Make a Plan
By Andrew C. Clark
Manley Deas Kochalski LLC
You recently took your bar exam, but the results may seem secondary to student loan repayments and the glaring absence of an attorney position waiting on the other side. Your mind is frantically pondering a host of questions: Are there are any other job posting boards? Is it too early for a career change? Should I open my own practice? How can I better utilize my network? Should I shift my focus to non-attorney positions? Can I please have the last three years back? Finally, as you tread dangerously close to an aneurism, you hear the good news: You passed. Congratulations, your new full-time job is to make people hire you.
When I was faced with this reality, I came to the conclusion that there are two primary options available: find a job (single big client) or start building your own practice/book of business (many smaller clients).
Regardless of the option you choose, it is important to understand and embrace the fact that you are your own business and that you, as an attorney, are a marketable product. As with any business, you will need a business plan, a marketing/PR strategy, a research and development department, an exacting eye for accounting, and some business advisors, if possible. I hope that the advice below, based on my own experiences, will provide some empowerment in your seemingly powerless search for employment.
Business plan and marketing strategy. Your business plan should include goals, guiding principles, and a plan for increasing your marketability in your chosen field. Initially, you will need to establish your preferences for geographic region, areas of work/practice, employment setting, and the central focus of your business identity. As an example, I decided to open a practice in an office-sharing environment that would attract clients within a 50-mile radius of my office, with a focus on real estate and general litigation. I focused on developing a general practice that provided individualized services to clients at competitive prices.
Once you determine your course, you will need to position your business to achieve the stated objectives. As with any business, your first job is to educate your consumers on what you do, how you can help, and why they should support your business instead of the hundreds of competitors who are equally ambitious. Depending on your budget, your marketing options may be limited, but through due diligence you can identify targeted networking and volunteer opportunities that will provide access to your desired audience(s). Business referral groups, legal clinics, charity events, bar associations, social media, political fund-raisers, chambers of commerce, and civic organizations can be extremely beneficial for résumé circulation or client generation once you become a regular. The bottom line is that until you have 40-plus hours of billable work every week, you have plenty of time to network, get involved, and make a difference, so have fun with it.
Accounting and R&D. A limited budget heightens the need for a solid return on investment (ROI). While additional loans may be accessible, young attorneys have more time than billable work, so it is important to maximize the effectiveness of volunteering your time as a means of compensating for your lack of expendable funds. If you are starting your own firm, it may require you to reduce your fees in order to obtain the clients you want, or to work pro bono in order to gain the experience your prospective clients are looking for. If you are searching for a job, your best ROI could be in conducting industry research, attending trade association meetings, or profiling potential employers. The end goal is that your daily expenditure of time and money should be examined for efficiency and effectiveness in furthering your business plan.
The R&D department is the laboring oar of your business and must be nourished even in the absence of billable work. Whether you are seeking clients or a traditional boss, you will need to do your homework and demonstrate preparedness, competency, and confidence in your interactions. Allocate time each day to read relevant newspapers or recent case opinions, listen to podcasts, attend CLEs, write articles or blog posts, or foster relationships with your personal and professional networks. Learning about an industry, your ideal consumer, the competition, or your region is the first step in identifying and capitalizing on opportunities.
Mentors and advisors. Since becoming a lawyer, I have been fortunate to have a number of trusted mentors (some lawyers, some not) who provide invaluable insight into my professional development. These individuals are sources of advice, encouragement, cautionary tales, and even humor when times are bleak. Whether you decide to open a practice or join a firm/organization, it is imperative to have a network of lawyers, professionals, friends, and relatives who are aware of your goals and who can provide objective advice for accomplishing them. Your personal and professional networks have the potential to introduce you to new clients or potential job opportunities, but they will only be effective if you actively nurture your relationships and your reputation.
Conclusion. Ultimately, your decision to find a job or open a practice is a matter of semantics. Either way, you will need to convince the person across the table that you can generate quality work product, meet deadlines, and deliver value that is competitive in the marketplace. I implore you to ask yourself each day “what can I do today to get hired by my ideal client tomorrow?” If you take action based on your calculated response, you will be in a position to affect your own trajectory.
