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The statement, "You are unique," may not strike you as particularly profound. Of course you are unique; you have been told so since childhood. Your many accomplishments set you apart from the crowd.
Unfortunately, many law students lose their confidence in their own uniqueness as soon as they begin to look for a job. They act like they are fungible. They talk like they have no special skills. Part of the reason lies in the law school experience itself while another part relates to the job search process. These two elements can combine to undermine your ability to sell yourself to employers.
Law school is a little bit like marine boot camp. The course of study strips away your old identity and replaces it with a new one as a lawyer. For better or worse, you will never be a "non-lawyer" again. During your first year, you learn that you are almost never right. By your senior year, you discover that despite years of studying legal theory and black letter law, you know little about practicing law. Unlike previous school experiences, you can put everything you have into a course and still not get the highest grade.
The job search process is tough on the ego, also. Whether or not this is your first experience looking for a real job, it doesn't take long to discover the debilitating effects of job hunting. You may find it extremely difficult to feel unique in the face of this adversity.
Many law students have encountered little adversity in their careers, so the job search can bring a rude awakening.
What can you do to maintain a strong sense of individuality? First, the better you understand your own skills, interests, and values, the easier it will be to articulate to employers that you are not just another grain of sand on the beach. Focus on your skills in relation to the job you seek rather than to the skills of your classmates.
Second, keep in mind that this is not a new battle. Throughout your life you have confronted pressure to be ordinary, and the fact that you are where you are suggests that you have resisted. Resist again.
Third, always identify a nexus between what you have to offer and what you believe an employer wants. Finally, keep in mind that you only have to score once in this game to win. The wildcatter only has to strike one gusher to make up for all the dry wells and you only need one job despite the fact you may apply for many more. Maintain that "wildcatter" mentality.
In order to market yourself, you must know the product you are selling. You need to know its strengths as well as weaknesses, its appeal to potential consumers, and its value in the marketplace.
Whether you perceive this product to be one of a kind or one of 35,000 identical items produced in the current model year can have a significant impact on your ability to sell the product in the marketplace.
Identifying Your Target
Just as you are unique, each employer is unique. Sometimes that truth is lost in the mass of employer lists and placement information. Your goal as an applicant is to identify an employer who needs someone like you.
This does not mean that you cannot apply for more than one position at a time. It does mean that you should learn enough about each employer to whom you apply to be able to articulate why that employer needs to hire you. This becomes almost impossible to do with a mass mailing campaign.
Your school's fall on-campus interview program represents the largest single group of employers you can hope to manage at one time. The more carefully you dissect employer information the more readily you will be able to make informed choices about interview selection. This pre-selection or self-screening process on your part, whether you are interviewing on campus or going out on your own, will enhance your chances of being selected for an interview, being hired, and being happy after you go to work.
As you narrow your leads from classes of employers to specific organizations, you should seek increasingly detailed information about potential employers prior to the interview.
Some of the information will be in written form, prepared by the employer or compiled by some other source. Much can be learned by talking with your network sources beforehand. A great deal of information can be obtained orally and then confirmed or amplified during the interview process. You will be eliciting oral information from the interviewer. When you can anticipate the interviewer's answers about the organization, your level of sophistication will be perceived as interest in the job, while lack of knowledge is often perceived as disinterest by interviewers.
Talk to professors, students who have clerked for the employer, judges, other lawyers, and even clients before the interview. Not all of these people will be helpful, but some will, and they will give you the information you need. When you talk to contacts, know exactly what you want to find out and gel right to the point. Try not to telegraph the answers you want to hear when you ask questions (e.g., "Isn't X, Y and Z a good firm?"). Unless it is obvious or necessary, do not specify that you will be applying for a job with the organization. Just say that you are curious or conducting research.
At this point, legal employers may be horrified at the prospect of thousands of law students calling everyone under the sun for back ground checks on them, but in reality few law students will take this advice. They will not have the time, consider it too intrusive, or simply believe that the return will not justify their efforts. Those of you who do dig beneath the surface will gain a decided advantage in the job search. You will be better prepared for interviews and can also use your research to eliminate many prospective employers or at least lower them on your priority list.
You do not need reams of information on each prospective employer, however. If you can articulate in a paragraph or less what makes this employer unique, you will generally have all the information you need to know. The best way to gather answers to your questions about an employer is through an information interview. This can be a formal appointment, a chance meeting, or a phone conversation during the pre-employment process to gather information.
