Ten Tips to Help Foreign Trained Lawyers Find Work in the US
by Nadine C. Atkinson-Flowers
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Summary:If you are a foreign trained lawyer and have recently moved to the US, you need to read these tips on how to get job experience after your move.
As a foreign trained lawyer, newly immigrated and transplanted to the USA, I decided to do some research on the job market and requirements for admission to the bar of various states. Realistically however, getting admitted to the bar in the US is not an option right now for me and so I had to explore other possibilities.
It struck me that many foreign trained lawyers might be in a similar position as I am. They may be trying to figure out the future of their US legal careers, right along with driving on the right, getting their kids enrolled in school, and the rest of it. Here are ten tips to help you get valuable American job experience as you contemplate the future of your legal career.
Volunteer. If you have found an organization that is willing to take you on as an intern or as an a volunteer, that is great. Be open-minded. Ask what you can do. Be up front. Let them know that you have legal skills that you hope they can use. Sometimes you have to explain how your skills can be useful or show them how you can be useful to their organization. This will ultimately end up helping you get additional experience, which you can then put on your resume.
Document all that you do at your position, volunteer or paid. Remember that you are building your resume. If you drafted and wrote documents, make a note that records your drafting experience. If you welcomed clients and answered the telephone, then you are building experience in organizational skills. The idea is to write down all the tasks you are asked to do and think about how they actually can translate into adding to your resume and job experience.
Get your foot in the door. If you get a job, take it, even if it is not in the legal field. It’s irrelevant that you are getting a small paycheck. You are getting experience, and nothing beats that. Let it be known that you are willing to work in any and every area. So if you are working in food service, you should see it as American customer service experience that you can add to your resume. If you are working in as a clerical assistant, you can add organizational skills to your resume.
Take a free course. Do a general Google search for a relevant course that interests you. Free courses are available on the websites of different universities and colleges as well as on the sites of NGOs, governmental organizations and many more. These are often online, but you may find some with a traditional classroom setting. Dependent on your circumstances, you will choose what works best for you. Some courses are actually substantial and offer certification of completion and participation.
Be prepared to start at the bottom. Yes, you might have been at the top of your game in your country. But remember that you are not admitted to a bar here, so you have to be willing to do what is necessary. Now, especially if you are planning on going back to law school, many admission personnel are looking at your overall application. It is useful to know that you are willing to do whatever it takes to achieve your goals.
Work with a non-profit, especially if they do legal work. You can gain invaluable experience with these types of organizations. They invariably do a variety of work, so you could work on a grant one day, research a criminal brief the next, sit in as recording secretary on a meeting the next, and be advocating for a community effort later on. These types of organizations are very useful, as you can meet new persons, work on many issues (legal and non-legal), and learn about new job areas.
Have a job resource center help you. The better resource centers will not ask you for payment. These organizations often give you a basic consultation about your resume. Even the spelling on it can’t be taken for granted. They can help with style, formatting and how to really sell you as an achiever instead of simply stating your experiences. Employers sometimes come in and tell people what they are looking in potential employees. Most employers are using skills based computerized databases to screen potential employees, and if yours is not in the right format, it might be rejected. Moreover, when you do get a job, still keep in touch with your resource center. Future leads for jobs can come from them.
Network, network, network. Don’t be afraid to speak up and let people know more about you. They may be intrigued by your accent, by the laws in your country, or something else. The idea is to ensure that you begin to get your name out there and the fact that you are job hunting. Go to as many job fairs as you can find. Always have a resume or two on hand. As you meet and speak with people, leave them with a resume or your contact details, even if initially it appears they can’t assist. Job leads can come in many ways. Join up with a group that works with immigrants, and let them know you are interested in getting a job first and a job in the legal field second.
Smaller can be better. A smaller organization can offer a lot of possibilities. While you may really want to work at a huge firm, you could benefit more from a smaller organization, depending on what your goals are. In a big organization, you could get pigeon-holed into working in only one area, never getting much more experience than the basics. In a smaller company you may well be able to work in lots of areas, improving your existing skills, learning new ones and being able to contribute to achievements and to be recognized for them.
Quasi legal jobs offer a wealth of experience. Examine the various job options that exist that have a legal component. Some options include a paralegal, a legal clerk, a deputy clerk, a docket assistant or an administrative assistant. Another job is that of an accredited representative for immigration cases, although some training is required. Grant writers , project managers, and recruiters are also jobs that are not necessarily legal jobs, yet they do incorporate many legal aspects.
This is the time to turn each and every job into an opportunity.
Nadine C. Atkinson-Flowers is a foreign trained attorney.