Targeting The Small Firm Market
By Samantha Williams, Esq.
Director of Employer Relations
Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law Arizona State University
The economic downturn drastically reduced the need for legal services in many areas, translating into fewer jobs for attorneys of all experience levels. Recent law graduates have felt a greater pinch because there are far fewer opportunities to begin gaining experience as an attorney.
Small and midsized firms have historically been an ideal entry-level market for new grads, but it is important for those targeting this market to realize that it requires different search strategies and competencies, and in many markets there isn’t as much work to support a new hire. Even those firms that are seeing the benefits of an uptick in business are concerned that the work will not be consistent enough to support a full-time employee’s salary plus benefits. Small and midsized firms especially are very sensitive to the fact that they can be very busy one month but not the next, a model that makes it very difficult to support a new full-time employee. One small firm attorney in Scottsdale, Arizona, says she must be “consistently busy” for two quarters in a row before even considering hiring a law clerk or new associate—certainly a tall order in these shaky economic times.
Small firms are also apprehensive about hiring prematurely because laying off an associate or a partner often has significant consequences beyond just bad publicity. Chances are this lawyer has become part of the firm’s family, making the separation especially difficult (and there is usually no recruiting coordinator to do the dirty work). In other words, when one attorney gets cut from a firm of 200, it is not felt nearly as acutely as when it occurs in a firm of five. Moreover, unemployment insurance payments can eat into already razor-thin margins.
New grads who are targeting the small to midsized firm market should understand that the most promising opportunities often do not rise to the level of a 40-hour-per-week job. One of the best ways to get a foot in the proverbial door is to do contract work. As simple as this idea might seem, there is no better way to communicate your potential value to a firm than by actually demonstrating what you can do. For example, draft a brief or a motion, prepare skeleton outlines for appellate work, or assist with trial prep. Do not think of it as temp work; instead, consider it a tryout. Doing a fantastic job on one project makes it much more likely that you will be given another project, and then another. This type of meaningful contact is how many new attorneys are being hired these days.
Your School’s Career services Office Can Help
By Shawn M. Beem
Director, Office of Professional Development
Capital University Law School
Throughout the United States, law school career services offices are working proactively to combat the effects of a challenging job market. This work falls into two primary categories: connecting the law school to legal employers and helping law students and graduates be better job seekers.
Because law schools cannot make employers create new jobs, law schools must make sure employers are aware of the school when a new job is available. Career services personnel are spending more time visiting employers, sending meaningful communication about the school’s successes and improvements, and maintaining strong recruiting relationships with alumni. Such simple initiatives ensure that the school is always in the mind of the hiring employer when a need arises.
Likewise, career services office personnel must help students and graduates assess skills and options, employ a clear job search strategy, and engage in thoughtful networking. Students and graduates must be well-equipped job seekers.
To be successful in landing a job, students and graduates must assess. Using a SWOT analysis can help the job seeker understand his or her Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Career counselors are training job seekers to use assessments and inventories to understand their skills in relation to employment options, to research the employment market for a clear understanding of opportunities, and to take stock of the personal obligations and responsibilities that may hinder securing a job.
Once the personal SWOT analysis is complete, job seekers must develop and deploy a clear job search strategy. Career counselors work closely with job seekers to develop a strategy that includes applying to posted positions, sending tailored unsolicited letters, and connecting with members of the legal profession. The strategy should include goals, actions to be taken, and ongoing assessment of results. Job seekers must be proactive.
With many positions being filled by word of mouth, it’s important for job seekers to spend a considerable amount of their time networking—a process that is misunderstood by most job seekers. Today’s law students and graduates must fully understand what networking really is. Networking is about connecting and building relationships with other professionals. Maintaining such connections ensures that the job seeker is thought of for positions that go unannounced. Job seekers must build these relationships through informational interviews, attendance at strategic events, and consideration of all possible current connections.
Despite the challenges faced by career services offices, career counselors around the country are prepared to assist their students and graduates in securing gainful employment. From building meaningful connections with the legal community to advising and preparing job seekers for the task ahead, career services offices are revamping their strategies, resources, and services for a new era in legal recruiting.