In his book What Color is Your Parachute, Richard Bolles talks about information interviewing at an early stage in the career planning process. He suggests that you go to the person in the organization who ultimately will have the power to hire you for the purpose of gathering information even before you apply. Then, when you come back to apply for a job, you will already have the information you need to sell yourself and know your interviewer.
Even if you do not conduct, as Bolles suggests, a surreptitious pre-interview, many information interviews can lead to real interviews and jobs. Whether you are going directly to the organization or meeting with someone else, keep in mind the rules for any interview. Look good. Be prompt. Establish rapport. Question effectively. Listen actively.
Keep in mind what you want to learn and pursue that information assertively. If the interviewee does not have or know the information you require, ask for additional leads. Leave a business card or resume, since sometimes people will have an idea after the interview and want to contact you.
Take notes during the interview or as soon as you leave because this information will fade quickly. Send a follow-up note or thank you letter if appropriate.
Finally, many of the individuals you meet can become part of your own network of contacts. By logging them into your database, you can build upon these contacts for future reference far beyond the employment process.
Contacting Your Target
Once you have written your resume and researched potential employers, you are ready to contact your target. You may be sending it to employers you interview through your placement office or in response to specific job notices posted at the placement office or in legal publications. You may also want to use your resume to solicit interviews with employers whose type of practice interests you and who are located in an area in which you would like to live.
In many cases, a cover letter is a necessity. If your letter specifically targets the organization's needs, it can greatly enhance your chances of being hired.
Mass mailings to law firms, on the other hand, can be a costly and time-consuming task with little result. As direct mail advertisers know, a response rate of one for every 100 letters is unusually good. The approach you take and the language with which you state your interest can determine whether your letter conies to rest on the hiring partner's desk or in the trash can. You must use the letter to convey your interest in the type of practice a firm, corporation, or agency engages in, and your desire to become part of such a practice.
Your letter should describe how your skills and interest complement the firm's goals. It should reflect a little of your personality while getting its message across clearly and succinctly. Neatness, punctuation, and spelling are important. An error can eliminate your chances to be hired, especially if your letter is the only impression an employer has of you.
Several approaches can keep communications open. You may ask for an interview; you may even suggest a time. You might tell the employer that you plan to visit the office "unless it is inconvenient." It all depends on how assertive you want to be.
Do not neglect, however, to say something about a future meeting as you are unlikely to get a job on the strength of your resume alone. Highlight one particularly strong point from your resume in your letter, but do not restate the resume in prose. In one sense, your cover letter should persuade the interviewer to turn the page to read your resume. Together, the cover letter and resume should pique the reader's interest enough to get you in the door.
A follow-up letter or phone call may be useful to assure that you are not forgotten. You walk a thin line between assertiveness and pushiness, so use your discretion.
You must write letters in your own words if you want them to tally represent you and your interests. Word processing allows you to personalize letters quickly and easily, although most students simply use a word processing program to merge addresses with a boilerplate body. The problem with computer-generated letters is that they look and sound impersonal. Not surprisingly, many law firms react to such applications the way you do to junk mail. The more personalized your letter sounds, the better the odds.
If you have maintained a card file or database of potential employers, you are now ready to begin your letter-writing campaign. If not, you will have to do some research. The length of each letter is not nearly as important as its content, but as a rule, keep the letter short and direct.
Sample Letter of Application
City and state
Date of writing
First paragraph: Tell why you are writing, name the position for which you are applying and tell how you heard of the opening.
Second paragraph: State why you are interested in working for this employer, and specify your interests in this type of work. If you have had experience, be sure to point out what particular achievements you have accomplished in this field or type of work.
Third paragraph: Refer to the attached personal data sheet or resume which gives a summary of your qualifications as well as a photograph, or to whatever media you are using to illustrate your training, interests, and experience.
Fourth paragraph: Have an appropriate closing to pave the way for the interview by enclosing a return envelope, by asking for an application blank, by giving your phone number, or by offering some similar suggestion for an immediate and favorable reply.
Yours very truly,
Sample Letter of Application When On-Campus Interviews Are Oversubscribed
Your name (typewritten)
Dear Mr. or Ms. :
I had hoped to meet you in _. I understand, however, that your time is limited and you will not be able to see everyone. I am planning to be in your vicinity Thanksgiving weekend and hope very much to see you then. If possible, I will telephone you in advance to arrange for an appointment. My resume is enclosed.
