Law Schools, Small Law Firms

The Practice: Jobless? OMG, Maybe It’s You…

Living in a post-Oprah Show world is tough for people like me. Oprah was the one who convinced many that no matter what happens in your life, it’s not your fault. There’s always how your mother treated you, how you were bullied in third grade, your bad relationships, and, of course, the law school that held a gun to your head while showing you fake statistics and promising a job handed to you at the same time you shake the dean’s hand and receive your degree.

While I believe anyone stupid enough to choose a law school based on their job placement statistics should never, ever, ever, be a practicing lawyer, there are many of you out there. Even though you should run as fast as you can to another profession or career, I want to help you at least try to find a legal job so in a year you can realize that the real problem is that you never wanted to be a lawyer anyway — you were just looking for some easy cash, like everyone promised.

As a favor to you, and for the five-figure fees I receive at ATL for writing this column, I provide these little nuggets of weekly advice which are both appreciated (privately) and excoriated (anonymously). I realize one of the problems that causes seemingly intelligent people with law degrees to respond with unintelligible rants about how I “don’t understand” is that I am actually working, as a lawyer. As misery loves company, there is the notion that because I’m not sitting in my parents’ basement lashing out at the computer screen in an effort to convince people not to go to law school, I am just wrong.

So before you throw in the towel and go to that world of becoming a social media rock star, I want you to know that I’m not the only one out there giving you advice that does nothing but anger you. There’s also Anna Ivey….

Ms. Ivey is a former lawyer and former admissions dean at the University of Chicago Law School, and now an admissions consultant for college, law school, and MBA applicants. Of course this means she has no idea what she is talking about because she has actually been employed, is still working, and doesn’t understand, well, anything.

Ms. Ivey has Six Skills Every Law Student Needs to Master, or as you may call it, “Six things that make me want to rip her face off and throw something through my parents’ window.”

I’d like to highlight several of her suggestions. You may have heard things like this before from someone else, somewhere, maybe. Ms. Ivey begins:

Don’t get complacent just because you’re at a top law school and making good grades, or you just landed a coveted law firm or public interest job for the summer. To move up in the long run, you’ll need something extra. Smarts and a fancy credential aren’t enough anymore.

Yeah, we know that. The Association of “Wait, I Went to a Top Law School and Graduated with Honors, But No One Thinks I Am as Awesome as I Do” tells us that daily.

But I know, it’s not just those law students — it’s mostly the unwashed who went to law schools not worthy of that ridiculous top 50 ranking that ATL did. (Seriously ATL, you rated Miami above Stetson? I live in Miami, and, well, never mind.)

(Author’s Note: I was declined admission to Miami, but I do appreciate my friends there and the invitations to speak. This was merely a snarky comment. I am very happy for Miami. Very, very happy.)

As per the title of her post, Ms. Ivey lays out the issue:

You cannot afford to wait to work on the skills you need to succeed once you’re in a job. There are some skills you need to acquire now.

Skills? What?


Improve your writing.

Ms. Ivey says “[w]ork on a journal; take classes that require longer papers; do moot court (for the oral argument and the extra practice in brief writing). And take those contract drafting classes.”

She also wants you to “get feedback.” If the only feedback you’ve received up to now is that you are very special, it’s probably not the feedback you’re going to get. If that scares you, maybe you should just skip this tip.

I would also add to cease the LOL, OMG, “preso” for presentation, “convo” for conversation, “vacay” for vacation, and all those cool ways you shorten every word you type online, K?

Talk like an adult.

That means learning how to write a decent cover letter and sounding professional on the phone. It also means using grown-up speech patterns. Many law school students don’t and won’t, and it puts them at a disadvantage.

So, like, I read this, and I’m like, oh-my-G-d! What-ev-er. Like who does she think she’s talking about?

Then she’s just a mean mean bully:

The client, boss, hiring partner, judge, etc., will be less inclined to listen to you if you sound like a high school babysitter.

(Face of shock, jaw dropped).

Of course I just LOLed laughed.

Always network in person.

Blasting out emails to people you’ve never met, hoping that they’ll give you something (time, money, advice, a job, a favor), is a horribly inefficient way to get ahead. Email is fine if you already have a preexisting connection, but in many cases, establishing relationship capital means getting off your laptop, heading out the front door, and talking to people in person.

Who is this wretched old woman? Get off my laptop? The couch too? What’s next, put on professional clothes and go meet lawyers at a seminar or networking event? Can I bring my iPad?

This one is classic: she wants you to “think like a creative problem solver and a businessperson.”

You may have defaulted into law school because you are not attracted to the “business world” (law students have a fuzzy notion of what that means). But you need to start thinking like a businessperson—which is what many of you will turn out to be…

She advises those who are working at summer jobs while in law school to watch the senior people and “[n]otice how they don’t just issue-spot and identify problems (lawyers are great at this part), but also how they solve those problems creatively and cost-effectively (lawyers can be terrible at that part).”

And this is where my usual tech rant comes in. We are raising a generation of lawyers who are being convinced that tech is the answer to all their problems, concerns, and client representation. It’s not. Tech is great, it can save time, help you work while out of the office (if you’re one of those dinosaurs who has an office), and keep you connected to the world. It cannot think for you. It cannot mentor you. It cannot fully analyze a complex issue for a client. We need lawyers who can think, not just those who can point and click.

So there it is, tips from someone who practiced law, admitted law students, and now counsels them. Hurry, go tell her she’s mean and wrong.

She’s not.

Six Skills Every Law Student Needs to Master [The Careerist]

Brian Tannebaum will never “get on board” at the advice of failed lawyers who were never a part of the past but claim to know “the future of law.” He represents clients, every day, in criminal and lawyer discipline cases without the assistance of an Apple device, and usually gets to work (in an office, not a coffee shop) by 9 a.m. No client has ever asked if he’s on Twitter. He can be reached at

(hidden for your protection)

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