Job Searches

Recently, a group of Harvard Law professors released the results of their survey of 124 attorneys from 11 large firms, asking what courses Harvard students ought to take to prepare for Biglaw practice. Overall, financial courses such as accounting, financial reporting, and corporate finance, topped the list, as noted by Will Baude over at the Volokh Conspiracy. But the study got me thinking: what courses should lawyers interested in starting a practice — either directly after law school or a few years down the road — study in law school?

If you ask this question of solos or consultants, most will argue that law schools need to teach business-type classes like how to write a business plan or how to market a law practice. And while law schools should certainly make those classes available to interested students, I don’t view them as imperative. Let’s face it, most of this material isn’t rocket-science (high school dropouts open successful businesses, after all), and the web offers a bottomless treasure trove of this type of information. (As an aside, one of my personal faves is Canvarise, a one-page template that pulls together all of the elements of a traditional business plan).

Nor do I believe that substantive courses — bankruptcy, family law, immigration, copyright — are all that important. Substantive law is state-specific, so it’s tough to teach and it’s always changing. What you learn as a second-year law student may no longer be valid a few years down the road. Plus, it’s not difficult to pick up the basics of a new practice area on the fly. Think about it: most students studying for the bar gain a quick understanding of as many as 25 different substantive practice areas in a summer. No reason the same isn’t true in practice.

In my view, law students should focus on studying and acquiring the kinds of skills that aren’t easily found or readily mastered in practice. With that as a guide, here’s my top five list of classes that will help prepare students for solo practice…

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Having a job is so awesome!

For almost a decade, the National Law Journal has published a list of the best law schools to go to if you want to work in Biglaw after graduation. As we noted last year, “through the lens of this annual report, we can see some of the changes that have happened in a profession that’s been in transition ever since the Great Recession.” With the rise and fall of some of Biglaw’s largest firms, the hiring scene for would-be entry-level associates has ebbed and flowed.

The legal profession, while still in recovery, shows some signs of life in its sluggish attempts to return to its glory days. Each year, we hear news of marginal improvement in the job market, and we squeal with glee over single percentage point upticks. For example, in 2013, the percentage of law school graduates who landed associate jobs was up two points from where it was in 2012 — and this increase represents the highest hiring percentage since 2010. Hooray! Exciting news! Lawgasms for everyone!

Which law schools led the pack in this pseudo-revival of normalcy? Let’s find out….

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I think we’ve all noticed how invested the legal academy is in telling us that they produce “practice ready” graduates. But there is scant research on what actually makes one “practice ready” versus “effectively useless.” Some law deans tell us that clinics and “experiential learning” are particularly important. But are they? Or is that just a nice line you can use to fleece prospective law students who don’t know any better?

A new Harvard study takes a look at what law school classes actually helped graduates once they got into Biglaw. I know, I know, every school outside of the top 20 is now screaming about how “there’s more than BIGLAW, stupid Elie.” But if there are schools that just want to ADMIT that they’re not preparing their students for Biglaw jobs that they’re never going to get, please feel free to ignore the lessons of this study. For everybody else who wants to pretend that their students have a reasonable chance at taking the jobs with the highest salaries, there’s some interesting stuff here…

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This glass is half-full, right?

It depends. Your view of the direction of the job market for summer and entry-level associates will depend upon which metrics you focus on. That seems to be the bottom line of the latest findings from the good folks over at the National Association for Law Placement (NALP).

The overall outlook seems to be… muddled. Some indicators are up a little; some indicators are down a little. Things appear a bit flat — which is not that different from last year.

But I’m finding (or trying to find) reasons for optimism. Hear me out….

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In a world where tenured law professors are starting to face layoffs, prospective law professors need to craft job applications that not only let them stand out above the rest, but also convey the sort of low-maintenance attitude that an administration can work with in the changing law school landscape. Why add a prima donna when you’ve already got professors bitterly complaining that daring to question whether their 3L seminars teach practical legal skills is an attack on their personhood? (And, yes, that happened after I published this story… it was hilarious.)

