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Froth, Downward Wages, and the Importance of Repeat Business
published August 01, 2014
One of the more interesting things to me is when people come out of law school and have a difficult time getting a job. This is intriguing because of the following facts:
Sometimes it is not easy to see the forest through the trees. When I think about people coming out of law school and struggling to get jobs, it is upsetting to me because the person could usually get an associate attorney job if they did the right thing.
This article discusses what you need to do in order to get a job. I am not going to sugarcoat anything, and I am not going to coddle you and tell you everything is going to be okay. If you do not get a job, everything will not be okay.
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I'm going to tell you what you need to do. Please listen to me. I've seen so many people fail, and I don't want you to be one of them.
Getting a job as an attorney is what law school and everything you have ever done to get there is all about. You can talk all you want about the value of education, but the real value is that it can get you a job.
You need to apply to every single job opening there is. That is all there is to it. Just think about it mathematically. The more opportunities you apply to, the more likely you are to get a job offer. The more job offers you get the better off you will be. This is not a time to be selective. If you are graduating from law school and do not have a job lined up, you are in crisis. Apply everywhere you possibly can and use every resource you possibly can.
LawCrossing researches all of the job openings in the market and puts them all on its site. It is a very good resource. The small cost you pay for accessing this research will reward you many, many times over when you get a position.
I am from Detroit. When I was interviewing with firms when I was in law school, it was not a fun experience. The firms in Detroit were shrinking, and the attorneys working in them were not very enthusiastic. In contrast, when I interviewed with law firms in California and New York, they were growing. You need to go where the jobs are.
Every attorney is marketable somewhere. I received a call a few years ago from an attorney working in a small town in the middle of the desert in California. He wanted to retire and was hoping he could hire and train a young attorney to take over his practice. I sat down and contacted thousands of new graduates of law schools who were unemployed. None of them were interested in the job. They would rather be unemployed than move to a small town.
The person who ultimately took the job was a hungry, young attorney from a mid-sized law firm who realized that this job was an opportunity (he was getting hundreds of clients, a good salary, the respect of being the only attorney in the area, and the opportunity to be a leader in city government). The people who are geographically flexible usually succeed.
You need to look at other areas. Just because you are not getting traction where you are does not mean you are not marketable. While living near the ocean or in a popular city may be reasons to work in a certain place, the fact of the matter is that wherever you end up you will be spending the majority of your time behind a desk. Most offices and computer monitors look quite similar. The most important thing you can do to improve your marketability is to get a job and more experience.
One of the problems with recent law graduates is that they are opinionated and often overly idealistic.
Regardless of any preconceived notions you may have, it is important that you are enthusiastic in all of your interviews and make people feel like you really want the job. The best jobs generally go to the people who want them the most.
I once knew an attorney in a very niche practice area who lost a $170,000 a year job with a major law firm. To my astonishment, she went to interview with an "insurance defense mill" firm in Los Angeles that offered her a job for $45,000 per year and told her that 2,400 hours of billable time was the minimum they expected.
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"Wow, that must have been a tough interview," I told her after she called me reporting this.
She was "up" and "chipper" and matter of factly told me she was positive she would get the job.
"I need a job. This is my only opportunity right now. I am sure I got the job. I did great in the interview."
"What did you do?" I asked her.
"I imagined the job was going to pay a million dollars a year. I treated everyone the very best I could and was as confident and poised as I could be."
The woman got the job. It ended up being an even better job than the one she lost. This is what good attorneys do. They do their best in every situation. You want to get a job offer from every job you interview for.
Here are some helpful tips about interviewing:
Off-the-Record Interview Tips from Law Firm Interviewers
Networking is extremely important. People love to help people who know someone they know.
Here are a few articles I have done in the past about referrals:
Here is how one attorney got his first job:
I ran into an associate dean during the second semester of my 2nd year at an event and she asked what I was doing for the summer. I said I didn't have a job lined up, and she said she knew a place. When she gave me the info, I asked if I should call to set up an interview, and she said no, just go there on the starting date and they would find a place for me, which they did, and then they hired me full-time when I graduated.
Here is how another attorney got his first job:
I was networking with a local technology association. There was an IP lawyer who gave me a tip on a job. I was studying for the bar exam and decided to just go interview. They contacted me a couple days later and said I got the job. I love it. I work for the county and get great benefits, and I get to go home at 5 PM every day.
My dad met a partner at a mid-sized firm through his work, told him I was a 2L, and asked if I could send him my resume. I sent it in and got an interview back home (across the country).
Turns out, my best friend that I met across the country grew up next door to the other founding partner who conducted the interview. When I told him, he smiled, asked how my friend was doing, chit-chatted for 10 minutes, and offered me a summer job.
I killed it that summer, worked hard, impressed people, and got my offer to come back to work after graduation.
If you are unemployed and looking for a job, it is no time to be quiet. You should get out there and let everyone know you need a job. Every person you speak to could know of an opportunity and become your advocate.
When I was in college, I wrote a book about the horrible discrimination that African Americans had historically received in the city of Detroit. I was very passionate about this topic and even was invited to lecture in various classes at my school about it. I spent my summers living in one of the worst neighborhoods in Detroit doing research.
None of this went over well in interviews with white bankers. I spent an hour or so learning how to interview with the Career Services Offices and turned everything around quite rapidly. I needed to learn the rules of interviewing, including: not talking too much, showing interest in the position, and keeping my opinions in check.
Career Services Offices have massive resources that can teach you how to interview and give you tips on things you are doing wrong. They may also have jobs they can provide you with.
