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Most Commonly Asked Questions by Legal Professionals

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1. Question: I have been asked what my salary requirements are. How can I answer the question without blowing my chances?

Answer: Salary questions are tough, but manageable. If you can, get the employer to state a figure first. If not, try to give a ten thousand dollar range, instead of naming a specific figure. Think about a bottom line number that you can comfortably live with and bear that in mind during negotiating. Go for what you want, but also be willing to give something up; less money for better benefits, etc. Consult the American Lawyer annual law firm survey or David J. White and Associates, Inc. Annual Salary Survey for information about the going market rate.



2. Question: I can't network because I don't already have contacts. What should I do?

Answer: Everyone has contacts. Start close to home with family members, relatives, neighbors, coworkers, and friends. Offer to take people for coffee, or for lunch. Have face to face meetings instead of phone conversations if possible. Just ask for advice and information, not a job. At the end of each meeting, ask if the person you are meeting with knows anyone else you can "brainstorm" with, for advice and information. Your network will start to expand as you are referred to people, like a spider web.

According to Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary, a network is “a fabric or structure of cords or wires that cross at regular intervals and are knotted or secured at the crossings." You will become the crossings, or center of this network as you continue to meet friends of friends.

3. Question: How can I switch to a different practice area when I don't have any work experience in that area?

Answer: In order to switch to a different practice area, you need to develop some knowledge of the area and be able to convince employers of your genuine interest in changing career direction. One way to accomplish this is to take continuing legal education courses, seminars, or workshops in your area of interest and add them to your resume under "Additional Training/Coursework." Another good idea is to join the committee of your state or local bar association in the area into which you want to switch. Attend the meetings, get to know the members, and offer to take charge of a project. That way you will get to know people and impress them with your willingness to learn and to work hard. Pro Bono work in your targeted area of practice is yet another way to demonstrate interest in and gain knowledge of a particular practice area.

4. Question: What are the alternative legal careers that most lawyers go into?

Answer: There is no "magic list" of employers who like to hire law school graduates. However, many, many lawyers have transitioned into other fields. Entrepreneurial ventures and the communications and financial arenas have attracted many former lawyers, but lawyers have gone into almost every field imaginable. The place to start, as always, is not with "what's available" but with yourself, by doing in-depth self assessment. From that standpoint you can then identify specific jobs, and transferable skills. Although employers in other fields often question why anyone would want to leave law practice, they are usually impressed with legal credentials.
 
5. Question: I did not get good grades in law school-who is going to hire me?

Answer: Other than the top 10-15% of every law school, every law school graduate experiences concern at some time about their G.P.A. The good news is, other than very large law firms, legal employers are more concerned with your experience, your ability to think and talk on your feet, your analytical and writing skills, and most of all your desire and enthusiasm for the position. Focusing on a specific area or type of practice and gaining a lot of experience in that area (paid or pro bono) can compensate for less than stellar grades. If a large law firm is your heart's desire, remember, that there are "many roads to Mecca." Becoming an expert in an area of practice that they want to expand, or transitioning laterally after a few years of practice can get you through the door.

6. Question: I have a job interview tomorrow-how can I find out more about the law firm/agency/organization?

Answer: Consult your law school career services office to see if they have any information about the employer on file, and the alumni office to see if there are any alumni already working there; Research on-line services (Lexis and Westlaw) both in the legal directories (NALP-DIR, MARHUB, etc.), and in the news databases (Nexis/Dialog/Dow Jones) for information. The legal organizations on-line have increased on an almost daily basis in recent years. Call the human resources/recruitment
department of the organization and ask if they have an annual report or brochure about the organization. Go pick it up in person from the department.

7. Question: There is a period of a year after law school/ between jobs when I didn't work. What should I put on my resume? What if I get asked questions about my employment history?

Answer: Gaps in employment are common, especially in today's challenging economic times. If you have done any pro bono work, per diem work or continuing legal education, list it on your resume. It is usually better to list your dates of employment on your resume on the right hand side of your resume rather than the left margin. Since the eye reads from left to right employers will be focused on your employment experience, not the length of time that you have worked. Prepare in advance and practice how you will answer the question in an interview situation. Remember to look the interviewer straight in the eye, lean forward slightly and smile. This will disarm the interviewer, because he will see that you are not flustered. Answer the question honestly, putting it in its most positive light. After you have answered the question, move on to another topic of conversation.

8. Question: I had a job interview with several attorneys and the recruitment coordinator-to whom should I send the thank you letter?

