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Career Resources

How Lawyers Can Find a Job in a Tough Market

Bradley William Crocker

How Lawyers Can Find a Job in a Tough Market
sturti/E+ via GettyImages

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Let’s say you’re a 3L or a young lawyer who has fallen on hard times and has not yet received a job offer. The golden dreams of 1L year may be behind you, but you also know you can get through anything after surviving the gauntlet of law school. Like many other young law school graduates, you have not yet secured a job in what seems to have become an employer’s market. Nobody wants to be well-educated and jobless, and you know it’s easier to find a job while you have one, but what can you do?

First of all, consider ALL your options. Private practicegovernment, and in-house counsel positions are common routes. Academia is a possibility, but difficult to penetrate on the tenure track (consider perhaps pursuing a PhD and building your research skills). Compliance and other JD-plus corporate jobs are undervalued by JDs. After considering your options, draft a game plan. Browse LinkedIn and figure out who can help you. Do informational interviews—LOTS OF THEM. Polish your résumé like a newly won Olympic medal. Ruthlessly search job boards. Create opportunities for yourself. Take inventory of relationships you’ve built.

Throughout the process, remember that everyone takes a different path. Some nontraditional paths provide good anecdotal diagrams for how to secure a job in a time when they aren’t necessarily easy to come by, as these stories help demonstrate.

Differentiate Yourself

Andrew Kim, Director of Business Affairs, Nclusive (Los Angeles, CA)

Andrew Kim knew he wanted to work in the sports world, and knew that leveraging a law degree to become a professional in the sports industry was a way to differentiate himself and add value in a difficult-to-penetrate industry. Throughout law school, he worked with several friends who had previously founded a digital marketing agency focused on athletes. He transformed an internship into something more valuable to his future by recruiting a big client and working on deals while in school. In Andrew’s words: “The grind is real. It’s definitely not easy out here, but it’s all worth it in the end. You have to differentiate yourself from the competition not just by grinding harder than everyone else, but also showing that your personal brand is unique. I network 24-7. You have to be thick-skinned and have people skills, but that’s how business gets done and I improve every day.” With proper vision, creativity, and teamwork, it’s possible to develop a new company outside of the law where you still use the unique knowledge acquired in law school.

Explore Your Options in All Avenues

Andrew DiComo, M&A Tax Associate, PWC (New York, NY)

After interning for the SEC Honors Program his 2L summer, Andrew found himself exploring corporate law options. He had compiled transactional and litigation experience but was searching for a good fit within the traditional interview structure. He realized an LL.M. in taxation could open far more doors and would statistically leave him with a better chance at a great job that would interest him. He returned to the University of Florida to obtain a tax degree and found exactly what he wanted—a corporate job with a high deal flow. He attributes his success to several informational interviews and experiences gained throughout the interview process with various firms. He learned more about his strengths with each application and tailored his job search accordingly.

Sell the Skills the JD Gives You

Michael Angulo, M&A Professional (Europe)

Michael Angulo worked as a paralegal with a well-known firm for years but always knew he wanted to be a lawyer. That vision changed when he arrived at law school and found many of the available jobs less appealing. Nevertheless, law school spurred his interest in corporate transactions, which motivated him to pursue an MBA at I.E. Business School in Madrid, Spain.

Among students of various backgrounds, he was able to lend unique contributions to the program. He gained experience navigating startups from seed to series A, while providing insight about non-obvious legal barriers. His ability to anticipate problems and analyze certain issues made his contribution unique and served as his primary selling point as a job applicant in a non-JD market. Most corporate employers are aware of the skill set that comes with a JD. That skill set mitigates the lack of business experience that employers traditionally covet. It’s up to the applicant to sell those skills to the employer, though, as prospective employers might begin their review of your résumé with a skeptical eye. In the end, Michael was able to leverage his legal skills and newfound business acumen into a job as an M&A analyst in Europe. Michael also noted that “lawyers provide a unique skill set that complements start-up companies especially well. They often lack the resources for outside counsel, but the analytical skills of a lawyer anticipate and prevent many of the legal and non-legal problems that are likely to arise. That saves the greatest asset startups often lack: money.”

The nontraditional path has become a common path. These three people chose to pursue their dreams and leveraged their law degree and relationships in unique ways. They spurned traditional on-campus interviews and instead built relationships on a series of internships and experiences to obtain rewarding employment. Passion, hard work, and vision are at a premium in today’s market. If you don’t have the passion, figure out what you are passionate about and use your skills to help you in the pursuit of that passion. Contrary to popular belief, you can enjoy your job. It just takes the right mindset. In law school, we spend three years retooling the way we think. After law school, you should immediately alter that mindset for a return to the real world, where networking and personalities are back in play.

Remember also that at the end of the day, nobody is going to hand you the job. You have to be proactive. Take an interest, meet people, learn about the industry, make yourself an expert in a particular area, and develop a niche. If you do all of these things, I promise you will get a job. (Actually, I forgot this is a publication for lawyers . . . so that wasn’t a guarantee, just some friendly advice.)