I am looking forward with pleasure to meeting you.
The first paragraph of your letter should indicate why you are contacting a particular firm or organization. Your primary reason will usually be the nature of its work as evidenced by its clients, professional affiliations, and the like. But perhaps a speech or a position taken by a member of the firm struck a responsive chord in your own view of the profession and its goals. Or you may have been referred by someone to the organization or established your own contacts in the firm. Regardless of what your reasons are, be sure the first paragraph of your letter describes them.
This first paragraph is important because you are asking a busy lawyer to take the time to review your application. It should indicate that you have taken the trouble to become acquainted with the firm and that you know enough about the organization to believe it might be interested in you. The fact that you have done this kind of research indicates that you are serious about seeking a position, and is also subtly flattering to the organization.
If you send your resume to an alumnus (a) of your own school, you should still indicate why you chose that particular firm or organization, and ask that your letter be passed along to the individual responsible for hiring decisions.
The second paragraph of the letter should expand on your reason for contacting the firm by pointing out some part of your background or experience that you feel might be relevant to the firm's needs. Generally, you will refer to your resume at this point in the letter (e.g., "As my enclosed resume indicates....")
There may be other background information not shown on your resume that would be important to employers. For example, if you contact a firm with a large number of Spanish-speaking clients, you could mention that you have studied Spanish for eight years or speak Spanish at home.
The third paragraph should indicate how to contact you and arrange for an interview. Be as specific as possible. If you will be in the law firm's community during a certain period of time, state when, and, if possible, give a local address and telephone number to reach you during that period. Repeat addresses and telephone numbers from your resume to encourage action.
Employers understand that you cannot sit by the phone 24 hours a day. The following statements are entirely appropriate:
"I will be in class most of the time, but I have arranged for an answering service to accept appointments for me."
"I will call your office to confirm the time you find most convenient."
"The person answering the phone has a complete schedule of my time commitments and will be glad to arrange a convenient time for you to meet with me."
If you have been farsighted enough to arrange an interview schedule to meet the employer's convenience that thoughtfulness will not go unnoticed.
The appearance of your cover letter is just as important as the content. With desktop publishing software, you can create your own letterhead at a fraction of the cost of printing. Keep the appearance neat and conservative, using quality stationery in white or cream. Proofread everything. A single typographical error can be the kiss of death for your application.
As you send out your letters and resumes, note the dates on file cards (see sample on page 141) or on a computer database. As replies are received, note the dates and the nature of the responses as well. If you do not hear from an employer within a reasonable time, use follow-up letter or phone call. If you are not sure what is reasonable, consult your placement director or some other knowledgeable person. If your application will be under consideration for several months or longer, periodic communications from you may help keep your application fresh, but try not to become a pest.
Keep working on your file cards, increasing the number of cards and the amount of information on them. In addition to providing further contacts for your letter-writing campaign, the cards will be essential at the next step the interview.
Interviewing Your Target
Is there a magic formula that guarantees a successful job interview? An elixir to cure knocking knees, sweaty palms, and a blank mind? Unfortunately no. Interviews involve a complex interaction between the people involved, reflecting the various values, needs, and personality traits of each. By arming yourself with knowledge of the employer's needs and preferences, as well as your own strengths and weaknesses, you will have a better idea how to conduct the interview and what questions to ask.
A successful interview is not necessarily one that results in a job offer. It is, instead, one that allows both the employer and the potential employee to discover what the other wants, what goals are important, what working conditions are most desirable in short, to gain an honest impression of whether or not a working situation would be mutually satisfactory.
This is not easy to discover in the limited time available in the interview situation, and to avoid any misconceptions, both parties should be entirely honest. An important rule is to be yourself. Otherwise, you might find yourself in an uncomfortable employment situation.
The primary goal of any interviewee should be to become more aware of the dynamics of the interview situation, and thereby to control it. An interview can be any face-to-face meeting between an employer and potential employee to discuss the employment possibilities of the former with the latter. The dynamics of the interview are the interactions, both verbal and non-verbal, between the interview participants. They will constitute each party's basis for evaluating the interview.
In order to control the interview, you must recognize which aspects of your background to emphasize and establish specific objectives to accomplish during the interview. Because of time limitations inherent in the interview situation, it is important to select and control the information you give the interviewer.
