Tips to Get You Started on Legal Job Search

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TIP 1: Address Negative Preconceptions

Many attorneys, searching for a logical reason for their predicament, create barriers for themselves by accepting perceived deficiencies about themselves. Recent graduates accept that they will not be hired because they have "no experience;" women and attorneys of color retreat because they feel employers "aren't really serious about hiring us" while more senior lawyers feel discriminated against because of their age and salary range. Just about every group has some reason to feel disenfranchised by the job market. Unfortunately, all of these perceptions create obstacles. However, they should not be viewed as insurmountable, but rather only inconvenient. It is up to you as the job seeker to test these erroneous perceptions and convince employers that you are the best person for the job. Keep in mind, if you do not believe you are the best person for the job, you will have a difficult time convincing any employer. Employers often declare their intent to hire "only the best and the brightest!" But when pressed to articulate what that means, recruiters struggle to offer a more precise explanation. The traditional definition of top 10 law school, top grades, law review and "big firm experience" is the most commonly cited criteria, perhaps because it is the most easily understood.

TIP 2: Allocate a Specific Amount of Time

To get started, you must decide how much time you can realistically devote to your search. If you are currently working, consider 2-3 hours per week; if you are unemployed, consider 6-8 hours a day. Maintaining a steady and consistent effort throughout your search will be one of the most important elements in determining your success. A "start and stop" approach almost always leads you back to square one at each juncture. Working in bursts of activity will ensure failure. You must use the same degree of diligence for your job search as you do for projects at work.

TIP 3: Adhere to a Schedule

Regardless of how many hours you have allocated to the process, work out a schedule and make a personal commitment to stick to it. During those reserved hours, your job search must be your primary focus. This is the time committed to self- assessment exercises, making job related phone calls, conducting library research, etc. Do not allow yourself to be interrupted by running errands, baby sitting, etc. By adhering to a schedule, you will reduce the insecurity most job seekers feel about their situations because you will be in control. You will also be able to chart your progress.

TIP 4: Select a System to Record Your Activities

Whether you opt for a notebook and pen or an elaborate computer based system, you must develop a system for recording your activities in order to easily retrieve important data and to ensure appropriate follow-up actions. You may want to visit an office products or discount store to give you some ideas about what kind of system will work best for you.

TIP 5: Consider Your Finances

How much money do you need to earn in order to maintain your current lifestyle? Just because a $30,000 a year legal services job may be out of the question does not mean that a $150,000 a year large firm position is the only alternative. There are a substantial number of legal, legally related and non-legal positions that pay very acceptable salaries. Before seeking a new position, write out a detailed budget for yourself and your family. This preliminary investigation into salary will help you later on as you approach salary negotiations.

TIP 6: Be Discreet!

In order to protect your current position while conducting a job search, observe a few simple standards of discretion.
  • Do not tell your colleagues about your search. Even trusted friends sometimes gossip and you do not want your employer to learn of your search prematurely.
  • Do not use office equipment to facilitate your search.
  • Try to use personal/vacation days to interview. Employers tend to notice people leaving early or late too often or those who have an inordinate amount of doctors appointments and deaths in the family.
TIP 7: Call the Career Services Office of Your Law School

Many law graduates, even recent ones, are unaware that they can schedule individual appointments for career counseling with a counselor at their law school's office of career services. An initial appointment with a career counselor (generally free of charge) can provide valuable information, ideas, and a direction in which to start your career search.

Most schools are not equipped to offer long-term counseling, however, you ought to go learn more about the services your school offers its alumni. Most schools will provide resume and cover letter advisement, in person or by fax, enabling graduates who no longer live in the area to use the service. Many offices provide interview skills seminars, mock interviews and job search support groups. Nearly every law school has created a newsletter, published either monthly or bi-monthly and mailed to graduates, containing job listings of lateral positions. Job newsletters can offer a wealth of information and possible job leads because many schools receive listings from their alumni which are not published elsewhere. A number of law schools also trade their newsletter with other schools thus enabling their graduates access to job listings from schools located in different geographic areas.

To accommodate a graduate seeking employment in another geographic area, most law schools are able to arrange reciprocity for their graduates in that area for a limited duration (usually three months). Otherwise, a non-graduate of the school will generally be prohibited from using that school's career center. If granted reciprocity, the graduate will usually have access to most of the resources that the school offers its own graduates. In recent more competitive times, however, some schools have curtailed reciprocity, reserving all services for their own graduates.

Every law school's Office of Career Services contains a mini library for graduates to research job opportunities, jot down listings, and read directories, books and periodicals relevant to the job search. By utilizing your career library, you can save a lot of expensive subscription costs and have access to a multitude of resources. Many graduates do not realize that law school career services offices spend a lot of time compiling their own resources which they give to their students and graduates. Most schools put together and distribute lists of state and regional law firms and in-house corporate legal departments. Law schools often have many handouts relating to different steps in the job search, including resume/cover letter guides and other valuable information.

In light of recent advances in technology, law schools have also been able to upgrade their resource libraries and offer many computerized on-line services. Perhaps the most important advance in recent years has been the arrival of the Martindale-Hubbell directory on Lexis and NALPLine and West's Legal Directory on Westlaw. Both databases enable the user to manipulate the directories to create a narrowly targeted mailing list. For example, on Lexis you can request a list of personal injury firms with two to twelve attorneys practicing in New York City, and the computer will generate this list from Martindale-Hubbell.

TIP 8: Call Your Local Bar Association

State and local bar associations have done a commendable job supplementing the work of the law schools in offering support groups, workshops and seminars for their membership. The Association of the Bar of the City of New York, for example, has a "Lawyers in Transition" Committee that offers numerous seminars featuring career experts and on-going weekly support groups run by psychologists. It also offers job bulletins to its members. Although the wealth of new programs offered may not solve the economic crisis, it has vastly increased networking opportunities and provided much-needed emotional support.

TIP 9: Allow Yourself Some Playtime

Whether you are in the job search voluntarily or involuntarily, there is a tendency to avoid other people. Job seekers feel guilty if every waking moment is not dedicated to their search. Because there is rejection built into the job search process, it is important to design strategies for working through the rejection so that you have the energy to move on to the next call or meeting or interview which may be the one where you land a job. Allow yourself time to be with the important people in your life who can provide support, encouragement and perhaps a few laughs during this tumultuous time.


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