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How to Apply for Positions with Private Law Firms

published May 16, 2013

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Our purpose is to survey generally those considerations which will allow you to take maximum advantage of obvious job opportunities. There are, however, ways to identify or create additional job prospects and, in the process, further refine your abilities to take advantage of the situations that you want to pursue.

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Fortunately for most law students identifying law firms looking for lawyers is quite easy. The law school placement office provides that function; it is the equivalent of the New York Stock Exchange specialist.

The first step in identifying or refining job prospects in the placement process is to have some idea of where you want to practice. This is part of the interviewing process. It is not a very efficient use of time to learn all there is to know about Wall Street law firms if you hate New York City. If you have several prospective locations, try to narrow the list as much as possible. However, be realistic about your choices; although the profession is trying to disprove the theory, not all law school graduates can practice in Boston, New York, Washington, and California. In any event, it should be relatively easy to eliminate those places where you do not want to live. Be honest with yourself. If you know you hate Milwaukee, do not interview there because you perceive that more job opportunities exist there than in Boston.

If you are one of those people who are truly flexible about geography and can be happy wherever an opportunity best presents itself, you have the option of trying to identify specific opportunities in specific locales. Even with this approach you cannot be totally without restrictions; you must have some mechanism whereby you can narrow the range of possibilities to a workable list.

Once you have identified your target, concentrate on it. Before the interviewer visits your law school, learn as much as you can about all of the firms in a given location or about the particular firms you have selected. In many instances the inter-viewing process is so hectic and competitive that law school placement offices have imposed certain restrictions on students attempting to interview certain firms. For instance, certain law schools force students to make geographic determinations which, consequently, limit their chances to talk to firms in other parts of the country. Other schools limit a student's total number of interviews and still others arbitrarily allow the first students who sign up for a given interview to fill up that interviewer's schedule.

The important thing to remember about interviewing at your law school is to know how your placement office works and use it as one of your allies. Remember, the principal function of a law school placement office is to place its graduates as well as possible. Law schools see the placement process as part of their responsibility to their students and candidly admit that students who are well placed tend to be more successful, thereby increasing the prestige and endowment of that particular law school. Those things, in rum, distinguish the better schools which then attract the better students who are easier to place, and the process continues. Use your placement office!

You should also consider writing to firms in which you are particularly interested before they visit your campus.

That technique will be especially helpful if you are, for one reason or another, precluded from seeing an interviewer during the normal interviewing schedule. Many law firms try to see every student who genuinely expresses an interest in an interview. Most interviewers will consider expanding their schedules through cocktails, breakfast or some other schedule adjustment to the extent they feel it is warranted. It is your job to convince a given interviewer that you have sufficient interest in and likelihood of success at a given firm so that the interviewer will take the time to see you.

Last, pay attention to your classmates' discussions about their experiences and their friends' experiences in a particular firm or in a specific city. Rumors and hearsay are just that, but law students' discussions about common interests and common experiences in the interviewing process are terribly helpful. Indeed, the reason some people counsel prospective clerks and others not to defer making an employment decision while in their third year to the contrary is that they have access to the greatest volume of information about law firms while they are in school and should take advantage of it.

Other Sources

There are a great many law schools, particularly the newer ones and those which are not yet fully accredited, that do not have a placement office or, if they do, have one which is not fully staffed and operational. In those situations you are going to have to identify by other means the private law firms with which you wish to practice.

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Currently, the most readily available and complete single source of information about law firms in the United States is the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, which lists by lawyer, or in many instances by firm, all the lawyers practicing in the United States. There is also a section listing lawyers and firms in other countries.

Martindale-Hubbell is compiled on a state-by-state basis. When the listing is by firm, the firm provides the information which is submitted to Martindale-Hubbell. The listing will show, sometimes by seniority and sometimes alphabetically, the partners (and in some instances all the associates), a listing of representative clients, and the addresses and phone numbers of its various offices. Each firm will be assigned a ranking of professional competence, whose relevance might be only the absence of it. You will be able to use Martindale's to identify a lawyer in a particular firm who might have graduated from your law school or college or who might have some other mutual affiliation. You should also be able to tell quite a lot about the recruiting policies of the firm. If all of the lawyers in the firm have the same last name or have gone to the same schools, that firm might not be the place for you, unless, of course, you went to your father's alma mater and intend to return home to practice with him. If the associates are listed, you should also be able to tell how much the firm emphasizes grades by the presence or absence of academic honors attending each associate.

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