The primary area under your direct control is the attitude with which you approach the interview your mindset. Imagine yourself as an investor approaching a prospective banker. You have funds to invest, and the banker has services to offer. In such a setting, the banker will naturally have questions regarding the amount you wish to deposit, the percentage of return that you expect, and the length of time the bank would have use of your funds.
You, in turn, would want to know the advantages and disadvantages of the various forms of investment the bank has to offer, the degree of safety of your funds, and the types of services you would receive. What should result is a businesslike exchange of information aimed at reaching a mutually satisfactory arrangement. If that could not be achieved, you would then proceed to consult with other bankers along the same line. The typical interview lasts 20-30 minutes and consists of a greeting, a discussion, and a closing.
There are generally one to three interviewers. But remember: an interview may not be a formal one in the office or at school; it may occur during a chance meeting at some other place.
One thing that should be avoided at all costs is tardiness. You should be on time or a few minutes early whether the interview is at the law school or at the employer's place of business.
A conservative, neat appearance is generally advisable. In both dress and demeanor you can come on too strong just as easily as not strong enough. It might be necessary to purchase a new interviewing wardrobe to project a professional image. The expense may be considerable, but you should think of it as an investment.
Once your attire has been selected, you can then concentrate on the most important aspect of preparing for an interview knowing the employer. Review your file card or database on the particular prospective employer. You may also want to see other sources of information, like a corporation's annual report. Your placement office may have a complete description of a law firm on file for you to consult. A government agency may publish a brochure that describes in detail the work of the agency including the work of its legal department. Too much information is better than not enough.
As you review the information you have collected, formulate the questions you would like to ask regarding the organization and its opportunities for you. Jot them down. Include the names of people to whom you may be speaking. Oral introductions can be hard to recall, but once you see a name in writing, remembering it is much easier.
While the interviewer is sizing you up during the greeting phase of the interview, you should be aware of your reaction to the interviewer as well. Researchers have found that people develop strong and often lasting impressions about the appearance, attitudes, values, and abilities of other people within the first few minutes after meeting them. If you feel an initial dislike or uneasiness about someone, move more slowly into the interview and attempt to ascertain why you feel that way with direct or indirect questions. If a first impression is favorable, adopt a more informal stance, or approach the interview itself more aggressively.
While good eye contact, a firm handshake, a memory for names, and a big smile are helpful, too many people get so wrapped up in carrying out these functional activities that they lose all spontaneity, as well as the ability to think quickly. They may come across as shallow and rigid. It is more important to be relaxed and natural at the start of the interview than to perform some kind of ritual.
The types of questions asked in an interview situation often address what kind of law practice interests you, what substantive knowledge you possess, and other goal-related questions. Not only will the employer want to gain an accurate impression of your goals at this point, but you will have an excellent opportunity to discover whether the employer is doing the kind of work you would find challenging and enjoyable.
Honesty is vital at this stage of the interview, or you are likely to create an image of yourself which you would not be comfortable living with should you eventually go to work for the employer. For example, if you indicate that you are interested in doing research, this is probably what you will be doing if you are offered a job.
The potential employer may evidence some interest in your past employment experience, academic qualifications, and interests. You are, for the most part, in control of the direction the questioning takes at this point, since you have drafted your resume, and it reflects those points you want to discuss. It is important, both in the resume and in the interview itself, always to stress those facts about yourself that you consider outstanding those that in some way separate you from the other interviewees. If you are honest and straightforward, you are much more likely to discover an employment situation in which you have the freedom to be yourself and do the things that you enjoy.
An interviewee who is alert enough to ascertain the interviewer's approach to the process can "key" on the interviewer in phrasing answers to questions. Differences in personality account for some differences in interviewing style. Although the following synopsis is an oversimplification, it may be useful to think about interviewers in terms of a number of distinct interviewer types.
The Collector: Some interviewers may be interested only in collecting information such as where you went to school, activities, and areas of principal interest.
The Shrink: Others might take a more psychological approach, questioning you about areas such as attitude toward school, goals, and aspirations, conceptions of various issues, and so forth.
The Conversationalist: Some seem more interested in merely talking or in gaining an overall impression of you through less direct questions. With this type of interviewer, it is often important to keep the discussion from straying too far from information about the job itself or your particular qualifications.
The Professor: Still other interviewers ask rapid fire questions about legal issues. It is important to avoid yes or no answers, and do not be intimidated. Remember that this is no worse than law school.
