Ed note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, Marc Luber challenges Jim Saksa’s Slate article, “You Can Do Anything With A Law Degree,” with several viable career alternatives for JDs.
After law school, I took an unpaid internship. When I got my first music industry job in Los Angeles, I was severely underpaid. I sometimes wondered if the job required a high school degree, let alone a law degree. If you asked me then, I would have told you that a J.D. is a joke and that you should stay away from law school at all costs.
Every once in a while, I would run a Google search on myself. On the first page, I would see my LinkedIn profile, an article I wrote a few years ago on an obscure topic, and my five-star Yelp rating. Thankfully, no drunken college pictures appeared. So my Google footprint was clean — which is supposed to be good. But then I ran a search on two other attorneys I highly respect and saw pages showing their accomplishments, their connections, and newspaper articles featuring their names. That’s when I realized that I was a nobody.
But now that I am looking for a job, it is very important that my internet image is clean and wholesome. So I did a more detailed search. I tried using different search engines, like Yahoo and Bing. I also used more detailed search terms. Unfortunately, I discovered an old rant on a message board which I think some employers might find offensive. So now I had to find a way to remove it before someone sees it….
I have received numerous emails from law students requesting advice about the Biglaw interview day. I once again solicited the input of other recruitment professionals in order to compile a list of the items that candidates should keep in mind on their interview day.
Please recall that, as members of the recruitment staff, we are not the individuals who conduct the interviews; rather, we hear secondhand about the reasons why a candidate is or is not advanced in the process. The following list contains our collective thoughts, but, ultimately, a candidate needs to be true to him or herself during the interview process:
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 coveringmultiplelayoffstories. 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.
The other day I had lunch with five colleagues, each of whom acts as the head of recruitment for a large New York law firm. Despite our best efforts, the discussion repeatedly returned to work and the immense pressure that we all have been feeling in the wake of the “economic adjustment.” Our jobs used to be (relatively) fun in the late 1990s. We fondly recalled the days when one of the greatest pressures that we faced was finding, at the last minute, extra Yankees tickets for an oversubscribed summer associate outing. Well, our roles have changed. Today our primary task is to find for our employers, time and time again, flawless candidates who have made no missteps in their careers.
During the discussion, I kept steering the conversation back to the topic that I address today. I wanted to share with readers the major pet peeves of recruitment staff members in the hope that you can benefit from such disclosures. In no particular order and with no malice:
Law students love to bash the staff of their law school’s career services office. Students often roll their eyes as they describe a staff, usually all female, most with law degrees, who have allegedly traded in the law firm life for a 9-to-5 job. The students often comment that the staff does nothing to help the students secure jobs. Well, I wish to share with you a harsh reality that your law school counselors may not be able to impart directly.
When a student presents to the career services office at law school for a résumé review, there is very little that the counselors can do at that point. The counselors can, of course, suggest the reordering of text and/or tighten certain job descriptions. But YOU are the one who has made certain professional choices, and the staff cannot rewrite your history. A résumé is impressive not because it is well-written; a résumé is impressive because it demonstrates curiosity, risk-taking, and a desire for depth of experience.
Following the publication of my initial column, I received scores of emails from polite job-seekers with specific questions about their current employment situations. While I am not able to reply to all of the notes, I can offer some guidance to assist the majority of these job-seekers.
Insider tip: Biglaw firms tend to avoid hiring candidates who have strayed off of the traditional path to Biglaw firm employment. Such “rogue” candidates make the recruitment committee nervous, and any candidate who makes the committee nervous will not be advanced in the process. If you want to work in Biglaw, get a job in Biglaw during your 2L summer. If this is not possible (because you did not land a job in Biglaw or you have already graduated), get a job at a small- or medium-sized private firm in the exact practice area that you hope to work in when you make the jump after a few years to Biglaw. Clerkships are fine, but law firm experience in your desired practice area is the ideal. Also, of great importance, you MUST do well in all courses related to your practice area of choice. If you received a C in Securities Regulation, it will be a hard sell to land a job as a securities lawyer at a large firm.
What are some other factors that will make the recruitment committee uncomfortable?
When I graduated from law school, I decided that I would take a job at a large law firm because it would maximize my chances of going in-house. I had no idea what either job would entail, but it seemed like a sensible plan. And, even without knowing what it would be like to be a litigation associate in Biglaw, I suspected it would be bad enough that an exit strategy would be necessary.
A few years later, I switched my exit strategy and went to a small firm. I decided that I could not wait for three to five more years to get the skills required to go in-house. So, I went to a small firm to get “hands on experience” and position myself for my new exit strategy: a federal government job. Then, hiring for federal jobs froze, and the few openings were impossible to get unless you had the exact experience required and could figure out your grade level. Consequently, I am currently reformulating my exit strategy. I am contemplating running for president or becoming a certified yoga instructor.
I have yet to meet a lawyer who did not plan or fantasize about his or her exit strategy from law firm associate, be it Biglaw or small. I blame it on the nightmare that is billing hours — even if the requirement might be less at some places. The most common exit strategies are (1) in-house and (2) fitness professional.
Is it possible, however, for a small-firm associate to go in-house, or is the small-firm associate required to follow my path and find a new exit strategy?
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