Ed. note: Please welcome Shannon Achimalbe to Above the Law. Shannon will be writing about the journey from solo practice to a larger law firm.

Since my last post, the ATL editors have been busy covering multiple layoff stories. That, along with news that hiring will not return to pre-recession levels, is scaring the crap out of me discouraging. But as every lawyer and law school graduate since 1950 knows, finding any lawyer job is a Herculean ordeal – whether boom or bust. And finding the right lawyer job is like finding a needle in a stack of needles.

Because of my non-peer pedigree and the continuing economic malaise, the traditional method of job searching is not going to work, and I’ll end up getting either nothing or a dead-end temporary job. In order to get the job I want, I’ll need to create and execute a long-term career plan.

I’m sure most of you are familiar with the “shotgun” method of job hunting. Towards the end of my third year of law school, I sent at least 500 unsolicited cover letters and résumés to every law firm, recruiter, in-house, out-house and temp agency my career counselor and I can think of. I must have spent hours customizing each cover letter and résumé for each firm explaining why I should be hired without sounding like a blowhard or a wimp. I took advantage of the free law student bar memberships and went to every networking event I could.

How did this turn out?

My initiative and diligence were mostly ignored. I received some polite rejection letters. I was even invited to a few “informational interviews” that ultimately led nowhere. Aside from a few contract jobs, I eventually ended up getting a job that wasn’t my first, second, or twentieth choice. But it was better than unemployment and I got some transferable experience in client management, legal research, and litigation. But the “full-time associate” job didn’t last too long and after I was let go, I was reloading the shotgun.

The shotgun method is inefficient for everyone involved. I hated doing it and the results it got me. And I’m sure employers and recruiters are getting tired of being shot with unsolicited résumés from random strangers. But here I am reloading the shotgun yet again to shoot a small, fast-moving target. But this time, I plan to spend less time and use fewer shells by installing a proper sight scope. In other words, setting up a long-term career plan.

For me, a long-term career plan means answering the questions, “What the hell do I want to do with my life and how can I get paid to do it?” To do this, I first needed to assess my personal strengths and skills. This was easy enough. I just thought about what I liked to do and what I was good at both professionally (like practicing immigration and real estate law) and personally (cooking and learning foreign languages). I also thought about the subjects that fascinated me and kept me up at night other than my interest-accruing-daily student loan bill.

Second, I had to assess my weaknesses. This was difficult because it required me to be brutally honest with myself. I had to stop rationalizing and ditch the “fake it ’til you make it” mental grandstanding. I realized that I was unfocused, prone to anxiety, and mildly depressed. Maybe I have ADHD. Or I ate the wrong foods. Or hung out with the wrong people. In any case, I have to do something about it now. I have to eliminate any bad habits and replace them with good ones. This was something I have to spend some time working on every day.

Third, I have to match my strengths with my career ambitions. I want to become an expert in several niche areas of law that I am interested in. I want to work for a firm with experienced veterans whom I can work under while doing my part to make the firm profitable. And yes, I want to make a boatload of money.

Finally, I have to set short-term and long-term goals. Below are some that I want to accomplish between now and the remainder of the year:

  1. Get in touch with X number of key people every week.
  2. Find a blog or website that focuses on a subject I’m professionally interested in.
  3. Read a good self-help book once a month.
  4. Write and publish an article in a legal journal.
  5. Attend a trade or bar association conference.
  6. Become a speaker at a conference.
  7. Master a foreign language.

Long-term career planning, while sounding like an obvious thing to do, is not taken seriously by many until push comes to shove. I believe that if every college student did some long-term career planning before graduation, fewer people would be in law school. Also, without a career plan, you’ll just be shooting a shotgun aimlessly and taking whatever you can get. That sounds like a path to being poor and miserable.

Shannon Achimalbe was a former solo practitioner for five years before deciding to sell out and get back on the corporate ladder. Shannon can be reached at sachimalbe@excite.com.

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