Where to Look for Help in Your Legal Job Search

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The placement office at the law school is not the only place to get assistance in your job search. Personal contacts and other sources may be just as helpful. The placement office is for many students, however, the focal point of a career search.

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Your Placement Office

Two caveats are in order. First, every law school is different, and it follows that every placement office should be different in order to meet the needs of its particular student body, administrative requirements, and employment pattern for graduates. It is difficult therefore, to make any absolute statements.

Second, the ultimate responsibility for getting hired must fall on the student, not the placement office. The office is a resource and service center that can and should support your efforts, but when you get to the interview room there is only you and the interviewer.

In 1978 the American Bar Association added to its Standards for the Approval of Law Schools the provision that "the law school should provide adequate staff space and resources in view of the size and program of the school to maintain an active placement service to assist its graduates to make sound career choices."
  • The law school should have specific personnel whose responsibility it is to administer the school's placement program. Administrative responsibility for placement should be in the hands of a person trained in law or in a profession related to placement. If a faculty member assumes the placement responsibilities, that person should be granted a reduced teaching load.
  • The law school should have specific space set aside for placement activities, including a career library and interviewing and advising areas which assure privacy. In addition, the privacy of student records should be protected.
  • Interviews conducted under the auspices of the law school should adhere to the National Association for Law Placement Principles and Standards for Law Placement Activities.
  • The school should conduct programs on legal career options, resume preparation, interviewing, and other job hunting skills as needed. Career education should be taught as an integral part of the educational process.
  • The placement office should assist students seeking part-time (no more than 20 hours per week) and summer positions as well as permanent employment.
  • The law school probably participates in the annual employment survey of the National Association for Law Placement. Thus, information on employment patterns of its graduates should be readily accessible to students.
  • The law school should provide career advising or counseling. Ideally there should be at least one full-time equivalent counselor or advisor for every 750 students enrolled. In cases where a trained counselor is not on staff at the placement office itself, career advice may be provided by faculty members, student services of the parent institution, or in cooperation with bar or alumni associations.
  • The law school should provide placement services to alumni of the school as well. Services extended to students should be granted to recent graduates until they have obtained permanent employment after graduation.
What function does placement play in the scheme of things at the law school? The answer is not too difficult. There are more law graduates than ever, and the job market is tight.

In a purely academic environment, there would be no need to rank students. It is the fact that legal employers rely heavily upon the collective assessment of the law faculty as to the performance of individuals being considered for employment that prompts the law school to assign grades and class rank. It is the fact that law school grades are relied upon heavily by legal employers that motivates many students to excel in their studies. More than a few students see their grade point average plummet as soon as they have attained employment.

Teaching law students about the variety of legal careers and employment prospects in these careers is integral to the academic program of the law school. Certain job hunting skills can and should be taught in the law schools.

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Finally, the educational process is influenced by the employment during law school of students who are working in summer and part-time jobs, thereby supplementing the students' formal education. In a sense, summer and part-time work provides the residency or practical education that the law school does not or cannot offer. A high percentage of law students participate in these opportunities, since almost no law school offers a comparable program that would provide all students a practical internship.

Students who embark on a legal education generally have a reasonable expectation that they will be able to find employment in the field for which their education has prepared them. Law schools have a responsibility to law students and to the public to consider the employability of their graduates. Educators cannot divorce the real world filled with students' expectations from purely academic concerns.

Because the placement office can be where the academic and real worlds meet, you should find out what services it offers. At most schools, the placement office contains a wealth of information about legal and law-related careers. It will answer such questions as: What types of positions do most of your school's graduates accept? What are the current salary levels being offered to graduates of your school? Are there new materials available on careers? Are alumni lists available to those who seek positions outside the usual placement pattern of the school? Where can you find the materials about careers in law?

Of course, the placement office also receives information about specific job opportunities. Some, but certainly not all, will be in connection with on-campus interviewing.

Get acquainted with your placement director. Do not pick the busiest time of the year, such as the fall recruiting season. Set up an appointment to sit down and discuss your professional goals.

Give the director an opportunity to share with you his or her experiences gleaned from aiding in the career plans of many, many others. In turn, you will have the advantage of becoming something more than a number on an application form to the director. That can be of tremendous help as you begin to narrow your search.

By cooperating with your placement office, you can increase the network of its storehouse of expertise. Keep in touch with your law school placement office after graduation. Many openings do not develop until you have been admitted to the bar. If you have already been placed, your information on the position you have accepted and the compensation you are receiving will be helpful to graduates coming after you.

Personal Contacts

Many students who enter law school do not personally know any lawyers. If you are in this situation, you will want to develop a network of professional mentors. Your objective is not to develop specific job opportunities, though that frequently occurs, but to develop a better understanding and knowledge of what it actually means to practice law.

If you do not know any lawyers, perhaps you have friends in the business community who regularly use lawyers' services. They might be willing to ask lawyers they use to talk to you about the profession.

Go to court. Observe not only the procedures but also the interaction of members of the bar involved in trial work. Try to define what it means to be a professional person earning a living by practicing law, as opposed to a student learning about the law.

Bar associations are often overlooked as sources of contacts. The American Bar Association offers student memberships, as do many state and local associations. In addition, many offer the opportunity for enrollment in a section devoted to a, substantive area of practice.

Take advantage of meetings which allow you to mingle informally. If a chance is offered for student participation, take it. It will mean extra responsibility, but it will also increase your chances of knowing lawyers with whom you may be professionally associated later.

If bar association activity is, for any reason, not open to you, consider subscribing to bar periodicals. Note the names of the bar leaders and their views on the legal issues of the day. Keep a scrap-book of articles and news notes that are tied to specific lawyers. This resource will be invaluable to you when you begin your actual job search.

Professors are often overlooked as personal contacts. They are not only in a position to know your work as a student, but they also have a professional and even a personal acquaintance with many members of the bar. Their opportunity for comparative analysis of employers and opportunities can make them invaluable guides for you.

In all of these contacts, seek to develop an understanding of the practicing bar. Such contacts also give you a chance to ask each lawyer one important question: "Knowing what you know now, what career course would you recommend to a lawyer just entering the profession?"

Someday you will have ten years of experience behind you. You will know and understand things that can be perceived only through such experience. But by meeting and talking with lawyers now, you have the chance to develop your own plans based upon the experience of those who have gone before you. The better you understand the profession you are about to enter, the better your chances for a successful job search.

Other Resources

There are other resources available to you outside the ordinary circles of the legal profession. Many students particularly those considering alternative careers, overlook these contacts.

What follows is not a comprehensive description of all possible resources, but rather some possibilities for the student who is imaginative enough to develop his or her own ideas. Do not hesitate to be creative in coming up with ideas for job hunting. Things like group or team research efforts have been successfully employed by some students. You may be successful because you are able to come up with an angle that no one else has considered before.

Libraries: Do not limit yourself to the law library, but use public and university libraries as well. Many universities have offices which conduct research into business and population trends; many private research organizations conduct such research also. Information available through these organizations can save you hours of digging.

Placement Offices: Remember that the undergraduate placement offices at many universities can help you with general information. Many law schools provide reciprocity of services with offices at other schools.

Newsletters and Newspapers Placement: Newsletters abound in certain areas of practice and geographical locations. While they may require a subscription fee or membership in an affiliated organization, the job information is often worth the investment. The want ads of most bar journals and legal newspapers list openings for positions also.

Agencies: Many state and local governments, in addition to the federal government, provide employment services. While the effectiveness of these agencies may vary from place to place, the careful student will want to cover all bases. Also, if you are unemployed, find out whether you are entitled to unemployment benefits.

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