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Identifying Contacts for Attorney Job Search

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The primary goal in conducting library research is to identify people to contact and develop thoughtful questions to ask them. Library research alone is not sufficient so do not spend an excessive amount of time simply reading and taking notes. Your time can be better spent gathering information by talking to people. Unlike books, people will have more current, detailed and accurate information about what is happening in the field.

Contacts are your single most valuable resource in the job search. It is extremely important to utilize these relationships as a primary outreach technique to broaden your field of vision in preparation for making a good career decision.

Networking means simply meeting in person with professional and personal contacts (even if you have been out of touch for a long time) and asking for ideas and advice on the ways your talents could be used by organizations. Networking rests on the basic principle that businesses, jobs and careers are built on personal relationships. Law school classmates and professors, college friends and family members, former employers, colleagues and opponents, and bar association leaders may be able to assist you.

The true purpose of networking is to get information, advice and referrals; it occurs naturally in all areas of life. For example, when moving into a new neighborhood, you probably would not hesitate to ask your new neighbors for recommendations about dry cleaners, grocery stores, dentists, etc. Or when planning a vacation you would not think twice about asking friends or family to recommend hotels and restaurants. In business it is common to ask colleagues to suggest accountants, bankers or computer systems. But for some reason, we hesitate to ask people we know about job opportunities.

The advertised job market represents only about 25% of actual openings. This market tends to represent positions at the extreme ends of the job spectrum-low paid unskilled or high-paid highly skilled jobs. Worst of all, many of these advertised jobs are actually filled prior to being advertised. Given that more than 75% of job changes result from networking, this is the most important job search activity. Word of mouth communication is still the most practical route of job search information. Furthermore, effective networking can provide job seekers with a sense of control because it provides a focus and structure for receiving information during a very stressful period.

Countless books and articles have been written outlining networking techniques and gimmicks to coach readers. But you can not be effective with empty techniques and gimmicks. Think through your strategy first. You need to have a clear objective about what you are trying to accomplish before you visit anyone! There should be no hidden agenda.

At this point in your search you should simply be looking for information about where the jobs are.

It is important to understand what you can reasonably expect from relationships and what is outside those bounds. It is not reasonable to expect a job will be handed to you! When networking to uncover job opportunities, it is reasonable to expect:
  • Moral Support
  • Assistance in formulating plans
  • To receive feedback about resumes, cover letters and approach
  • Testing of ideas and theories
  • Education about the world of works
  • Referrals to others who can help you
  • Suggestions
  • Clearly, networking MATTERS!
Most people do not know of many current job openings. If the first and only question posed to your contacts is "Do you know of any openings?" you will more often than not receive a no and an opportunity may be lost. By asking "What do you do and what alternatives are out there?" you will uncover information which will eventually generate job leads and preserve your relationships.

It is important not to concentrate your efforts on only those with influential positions and the power to hire you. Remember, networking should only be used as a communication process to acquire information, not as a manipulation used to acquire power and influence over employers. If you are playing the "advice and information game" when you really believe networking is nothing more than the back door route to a new position, you are being insincere, misleading and you will not be effective. Focus on people who are close to your level of experience-it is less uncomfortable networking with fellow professionals than with potential employers.

While appearing to be organized and coherent, the job market really is disorganized and chaotic. Your task is to organize the chaos around your skills and interests. Having identified a market need, you now must be able to outline and explain how you think you can fill the need. By talking to people-family, friends, clients, opposing counsel, people you meet on airplanes-you can learn new information and reassess your options. Job searches are so much easier when you have a defined target employment setting or a specific way you'd like to use your skills. Seek advice from experts and adapt ideas to your needs. Do what is right for you in the context of your particular circumstances.


Many people are hesitant about "using" people or asking for help. However, networking should be viewed as a communication process- exchanging and receiving advice and referrals about jobs. Many people these days consider it foolish not to use contacts, and those in a position to help you might even be insulted that they were not asked for assistance. People like to help others. It makes them feel good, powerful and important. By establishing a specific and relevant basis for a meeting-asking for ideas, opinions, a reaction to your own thoughts- there is no reason for you to be turned down. Ask for something specific, something doable.

Consider the following sample approaches to potential contacts:
  • To a Geographic contact: "You have lived in this city for so long and know almost everyone..."
  • To a socially active friend: "You have so many friends, you probably hear about things before anyone..."
  • To someone who works in your field: "You've been working in the same type of job I am looking for, I am sure you have some idea how my skills might be viewed..."
  • To a professor: "You know better than anyone what kinds of jobs are open in this field..."
  • To anyone you admire: "You always seem to have good ideas..."
  • To someone you have helped: "We have helped each other in the past, so I am hoping you can help me now..."

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