Answer: You should send the thank you letter to either the most senior level person, the recruitment coordinator, or to the person with whom you really "clicked" during the interview. You may send just one letter, but you must include a line in which you ask the interviewer to extend your thanks to all of the others who interviewed you (list them by name-make sure all names are spelled correctly). If you send individual letters, they must all be different. Mail your thank you letter as soon as possible after the interview.

9. Question: I just found out I'm getting laid off. What if anything should I ask the firm to do for me?

Answer: Arrange for a face to face meeting with your employer before you actually leave the job. Have the meeting after you have had a day or two to calm down and organize your thoughts. Write everything down that you would like to request before the meeting. You should ask about severance pay, unemployment, outplacement/ career counseling services, references, use of a secretary or office space, and what both you and the employer will say to the outside world about the reason for your departure. Get everything nailed down before you actually leave. Once you have left, your former employer may be harder to reach and less motivated to respond quickly. Remember that you have some negotiating ability; both sides would prefer a peaceful resolution. Play to their "guilt" by asking for what you need. Most employers feel bad when they have to let an employee go and would be happy to have the opportunity to help.

10. Question: I can't fit everything onto one page of my resume--What should I take out?

Answer: If you cannot fit everything onto one page, try one or more the following suggestions: use the "bullet" format incorporating your sentences into short phrases preceded by a dot, dash or asterisk; eliminate job descriptions for positions which you held over ten years ago or which are not relevant to the job for which you are applying; create more than one version of your resume so that you can focus on different areas of experience for different positions; reduce the size of the font to ten or eleven point, or use a different font. If you do have a two page resume, make sure that your name, address and phone number appear at the top of the second page and that the second page is at least half full. The entire resume should be uncluttered and very easy to read. Place information that the potential employer must know on the first page.

11. Question: I went to a bar association function to try to meet people and network but I didn't know anyone there. How can I make contacts at events?

Answer: First of all, GO! Don't make excuses and stay at home. Bring a friend if you want to for moral support, but don't stay together once you have arrived. Promise yourself that you can leave after twenty minutes if you are not having a good time. Once there, position yourself between the entrance and the food/ bar where people can see you and you will always be surrounded by other people. When the event is in full swing, circulate, and make sure to bring business cards-you don't want to have to go through your purse/ pockets looking for a pencil in the middle of an important conversation.

12. Question: How many jobseekers actually get their jobs through some form of networking?

Answer: According to a report in Forbes magazine by a Harvard sociologist, "informal contacts" account for approximately seventy-five percent of all new jobs. Agencies/ headhunters find jobs for about ten percent and classified ads provide about ten percent.

13. Question: I got a job offer from a law firm, but I'm waiting to hear from another firm that I really would rather work for-what should I do?

Answer: This is a very common situation-you wait seemingly forever to get a job offer, and then you have to make a tough choice very suddenly. However, handled diplomatically you can usually buy yourself some time. When you call the firm back after having received the offer, show a lot of enthusiasm and appreciation, and thank them for the offer. You can then simply ask, "When do you need to know?" Most firms will give you approximately two weeks to consider the offer. Only very rarely will a firm withdraw your offer (and you would not want to work for them anyway). You should then let the other firm-the one you really want-know they need to make a decision about your application. Often having another offer makes you appear more desirable to them, and can work in your favor. If all things appear to be equal, trust your gut instinct.

14. Question: What are the "hot" legal practice areas right now?

Answer: Environmental law, international law, employment law and intellectual property are some of the popular specialty areas right now. However, the legal job market is very volatile and will probably continue to change in the next few years. The key to getting into a hot area is to predict it in advance, by carefully watching proposed government legislation and economic reforms. Track upcoming trends by getting into the habit of reading legal and non legal periodicals on a daily basis.

15. Question: What is the most effective technique for finding a job as a lawyer in today's marketplace?

Answer: You have to use a combination of job search techniques, and continue them on a regular basis. Doing your job search in stop and start spurts, or utilizing only one method such as answering classified ads is not the most successful approach. Doing a job search is like starting an exercise plan or a diet: you need to do a variety of exercises to get your whole body in shape, and eat several different types of foods to achieve a balanced diet. Just lifting weights or eating only broccoli may be good for you but it won't achieve your goals.

Conduct your job search through a combination of: networking, answering classified ads, researching organizations, attending events, sending out narrowly targeted mailings, and using headhunters/agencies. Continue on a steady basis until you land the job of your dreams. Don't give up until you find it.

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Alternative Legal Careers      Attorneys      Job Search      Law Firm Survey      Legal Organizations      Recruitment Coordinator     

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