So this application is halfway there. It certainly stands out above the rest in that it’s completely insane. But it utterly fails the prima donna test, since more than half of the application is a list of his demands upon the administration and faculty in return for his services as — wait for it — “one of the top legal researchers in the US”….

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The invisible hand of the market makes fools of us all. No, I am not about to launch into a screed blaming capitalism for all of my woes, I’ll leave that to the PhDs desperately seeking tenure track jobs. The reality remains that the ups and downs of the legal market have a large effect on the rank and file document reviewer.

I’ve written before about the ways regional markets can wreak havoc on contract attorney, but it’s more than just dragging down the hourly wage. Without the benefit of full-time employment, contract attorneys are seen as eminently disposable and are rarely provided with much (or any) notice before a change in their employment status. Projects are scheduled that never start or a month-long project suddenly ends in two days. It can happen at any time, it’s the nature of the business (God, if I had a dollar for every time that annoying trope was trotted out by a staffing agency or project manager to cover for their poor management skills, well, I wouldn’t have to review documents any more). But over time, as long term projects fail to materialize it becomes a reflection of the overall health of that market.

According to our tipster, what document review market is having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad 2014?

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Ed. note: Please welcome our newest columnist, Anonymous Recruitment Director, who will offer an insider’s perspective on the world of law firm hiring.

As a recruitment professional who has worked in large law firms for 20 years, I am delighted to be writing for Above The Law. I have decided to write anonymously because, otherwise, I would need to have my current employer approve the content of each column and, let’s face it, you want the dirt. Well, I have plenty of dirt to share. But, above all, my motivation for writing this column is to be of assistance to job seekers. Attorneys, as a group, are awful at taking advice. It is my hope that a few of you may appreciate that you can learn from someone who is included in the process of hiring new attorneys at a leading international firm.

As to my background, I am based in New York City, and I “run” the recruitment department of one of the largest law firms in the world. According to my job title, I oversee all aspects of the hiring chain, including lateral partner recruitment, lateral associate recruitment, summer associate recruitment, and LLM recruitment. In practice, most of my time is spent on the identification and recruitment of new junior attorneys. I have many lessons that I wish to share with these job seekers….

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Senator Marco Rubio (R – Fla.) has often said publicly that he personally still owed more than $100,000 in student loans when he joined the U.S. Senate in 2011. He only paid off his nearly $150,000 in debt after law school with the proceeds of his autobiography in December of 2012. Rubio and fellow senator (and law school graduate) Mike Lee (R – Utah) are young enough to be personally aware of the miasma surrounding higher ed — and especially higher ed funding — in the United States. It makes sense that they would lead the way toward reform. Apparently, they are.

In the past few days, the lawmakers have been popping up in public, touting efforts to reform higher education. Let’s take a look at the reforms they suggest….

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Most of the Eastern Seaboard is buried under a snowstorm today. Yet, a deeper, harder freeze is finally lifting.

For too long now, the federal government has been living with sequestration. Agencies have seen their budgets frozen or cut. At the same time that the private sector market for lawyers has contracted, getting a job as a lawyer in the federal government has been incredibly hard. It’s been winter in the federal employment world.

And, this week, the Department of Justice has announced that the DOJ hiring freeze is finally over.

This news was so important that the Attorney General himself made the announcement in a video message on the DOJ webpage. (And, by the way, check out the Attorney General’s tie. Very nice.)

The hiring freeze has lifted as a result of a two-year budget deal that President Obama signed in December.

What does this mean for the legal world? More after the jump…

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Times are still desperate for recent law graduates looking for work. There’s no guarantee that you are going to get a good job… or any job.

One parent of a Millennial is doing what parents of Millenials often do: stepping in to soften the slings and arrows of their son’s outrageous fortune.

I can’t really fault the parent, but I’d be mortified if I were the son. Of course, the son could have thought more critically about his future before he went to law school in the first place….

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