How Lawyers Can Cope With Rejection in Interviews

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You have spent the weeks following your office visit in a state of anxious anticipation. Then, one day the mail brings a law firm envelope. Instead of seeing the words of welcome that you expected, it begins with the conciliatory "We certainly enjoyed having the opportunity to talk with you. Unfortunately..." Suddenly, you are aware that your job search is not over yet.

Not every letter and resume you send out will get a response. Not every interview will come to a successful conclusion. These two facts of life tend to result in a discouraged frame of mind the rejection syndrome.

Coping With Rejection

There are many reasons for such disappointments, many no fault of your own. If, after the first few weeks, your job search has not yet produced results, you may begin to wonder: Did I learn enough about the prospective employers? Were my cover letters as personalized as I could make them? Did I present myself effectively in the interview? Such self-analysis and criticism should not disintegrate into self-castigation. Your need is to overcome feelings of personal rejection because they produce an attitude that is virtually self-defeating.

One way of dealing with this attitude is through a program of rewards to yourself in an area that is specifically under your control: your job campaign. Establish benchmarks of achievement in your campaign: so many offices added to your files, so many personalized cover letters written, an interview obtained, and so many acknowledgments made. When you reach each benchmark, reward yourself. The reward need not be expensive. It may be the allocation of time to read a special book or article. It may be seeing a movie you have been longing to attend. It may even be a sinfully fattening sundae. When you do a good job, treat yourself well.

It has been said that a good trial lawyer is not unlike a good prizefighter. Both step into the ring knowing someone has to lose. After a loss the best lawyers and prizefighters share the ability to rise confidently for the next fight. Rejection gives you an opportunity to hone an important professional skill.

The difficulty lies in learning to swallow this rejection and go on. For many law students, dealing with rejection can pose a major problem because they have not had much experience being rejected; having succeeded at nearly everything they have tried.

So how does someone who has always been a walking success story cope with the "rejection blues?" The answer is simple by preparing emotionally and mentally beforehand.

Perhaps the best way to deal with rejection is to build a list of specific options before the interview process even begins. As some options do not work out, others can be added to the list. It is important never to allow the list of alternatives to become exhausted.

It is important also to understand the meaning of rejection. First of all, everyone, even a walking success story, must understand that no one goes through life with out facing rejection. So rejection is not necessarily synonymous with failure it is merely a setback, and should be viewed as such. In baseball, a good batter gets a hit three out of ten times at bat. In business, a successful entrepreneur frequently experiences many business failures before finding a successful combination.

Secondly, remember that your response to rejection is influenced by several factors, such as the number of other rejections already received, the amount of energy and desire you invested in getting a particular position and your basic orientation to the job-hunting process. The response may vary from situation to situation, and from person to person.

If this particular job was a big deal, i.e., you invested a lot of time and energy into getting it, then by all means, allow yourself to go through the "grief process. Grief for a lost job opportunity does not differ all that much from the grief following any significant loss in life and you may experience stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. It sometimes helps to have someone with whom to share these feelings, and with whom you can work the problem through to the point of acceptance.

This might be a good time for self-evaluation as well. Determine whether there are areas over which you have control. Consider how much you can change. Get a handle on your basic abilities and goals. Try to generate some new alternatives for yourself. Ironically, the rejection period can be a very creative time. The road to acceptance should be one of growth. You should learn about yourself and change. Ask yourself how the situation could have been different. Ask what you can do in the future to avoid a recurrence. The most important thing is to get in touch with the positive side of the experience.

Do not take too long "getting in touch" or you will lose possible advantages and opportunities that have come up in the meantime. Do not let your job search grind to a complete halt. Sometimes students who do not get job offers in their first attempts do nothing more until after graduation or even after the bar exam. In such cases, the passing of time forecloses many options, and the pressure to get a job only becomes more intense.

Building Skills

Sometimes coping with rejection will lead you to reevaluate your position in the market. You may want to look at other alternatives. Or you may decide to press forward in the same direction and hope that fortune will smile on you soon. You may, however, conclude that in order to move forward or to change directions you need to strengthen your skills.
If you have evaluated your skills already, you may be able to identify problem areas. You should attempt to identify not only a picture of your shortcomings but a plan for overcoming them.

In some situations you may be able to make adjustments, either academically or experientially, while you are in law school. In other cases you may need to consider post graduate solutions.

Graduate Law Study

Many law schools offer master of laws (LLM) programs. These vary from general studies to highly specialized curricula. Probably the most common LLM is in the tax area, because of the unique aspects of tax practice. Many other areas, such as environmental law, are covered by LLM programs as well. For some fields such as law teaching, an LLM at a prestigious law school can add luster to the resume of a candidate from a regional institution. As a rule, however, an LLM program is not the place to go to avoid the job market for another year. It should be utilized to enhance your skills and credentials when you have a good idea where you are going.

Graduate School

Some students believe that by combining different degrees, they can qualify for jobs in which they would otherwise not be considered, including both specialized legal jobs and non legal jobs for which a JD would be an asset but not a qualification. Although many students do graduate work before law school, some choose to do it afterward.

Among the most common graduate programs for law grads are the MBA, MPA/Public Administration and Ph.D. As with the pursuit of an LLM, you should seek other advanced educational degrees only when it is consistent with your other career goals, not just to escape reality.


There are also a number of post-graduate fellowships available. Some of these are well-known, and others less recognized. The competition for all is stiff but the benefits can be great. Details about available fellowships can be found in your placement office.

For example, consider the White House Fellowship program. The purpose of the program is to give the fellows first-hand, high-level experience with the workings of the federal government and to increase their sense of participation in national affairs.

The fellows are younger men and women, age 23 to 35, chosen from business, law, journalism, the universities, architecture, or other occupations. Fellows are assigned to the office of the vice president, to cabinet officers, and to members of the White House staff. In addition to their daily work, the fellows take part in seminars and other activities especially planned to advance the purposes of the program.

There are a number of similar post-graduate fellowships and research grants each year. Because most lawyers tend to be highly goal-oriented, most move directly into positions with law firms and other legal employers. Law placement offices often do not publicize the availability of many fellowships because so few lawyers pursue this route. For some students, however, such a move might make sense to develop their skills and marketability.

See the following articles for more information:

About Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes is the founder of LawCrossing and an internationally recognized expert in attorney search and placement. Harrison is extremely committed to and passionate about the profession of legal placement. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placement attract millions of reads each year. LawCrossing has been ranked on the Inc. 500 twice. For more information, please visit Harrison Barnes’ bio.

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