There are a few somewhat atypical interviewers who deserve mentioning also:
The Dud: In a bad interview, the student and employer are just unable to communicate. The Dud, also known as the Ego Deflator, prematurely rejects you without asking any questions or telling you anything.
The Interrogator: This interviewer will press you quite hard on difficult questions, sometimes of a personal nature, or does something to test your reactions; (e.g., drawing an "X" through your resume before you sit down.) This technique, known as the stress interview, is common in the business school setting. If something like this happens to you, do not lose your cool or you lose all control of the situation.
The Violator: This interviewer shows definite signs of unethical or discriminatory conduct. Do not hesitate to terminate the interview and take appropriate action.
Normally an interview is concluded by the interviewer, but take the initiative if the interview appears to be running overtime. It is possible that the interviewer is hoping that you will stop talking, but is reluctant to cut you off. A timely exit can be as important as any part of the interview. Do not leave without determining how, when, and where you can expect further communications concerning your potential employment.
Once you have left the interview, immediately make notes for your file cards or database, including the names of the individuals who interviewed you and the date. That will prevent the embarrassment of forgetting someone's name should you meet again, professionally or personally.
As soon as possible after your interview, write an acknowledgment letter. Such a letter is not only a thank you for the time and courtesy of the individuals with whom you have spoken, but, more importantly it is also an opportunity to repeat your special qualifications and to note any areas in which there appeared to be a true meeting of minds. If there were any decisions reached regarding future contact, restate these as well.
The acknowledgment letter is also a way to notify the office that you have a continuing interest in the position. Unfortunately, this courtesy is not extended frequently enough. The exception to this rule involves fall on-campus interviews, where employers interview hundreds of candidates in a short period of time. In that situation, acknowledgment letters may be viewed as superfluous, so use your discretion.
Employers consistently mention two common negative factors among law students they interview. These are the students' apparent lack of interest in the job and their apprehensiveness about the interview. The former problem can usually be avoided by scheduling to see only employers in whom you are genuinely interested. Demonstrate your interest by being well-informed.
The second problem may be more difficult. It is perhaps little consolation to say that everyone has butterflies before an interview. Dress comfortably, sit down somewhere if you have to wait, and relax your mind. Talking to someone else may also be helpful in easing the tension. Take two or three deep breaths just before going into the interview room to lower your blood pressure and calm your nerves.
The Office Visit
The office visit is always important, whether it is a follow-up to an on-campus interview or a first meeting. Because the office visit is usually longer than a screening interview, you often get an opportunity to see a law office in action. It is often much more difficult, however, to keep up a front for both you and the interviewer(s), so make a conscious effort to stay calm. Before you leave, try to get some commitment regarding your possibilities for employment and if it is clear that you will not receive a letter, seek new leads from those you interviewed. It is possible that they were impressed with you but just can't make you an offer.
If you manage to get one or more invitations for office visits, here are a few things to keep in mind:
Be observant. What is the general tone of the office? What are the individual personalities? What do the relationships between individuals appear to be? If you are sensitive only to the impression you are seeking to make, you miss valuable opportunities to assess the office in ways that no amount of research can provide.
Get your facts straight. When and for how long do they want to see you? How do they handle reimbursement of expenses? Are spouses or "significant others" invited? Who arranges travel and hotel rooms? Many students find themselves in a bind because they do not ask about these things and the firm does not say anything either Generally speaking, big firms reimburse; small firms do not. If you are visiting more than one employer in an area, you should suggest that they split expenses (and never ask for multiple reimbursements). Also, if an employer invites you to visit an out-of-town office, it is customary that your expenses are paid. If you suggest the meeting, this is not the case.
Gel directions and a good map. Do not get lost and miss an hour of your interview. If you plan to interview with more than one employer, plan your movement from one to the next to avoid being late.
If you have gotten this far you have probably already done your homework, but do more. Reread the firm or agency resume. Find out if there are other students being invited for office visits, and what the firm's hiring patterns have been in the past. Check carefully the composition of the firm for age, schools attended, etc. Look to Martindale-Hubbell to find out such things as the composition of the firm, the ages of the partners and associates, the law schools that they have attended, where they are originally from, and the type of clients they handle. Ask other students or professors who may know the firm to share their thoughts with you.
Read the local newspapers and regional magazines to get an idea of what the community is like and what current issues concern its citizens. Married students will need to assess whether the area will appeal to their family. If your spouse accompanies you, he or she may need to spend the time looking for a job, checking out the housing market, or visiting schools.
