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March 29, 2017

In the Pivot: 3L Marketing

In the Pivot: 3L Marketing

Making the final move from student to lawyer.

By Stephen J. Curley|
Law Offices of Stephen J. Curley, LLC
Stamford, CT

You have made it to the final term of your third year of law school. You and your classmates run the place with the detached arrogance of battle-hardened veterans. You are the editors of the law review. You are the moot court champions. You are the idols of 1Ls and the envy of the 2Ls. You are at the pinnacle of your academic careers.

. . . and it is all about to end.

This time next year, you will be back at the bottom: the newbie who hasn’t taken a deposition, filed a motion, closed a deal, or delivered an oral argument. Moreover, along with learning how to be a practicing attorney, you also will be discovering how to sell your skills. Things are about to get really serious for you.

Should you be anxious? No. You should be petrified. As 3Ls, few of you have learned the art of marketing yourselves. Most of you figured your new law school diploma and your academic achievements would take care of securing your futures. You were wrong. There are already thousands of other attorneys in the marketplace with credentials just as remarkable as yours and they have the advantage of experience. What hope do you have?

Your hope lies in making the turn from student to businessperson. It means going from focusing on what you have accomplished in college and law school to displaying what you can do for prospective employers and clients. Whether you have a job offer in hand, are still looking for employment, are breaking off on your own, or are still undecided about what you will do next, it is time to make your pivot.

Offer in Hand
If you have been fortunate enough to secure a permanent job before you graduate law school, you may think that you do not need to market yourself. You may believe that your new employer either has its own marketing personnel or does not expect its new hires to do marketing. Such thinking is likely short-sighted. First, as the legal services marketplace has grown more competitive, the business development expectations for new attorneys have increased. Law firms now require associates not only to service the existing needs of the firm but also to exhibit the rainmaking instincts of partners. To that end, you should promote your new affiliation with your college and law school classmates and take pride in boosting your new firm or company with them. Joining the local or specialty bar association that parallels the work you will be doing in your new job before you arrive also shows the kind of initiative and entrepreneurial spirit highly prized by partners and senior supervisors. Also bear in mind that you need to market yourself within your new firm as well. Using your social media accounts to show the world (and your new bosses) your areas of expertise could give you a leg up on the most interesting and high-profile assignments when you report to your new job. Moreover, your new employer may not take the most liberal view when scrutinizing your Facebook page. After all, to a great degree you are a living advertisement for your firm. What personal information you share with the public and how your share it is reflective of your judgment. Ill-advised or provocative posts can damage your reputation before it has a chance to be developed—both inside and beyond your new firm. Just as the Internet can play a valuable role in accelerating your marketing efforts, it can also be a source of substantial harm if not used wisely.

Still Looking
If you have yet to land a job for after graduation, it is time to take what you have done over the last several years of law school and put it to work for you. Facebook, Twitter, and other social media engines should change from being your recreational photo album into a thoughtful promotion of your achievements and a reflection of your development as a professional. Consider posting fewer updates on your weekend status and concentrate more on academic awards and legal services topics. Those outside your immediate social network will begin to see you as a serious legal scholar and you may initiate conversations that could lead to work opportunities. Retweeting or reposting articles that impact a specialized area of the law in which you have a keen interest could also inspire some potential clients and employers to reach out to you as well. All this effort begins to craft your public persona as a lawyer. Consider that most consumers of legal services still hire lawyers with a stereotypical attorney pictured in their minds: That lawyer is a serious, precise, upstanding, and thoughtful person. Your social media profile should be used to promote that image and not destroy it.

Going Solo
Whether by choice or chance, some of you have already made the bold decision to strike out on your own and become a solo practitioner. There is perhaps no clearer need for marketing if you fit into this category. Yet, without a firm or marketing department at your disposal, what meaningful steps can you take as a 3L—before you have even admitted to the bar?

If you have elected to become a solo, you likely have already selected the location where you want to base your practice. It might be your hometown, where you may already have family and civic networks in place where you can spread the early word that you are returning as a new lawyer. If you are moving to a new place, however, you can begin to integrate into your community by joining the local bar association and civic groups. Faith-based and non-profit civic organizations also give new lawyers the chance to make an impact in a new community by highlighting their legal expertise. Most importantly, you can volunteer remotely while you are still in law school. Think of it as “pre-selling” yourself to your new community. When you arrive after graduation to your new home, you will be less of a stranger and will have built up some capital and credibility with your neighbors.

Many of you may still not have decided what your next step will be. Your marketing strategy is necessarily more complex. It must be designed to keep your options open and your appeal to potential employers and clients as broad as possible. That said, some of the techniques discussed above can aid you. Social media can be a particularly important element to the strategy. By thoughtfully and tastefully promoting your accomplishments through Twitter and Facebook, you may inspire someone to reach out to you and start a dialogue. That entrée may start as simply as a word of two of congratulations or encouragement and burgeon into a potential relationship. Sending similar messages through college and law school alumni networks—either electronically or in person—may also help. Finally, take advantage of the easy and inexpensive access most bar associations—especially the American Bar Association—affords 3Ls to meet, interact, and collaborate with practicing attorneys. Every networking event you attend, article you write, or program you develop through the organized bar is a spectacular opportunity to develop and promote expertise in full view of the marketplace.

Regardless of your personal situation, your last semester of law school is most likely the last opportunity to market yourself strategically before more mundane economic and professional demands consume the largest portion of your time. Take advantage of this time and pre-sell yourself as you pivot.