Job Searches, Law Schools, Small Law Firms, Solo Practitioners

Back In The Race: Confrontation At The Career Development Office

I begin my quest for a fulfilling job by revisitng my alma mater’s career development office (CDO). When I was a law student, the CDO was unhelpful. This was because during my law school’s annual on-campus interview period, even the small firms and local government agencies wanted only the top 10% of the class. So the CDO tried its best to help me and the rest of the peasants scrounge for whatever was left. At this point, the Biglaw dreams and in-house wishes ended, and we were preparing for our multi-season starring role in Lifestyles of the Poor and Unknown, sponsored in part by IBR.

So I was not expecting much from the CDO as far as job leads were concerned. And since I am well past the all-important nine-month deadline for post-graduate employment, I expected the counselor to tell me the cruel truth — that there was nothing the CDO or my law school can do for me — EVER. So to ensure that my visit wasn’t a complete waste of time, I emailed the secretary ahead of time, telling her that I wanted to talk to the career counselor about a number of things other than any available job openings.

So, how did my visit go?

Upon arriving at the CDO, I noticed that the people I remembered were gone. I didn’t know whether that was a good thing or bad. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the CDO positions had high turnover rates — I could only imagine the staff constantly getting pressure from the school’s administration and from angry students and graduates.

When I met with the career counselor (CC), the first thing I asked was if he kept in touch with any of my classmates. I asked this because I wanted to gauge how their careers were going, and I assumed that the school stayed in touch with their successful alumni. I was told that many started their own practices with varying levels of success — or lack thereof. A minority worked for small firms, government, and public interest firms. And others were doing non-legal work. These were not the statistics I had hoped for.

I then told CC exactly what I wanted to do: the area where I wanted to practice, the clients I wanted to work with, the number of hours I wanted to work, and the salary I desired. I held nothing back, and if I came off as having unrealistic expectations or a sense of entitlement, then so be it. I was in no mood to sugarcoat or be politically correct. I figured that it’s best that he knows exactly what I wanted, with the hope he will be able to help me. But if he can’t, then that’s fine.

CC told me that my dream job will be impossible to find without inside connections. In order to make these connections, I will have to join select organizations, meet relevant people, take time to develop relationships, donate time for public service and committee work, and do whatever it takes to make myself stand out. (Sigh…this sounded like the dreaded N-word.)

CC gave me the names of some people I should contact. Some were alumni who were working for locally well-known firms. Others were alumni and some local lawyers who may know other people and may be possible client referral sources. CC suggested that I connect with people at Martindale or LinkedIn. He then set me up with the school’s Symplicity account.

The final topic of conversation was asking how the CDO plans to help students and graduates find jobs. CC said that students today do not have lofty expectations when it comes to post-graduate employment. Since they know what they are getting themselves into, it will be easier to manage expectations but the CDO will continue to do their best to help find jobs for students, graduates and alumni.

I thanked CC for his help. As I left the room, I gave him my card and told him if a student needed help or advice, have him or her call me and I’ll do what I can.

I want to thank the people who emailed me about their experiences with their school’s career development office. I’ll share a few (with some creative edits in order to preserve anonymity). Here’s one from another alum of a fourth-tier school:

After working unstable contract jobs and doc review for two years, I stopped by my law school’s CSO without an appointment. The counselor I talked to was sympathetic to my constant unemployment and the poor job market.

We met numerous times where she revised my résumé, critiqued my interview skills, and even set up introductory meetings with alumni and recruiters. She got me discounts and sometimes free admission to networking events and conferences. She even stays in touch with me from time to time and asks how I am doing.

She suggested that I try to network with people online (Linkedin and Martindale) and offline through networking events and job fairs.

Here’s another message, from a graduate of a top-ranked school:

I returned to my school’s CSO after I was laid off from my last job. The CSO staff told me I should network with alumni and the local bar associations, and send my résumé to every firm in the Tri-City area. He said that I should also attend the school’s undergraduate career fairs and apply to non-legal positions. Really? I’m 30+ years old and I’m being told to compete with 21-year-olds? Sign of the times. The school’s Symplicity account hasn’t been helpful.

For a school supposedly with a national reputation, I am dismayed that only local firms show even the slightest interest in the school’s experienced alumni.

But the good thing is that I was introduced to a few people in a similar situation. We got together, chatted for a few weeks, and now are in talks to set up a law partnership. I hope this works.

Finally, an email from an enlightened soul:

CSO is useless after graduation. The secretary I talked to told me to network and hustle. I guess I’m on my own. I’d think that some of the $120,000+ tuition I paid would go toward funding a half-decent CSO.

P.S. Your column sucks. I hope you fail at your job search and at life.

So for those who are in the same boat as I am, it wouldn’t hurt to revisit your school’s CDO and see if anything has changed since you left. I know some people are pessimistic or even upset at their school’s CDO. But it’s unreasonable to expect them to immediately find a job for you. Also, the CDO staff may have changed. So in case no jobs are available, try asking for introductions to people who may be able to help you — job search or otherwise. Also, stay in touch with the CDO once in a while, and hopefully they will remember you when an opening does come up.

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

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