Look for an Opportunity, Not just a Job
By Deborah E. Kaminetzky, Esq.
The Law Office of Deborah E. Kaminetzky, P.C.
Cedarhurst, New York
Several months ago I came to the realization that I needed to hire an associate in order for my firm to grow. I was spending most of my days procuring work (read: networking) and getting the work done, then spending most evenings on administrative work. Having even a part-time associate would enable me to continue growing my firm without neglecting other aspects of my life. As a matrimonial attorney, I see all too often what ignoring family life can do. Rather than list a position with the local newspaper or Internet site, I decided to put the word out among my colleagues that I was looking to hire. Prior to practicing law, I had run a commercial property management company and consider myself an entrepreneur. My goal was to find someone with good legal credentials, of course, but I also wanted my new associate to have a similar style to me—in other words, an entrepreneur with a law degree.
I had the opportunity to peruse several résumés, some of which were unsolicited, some of which were in response to my inquiries, and one of which was a person who was looking to leave her current employment and was asking around locally and found me. I held in-person interviews with several of the candidates. The first candidate I interviewed had attended a first-tier law school and had made law review. She had worked at a large law firm for one year and was looking for something with less of a commute. I asked the candidate whether she was looking for a job . . . or an opportunity. The candidate told me flat-out that she was looking for a job. We continued talking for a few more minutes, I thanked her, and she left.
When asked the same question, the second candidate had a different response. She asked what the difference was between a job and an opportunity. I explained that in my opinion, a job is a situation where you go in each day, perform what is asked of you, and leave at the agreed time without thinking about it during the off hours. An opportunity is a situation where you go in each day, get your assigned work accomplished, and if you have extra time look around for additional work or—if you can’t find any—go out and bring some in. You have an interest beyond your hourly wage, and you want to become part of the organization and help it grow. In doing so, your career and your wallet grow with it. After hearing my explanation, the second candidate told me that she really wanted a job. I thanked her and she left.
The third candidate had a few years of experience both at a large law firm and more recently with a small firm. The response to the same question was that she wanted an opportunity and was interested in hearing about the particular opportunity at my firm. This was music to my ears! I welcomed the chance to describe my vision for the firm and the role I envisioned for the applicant. We discussed a trial period and a timeline for certain milestones. Six months later I am quite pleased with my associate, who just came back from a well-deserved vacation. Her absence was acutely felt as I was reminded what my workload and life were like prior to hiring her. Upon her return I told her how much she was missed, and she told me that she was glad to be back. The lesson here for new graduates is that your credentials, while important, are not automatically going to land you a position. Your genuine interest in the success of a firm and your ability to generate new business will make you a much more desirable hire.
Closing Thoughts From Your Comrade in the Trenches
By Zita M. Kline
Santa Clara, California
A few weeks ago, I woke up and lay in bed for a while listening to the birds outside my window. For the first time in three years there were no classes, journals, competitions, or bar review study to pull me out of bed. The future, once again mine to mold, promised both excitement and trepidation.
On a basic level, I see the difference between a job search in a good economy and a bad economy as the number of positions advertised for warm bodies. Networking through friends, professors, and colleagues seems much more important in down economies like the current market. For example, I found both of my summer opportunities by networking with professionals. My neighbor also offered me some legal work at her firm until I got myself up and running. Maybe I would already have a position lined up if these were boom times, but so it goes.
The period between July and November sits like legal purgatory between certified heaven and exam retaker hell. I search job websites like Indeed, LinkedIn, and craigslist for entry-level attorney positions and apply without knowing whether I will be an attorney in November. Of my classmates who graduated and took the bar without an associate position lined up, I see a couple of trends forming. Some of my classmates found employment by going back to employers they previously interned with. Many others took clerkships in court, legal clinics, or government organizations or took fellowships to tide them over as they wait for bar results to come in. Still others found temporary and permanent placement through recruitment agencies. These are all options to explore as I go through the growing pains of transitioning from law student into a practicing attorney during these troubled economic times.