A few years ago, I called the Career Services Office at UCLA Law School and told them I was interested in hiring a recent law school graduate. They had several to refer me, but recommended I hire one girl in particular because she seemed to be very eager for a job. She had been hanging out at the Career Services Office, doing research, contacting employers and asking for advice. They put her at the top of the list because she was showing the most effort.
I hate to be blunt, but I am just going to share the truth with you.
A few weeks after interviewing her, I called her to tell her I had hired someone else for the position. To my astonishment, she had received several offers from large law firms in Los Angeles. I could not believe it and, a few months later, did a search for her name on Google and saw she had gotten a job with the Los Angeles office of a large national law firm. The law firm was of very high caliber.
What does this mean?
I am not telling you that you need to be a "cover girl" to get a job. What I am saying, though, is you need to put yourself together and look good for interviews. Please see my discussion of interview dress here:
What is Appropriate Dress for an Interview?
Getting a legal job is one of the most important events of your life. It is right up there with starting a family. You want to look and feel your absolute best. You should be fit. You should look the best you can. You should be healthy.
The important point is that you want to look and feel your absolute best. This goes for men and women.
When I graduated from law school in the mid-1990s, probably the hottest law firm in Los Angeles was Latham & Watkins. I went to interview at the firm in the summer before completing my clerkship, and the day I did, there was an event for the summer associates that I was also invited to. I thought I was on the set of "Melrose Place." The entire staff looked like they could be models. They were healthy, enthusiastic, and well put together. The law firm was hiring people like this because that was part of their image. You need to prepare for your interviews by being healthy and looking the best you can.
The most effective way to get your first legal job is to mail out your resume to potential employers. You ignore this advice at your own peril. This works.
Without getting into a lot of detail, the reasons this is effective are numerous:
The point is that this works, and it works well. There are detractors out there who may have negative things to say about this method of looking for a job. There is nothing negative about this. It is powerful and can give you incredible results.
Here are some quotes from people about how they got their first legal job:
I got the list of members of the local criminal lawyers professional association from their website. I started at "A" and mailed resumes to everyone on the list. I got to "H" and got a job. I worked at the firm for three years and am now running my own practice.
I moved to a new place for my wife, so I started from scratch. I had no luck applying for jobs, so I sent letters to every firm around asking if they needed contract work. I got into a work-for-space agreement with one firm and did contract work for a couple attorneys for another six months or so. I got a ton of experience but barely made enough to live.
After that, I started applying to jobs again. I found the one I have now in the newspaper. I used a brief I did as a contract attorney and used the attorneys I had done work for as references. Now, here I am!
You should be pro-actively contacting every employer you can when you are looking for a job.
Getting the best job is a psychological exercise as much as anything. You need to be enthusiastic and not allow yourself to see obstacles or get psyched out. This is not a time to see reasons why you won't succeed. It is a time to charge forward without recognizing your own limitations.
Living in Los Angeles, I have watched many people in the entertainment industry succeed. I have seen some of the nuttiest things.
I once knew a guy who was living in a $300 per month apartment in a bad neighborhood right next to Los Angeles International Airport. He had gone to high school with me, and I felt really sorry for him. He kept talking about how he was going to make a movie, and I thought he was insane. He had been living like this for years and could barely afford to eat.
I remember telling him he needed to get a job. It was as if he didn't even hear me. He nodded and went about his business. Deep down he knew he was going to be successful no matter what.
To my astonishment, he sold a screenplay for close to $1 million, started going around with the "Hollywood elite," and his entire life changed. He believed in himself and what he could accomplish.
I've seen numerous examples of this sort of thing among actors, attorneys and others. You need to constantly keep your dream alive and not give up. Your dream is the fuel you need to keep going.
Do not associate with people who tell you what is impossible. Do not listen to people who discourage you. Your mindset is the number one thing that will make you successful.
Many people go to law school because they hear about the amazing salaries that new attorneys can get. The sad truth is that very few attorneys will make these salaries when they graduate. Just like the best football players command the highest salaries, so do the attorneys with the best credentials and interviewing skills. If you are not part of that group yet, just remember that this is a long race, and you can still get there.
In the short term, remember that none of the people you are interviewing with could care less if you want a better job. They have work that needs to be done, and they need people to do it. If you do not do the work, someone else will.
The issue that you need to be acutely aware of is that if you show any hesitation about the work they are offering you, then they will find someone else to do it.
Not too long ago, I was doing a search for an in-house attorney placement company I run, General Counsel Consulting. We had an interesting opening for an intellectual property attorney. The caliber of candidates I was seeing was amazing--partners from the best firms with the best qualifications.
The company hiring for the position had a lot of work and just wanted someone to get it done. The firm did not want someone to try to change their processes or rework their legal department. Most of the high-ranking partners had an "attitude" that they could do things better (although they all still wanted the job).
The company rejected the "important" partners like viruses and ultimately hired the person with fewer qualifications. The issue was that he wanted the job, and they wanted a soldier to just do the work.
Most importantly, when you are young, you need to be aware that legal employers just want soldiers. They do not want people who are going to tell them how to do things.
Here is an interesting article about interviewing: Are You a ''Me-Focused'' or a ''You-Focused'' Interviewee?
While I hate to say this, I have seen more people not get jobs due to typos and other issues with their resumes and cover letters than I can count. If you make a typo on a resume, for example, the odds are you will not be hired due to this alone.
It is a good idea to have a company, like Attorney Resume, review your application materials. You should also have a few colleagues review your resume and cover letter.
There are a myriad of mistakes that recent law school graduates make when applying for jobs. Do these things well and you should succeed.
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