Landing your first job will be tough. Your credentials may be great, but you must be ready to put in the extra time needed to find a job. A successful hunt will require vision, excellence in the classroom, and a strong network. The academic rigors of law school can be challenging enough, combined with the stress of searching for a job makes the transition time between law school and your first job a difficult time for most people. With all that said, proper planning and aggressive networking are crucial to landing your first job. To help out, I have come up with a number of tips to help you navigate this tough time.
Starts Before You Become a Lawyer
Law school is a means to an end. Essentially, your job interview starts on the first day of law school. As you might imagine, the first step toward landing a job is taking care of business in the classroom. Success in the classroom will directly impact your job hunt. Better grades will open more doors and give you better, diverse options going forward. Like it or not, getting good grades in law school can have a major impact on when and what type of job you get when you graduate.
Not everyone will be at the top of the class, but being in the middle of the pack, grade-wise, is not a job killer. Solid grades combined with relevant work experience can counter not being at the top of your class. In fact, I have known a number of lawyers who focused exclusively on their grades, failed to get solid work experience, only to find the job hunt that much more difficult because of their lack of practical experience. This is especially true for law students who went straight to law school after graduating from college. Experience is critical to your long-term success as an attorney and it starts in law school.
Begin to Visualize the Type of Career You Want
Law school is a hectic and difficult time, one I would not want to experience again. Nevertheless, I hope that you are able to start to envision a path for your career. This is another reason why tangible work experience is so important. Not only will it give you a leg up on your competitors, but it will also give you insights into the areas of law that you enjoy and want to pursue. This is a valuable perspective, which if gained, allows you to focus on getting the background needed to break into and be successful in your chosen are of law.
Like most things in life, your legal career will have twists and turns and you are unlikely to stay in one job (notably, your first) for your entire career. With that said, if at all possible work to find your passions in the law because doing so will save you time, frustration, and productive years of practice.
Mine Your Network
As you transition from law school into the working world it is vitally important to start building your network, which, ultimately, means you need to put yourself out there. Unfortunately, much of the law school job hunt is a rejection. Do not let the fear of rejection hinder your pursuit. Fortunately, it only takes one offer to make all the other rejections moot. Here are a few tips after you have graduated from law school:
Reach out to people. You need to reach out to family/friends, contacts from shared organizations/clubs, former bosses, alums, and mentors in the legal community—whoever you know. I reached out and made contact with all sorts of people and ultimately got my first job through a very unlikely source. An old high school baseball teammate of mine, who I had not spoken to in years, happened to work in the building where I was clerking during my last year in law school. I looked up this buddy on Linkedln and over the course of a year would meet occasionally for drinks, lunches, and coffee breaks. These casual get-togethers allowed us to reconnect and when his firm had an opening after I passed the bar, I had a nice foot in the door for an interview, which is all I needed.
Attend events. Local attorney events give you a nice opportunity to meet potential contacts in a more social setting. Alumni, practice-specific, and local bar association events are also perfect places to meet people with a shared interest or bond. I have a friend who met an inspiring female managing partner at a women's bar association event (who was an alum of her law school) and she was able to make a solid connection with that partner, which ultimately led to an externship and finally an associate position. I also had a friend attend a law school alumni event for a school he did not attend, just to meet a partner at a firm who had invited him to the event. Taking that extra step and showing a sincere interest and drive to get a job will impress people and give you an advantage over your more timid colleagues.
Join organizations. Local and national bar associations, practice area organizations, and public-interest organizations, among others, offer a person on the job hunt a wealth of contacts. Not only will these contacts potentially help you in your initial job hunt, but they may serve as great mentors, colleagues, and referral sources as you grow as an attorney.
Be social-media savvy. Make sure that your social media (Facebook, etc.) is in order and is appropriate. Also clean up and make professional websites, like Linkedln, look clean and professional. These sites are often a first introduction to people looking into you and your background, the time and effort you put into these types of sites can give you an advantage. By the same token, personal websites like Facebook can close doors just as quickly as professional websites like Linkedln can open them. I have heard of a number of firms that check these websites to get a feel for potential candidates. If you have offensive or questionable material on your personal site that is visible to your potential employer, you are putting your job prospects at risk.
Polish résumés, cover letters, etc. Finally, and it may seem simple enough, but make sure your resumes and cover letters are in order. Have someone you trust look over your resume and cover letters. Getting another set of eyes on these documents can ensure that you are putting your best foot forward. The first job hunt is tough, but if you start early, remain optimistic, and work your contacts you will be well-positioned to land your first job.