If you interview an employer from out-of-state, do some additional background research. Read the pertinent digests in the last three volumes of Martindale-Hubbell. This will help you to discuss local legal issues with the interviewer.
You may also get some substantive legal questions, so be prepared. Since you are more likely to get questions about an area you know than something totally off-the-wall, re-read your law review note or other research mentioned in the resume.
Office visits vary considerably from employer to employer. Not all office visits last a full day, but almost all are grueling. A recruitment administrator may take you from attorney to attorney; you may be led to the next interview by your last interviewer; or you may be sent from office to office on your own. You can expect to see as few as three lawyers in a half-day interview, or as many as fifteen in a full day, individually or in groups. At some point during the day, frequently at the beginning or end, you will be given a tour of the facilities. Be observant and ask questions during this guided tour.
Ask about office operations, such as time-keeping and billing systems, secretarial and paralegal assistance ratios, structure of the office and assignment of new attorneys, word processing and other office equipment systems, library size and check out system, filing system, and office space allocation and configuration. Do not be timid about asking challenging questions.
Do not write off the younger lawyers you visit; many employers rely heavily on them for input into hiring decisions.
Each appointment should be considered a separate interview so give each one your best. Your campus interview was just the first hurdle. You must pass muster in each of these subsequent interviews to get an offer. Ask similar questions of everyone you meet in order to better get a "flavor" for the firm. Study individual personalities when meeting with attorneys on a one-to-one basis. It may be helpful to ask interviewers what they do each day.
Entertainment, very often with associates or younger lawyers, is intended to put you at ease, so enjoy yourself just do not spill the vichyssoise in your lap. Evening entertainment is less frequent and ranges from stuffy to sporty. It is more likely to include partners or senior attorneys and spouses.
No matter how many people you see, treat each interview as if it is your first and most important one. During on-campus interviews, the recruiter may be tired while the candidate is fresh. This dynamic is reversed in the office interview, so make sure that you remain alert. For example, do not stay out late the night before your interview. And during the office interview, ask for time to freshen up, if it is not offered.
Remember the same principles of effective interviewing that got you to the office visit: be yourself, emphasize what you can offer, and control the situation. Add to this a little stamina, and you are on your way. Another area of particular interest to students is how a firm goes about making a hiring decision. Again, this often depends upon the size of the firm. In a large firm, a committee may be responsible for hiring decisions, even though other attorneys have input into the process. In a smaller firm everyone is involved. You generally must receive a unanimous confirmation. As a result, there may be two or three office visits to find out early whether or not everyone feels they can work with you. Large firms are more likely to screen out candidates at an earlier stage of the process than small firms where hiring decisions involve all or most of the lawyers. Large firms also tend to play a numbers game with offers. Small firms on the other hand often make only one offer at a time. These differences are reflected in different approaches to the interview process generally.
Certain lines of questioning may prove very uncomfortable for many candidates. Two critical topics, salary and benefits, must be addressed at some point. If the interviewer brings up the topic it may indicate that the firm plans on tendering you an offer, since, as a general rule, they will not discuss salary with those students who do not interest them. You should not raise the issue during the initial interview. Wait until you are sure the employer is interested in you.
Although many interviewers will have little power to negotiate, they should be able to give some indication of whether or not your expectations are reasonable. Be sure you know both the range of starting salaries in your geographical area and the salary range for the type of job you are seeking. Your placement office should have current statistics.
You should consider a number of other factors in reviewing a salary offer: What kind of insurance program (life, disability, health) does the employer offer? Is there a starting bonus or an annual bonus? Pension or retirement plan? Vacation? Leave (illness, parental, sabbatical)? What are the possibilities for advancement on becoming a partner? Does the employer provide a profit sharing or other incentive program for the newer lawyer? What about "perks" such as club memberships, travel expenses, professional dues and journals, continuing legal education, and parking? Will you have staff support including paralegals and secretaries? What is the cost of living in the community? Will there be employment for a working spouse? When considered together, these many factors may give a very different picture of the compensation than the original salary quoted.
In some instances, salary is not negotiable. For example, in government positions, where the salary level is beyond the employer's immediate jurisdiction. Otherwise, you may have a minimum figure in mind that you believe is necessary to cover your expenses and financial obligations. If you have obtained information regarding ranges, you will know whether the offer falls in the acceptable pattern. Negotiation in such cases is acceptable.
