure enough, when I started applying for jobs in Detroit, I was preceded by my reputation. The Detroit legal community is small enough that most people within it know one another.
In everything you do in the public arena, you are likely being observed, watched, and judged. The people you meet today will probably impact events that affect you tomorrow. It is as simple as that. Like the young woman discussed above, you will need to do everything you can to maintain a strong public face at all costs.
If you interview with law firms, there will almost always be someone at each of them whom you met in the past. That person will likely have a say regarding what happens to you in your new position. Remain aware of this, and you will be preparing for interviews every second of every day.
2. Remember that the best lawyers can spot other good lawyers and that you cannot "fake it." You are always preparing for interviews just by performing well with your current employer.
There are many people out there who go to work in jobs and, for whatever reason, are not challenged. Most often, the people who claim they are not being challenged are the same people who go out of the way to avoid challenges.
We all know the type of person who does not challenge himself on the job. This is the sort of person who is always looking for shortcuts and other methods for doing as little work as possible. This sort of person is also likely to be very defensive when asked about something she does not know but thinks she should know. "Oh, I already know that!" she will say. I have never understood people like this, but they are out there.
When you are good at something and really doing your job well, you will have the tendency to immerse yourself in your subject matter. Over time, your subject matter and its intricacies will become almost second nature to you if you are a good student. You will also become more astute. A degree of presumed understanding emerges among people who are very familiar with their subject matter.
When you are interviewing with a truly excellent lawyer, he or she will be able to tell if you share this degree of understanding. If you are a slacker or someone who does not consistently challenge himself or herself, the lawyer interviewing you will see right through you.
This level of understanding is particularly important in the higher echelons of the industry. You always need to be working hard and doing good legal work
, even if you are not planning to remain at your current firm long-term. This is essential.
3. You need to go into each job you take with a sincere desire to make it work and switch jobs infrequently, if at all.
Until the 1980s, the majority of workers in America and in law firms rarely changed jobs. However, some major changes took place when the Japanese started exporting cheaper and better cars to the United States. American automakers could no longer afford to be as loyal to their employees, and mass firings and layoffs became increasingly commonplace. Furthermore, pensions were phased out fairly rapidly at most companies in favor of 401ks because employees became more "portable."
Since the auto industry was a major industry in the United States, it influenced corporate America as a whole. Many of the changes that were occurring in corporate America soon infiltrated law firms and other legal organizations.
Despite the fact that an attorney can switch jobs on a whim in the current economic climate, switching jobs is not always the smartest thing to do. Young lawyers (especially) like to feel as if they are in control and that they are more valued by their employers than they actually are. In addition, young attorneys are more likely to move for a slight bump in salary, because of an attorney in the firm whom they do not like, or based on some other trivial factor.
These are not good reasons to move. In fact, there are few good reasons to leave most legal employers. You should only leave your employer if there is something endemic to the organization that prevents your career from moving forward.
This factor should also be nearly 100% beyond your control. When you join an employer, it is much like getting married. If you show a lot of commitment to your current employer, you will be respected even if you have to leave due to factors beyond your control.
This is important because the person interviewing you wants to trust you. If the person interviewing you does not trust you and believes you may leave for a trivial reason, he or she will be unlikely to hire you. If your reason for leaving your current employer is sound and the firm that interviews you believes you are likely to remain on board in the face of adversity, it will be more likely to hire you. Organizations want to hire people with staying power. No organization is perfect, and all organizations go through ups and downs.
In everything you do—both inside and outside of work—you are always preparing for your next job search and future interviews. You need to remember that the time to prepare for interviews and a job search is before you even know you need to prepare. Being a good attorney and being a good job candidate require equal amounts of time and effort.
See the following articles for more information:
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Harrison Barnes is the legal profession's mentor and may be the only person in your legal career who will tell you why you are not reaching your full potential and what you really need to do to grow as an attorney--regardless of how much it hurts. If you prefer truth to stagnation, growth to comfort, and actionable ideas instead of fluffy concepts, you and Harrison will get along just fine. If, however, you want to stay where you are, talk about your past successes, and feel comfortable, Harrison is not for you.
Truly great mentors are like parents, doctors, therapists, spiritual figures, and others because in order to help you they need to expose you to pain and expose your weaknesses. But suppose you act on the advice and pain created by a mentor. In that case, you will become better: a better attorney, better employees, a better boss, know where you are going, and appreciate where you have been--you will hopefully also become a happier and better person. As you learn from Harrison, he hopes he will become your mentor.
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