Here is where the problem may arise: If you give the interviewer an outrageous requirement, she is likely to think that you are unrealistic, or simply pricing yourself out of the market. On the other hand, if you quote an unusually low figure, she may perceive you as underselling yourself and your abilities, and she may take that as a sign of little or no self-confidence. (Of course, she may also hire you on the spot because you are so cheap.)
The key to surviving this minefield successfully is to identify the employer's salary range, which is probably competitive within the geographic area and type of position for which you are interviewing. Large firms will offer the higher salaries and small firms will offer figures in the lower part of the competitive spectrum. Salaries for 1990 law school graduates fell between $15,000 to over $85,000 according to the National Association for Law Placement, so employers' offers may be anywhere in this range.
In recent years fringe benefits have become a major concern of law graduates, but often their importance is overrated. Most benefits are tied to long-range employment prospects, but today, increasing numbers of lawyers are moving laterally from position to position. The traditional pattern in which an entry position becomes a lifetime professional commitment is no longer necessarily the case.
Early in the game, therefore, your best evaluation of the fringe benefits probably will contemplate their immediate value to you. By the time their long-range value becomes important, you may have moved several times. One time that benefit packages may be a factor is when you are evaluating similar offers. The opportunity for professional growth should be your primary concern, but if that criterion appears to be equally met, consideration of fringe benefits in your comparative analysis may be helpful.
In addition to finding out about salary and benefits, ask how the firm is organized and whether cases are handled by teams, whether associates work with one partner only, how specialized the firm is, and how new clients are obtained.
There are certain areas where open discussion may not only be unnecessary, but may harm your chances of being hired. For example, many students are very interested in knowing the turnover a firm has, or how many people come and go within a year. Rather than inquire directly and antagonize the interviewer, check Martindale-Hubbell and the law school placement office figures back on campus.
When you interview with a bank, public accounting firm, or other organization, you might be asked about the possibility of your leaving to enter private practice. It is not uncommon for the interviewer to raise such a question, and more often than not, she will be quite sensitive about this subject. The key to avoiding problems in this area is to appear enthusiastic about the work without really making a lifelong commitment.
Another rather sticky question involves the amount of time you will be expected to work. A direct line of interrogation about working hours is likely to create an impression of laziness and lack of ambition in the interviewer's mind. Instead, find out the answer indirectly by calling the office after hours or on Saturday. As a general rule everyone works hard and a 60- or 70-hour week is not unusual.
Another risky question is the potential for future earnings. While it is perfectly natural to wonder about your future, the question seems to disturb quite a few interviewers. It may be better to glean the answer to this question from several sources. Ask other young attorneys in the firm or check Martindale-Hubbell for a high turnover rate which may indicate low growth potential.
You could also ask other related questions in the hope that the interviewer may mention growth potential as one of the firm's benefits. Try to get the interviewer to make a comparison among firms or between the firm and a corporation's legal department. Never ask something like, "How much will I be making in 10 years?" or "How much do you make?" You not only come off sounding mercenary; you will antagonize the interviewer similarly, avoid asking questions about the length of time until you reach partnership or how many associates make partner. Consult Martindale-Hubbell or use other indirect channels instead. Forget about asking questions about salary differences between new and senior partners. Ultimately, the answer is that, as a partner, you are getting a "piece of the pie," and your income is much more tied to your output.
There are, however, different ways of making partner In some firms you spend the entire time you are an associate saving up to buy in or to purchase a share of the firm. In others, that is not a major consideration. It varies from firm to firm.
If you can get someone to talk about the organization, you can figure these things out very easily. Questions dealing with money or partnership should be raised with the person you believe to be the one with the most power in the hiring process—a managing partner, senior partner, or the chair of the hiring committee.
The last area in the line of delicate questions is the skeleton in your closet. It might be your grades. It might be where you went to school. It might be something in your background. Everybody has some questions they would like to avoid, but it is best to be prepared for the worst. Here are some specific pieces of advice: first, do not apologize; second, do not be evasive, and, third, prepare a response. Instead of praying that you will not be asked, make a list of the five questions you would least like to be asked in an interview and develop answers before an interview.
In conclusion, do not hesitate to ask questions. Observe everything going on around you in the office. In this respect, the office interview is much easier than the on-campus session because new topics for discussion and conversation are constantly being raised. Prepare beforehand by researching the firm or organization and record your impressions and new information learned as soon as you leave.
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