Job Searches

Ed. note: Frank H. Wu is the Chancellor and Dean of the University of California Hastings College of the Law. He shares some of his thoughts about legal education and the legal profession here on Above the Law from time to time.

I was talking to a reporter the other day about changes within the legal profession. She had called me to ask what types of jobs were opening up. I disappointed her. She wanted specialties offering positions that were sexy, new, and numerous.

I explained there were indeed more jobs. But I did not know any of them that satisfied all of her criteria.

There were many possibilities for her article. None of them were everything she was looking for.

That would be true for the individuals obtaining those roles as well. I recall a former colleague who used to say in response to the extravagant expectations that young people express about their careers: “That’s why we call it ‘work.’” She meant that there isn’t any reason to believe it will be fun. It is more likely to be boring, stressful, or both boring and stressful by turns if not simultaneously.

By the journalist’s standards, unless it is sexy, new and numerous, it does not register at all. That isn’t the best understanding of the universe of possibilities. Law is not intrinsically sexy….

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Ed. note: Please welcome Above the Law’s new poet-in-residence, Qui Tam.

Qui Tam. Short for a Latin phrase that means, more or less, self-righteously suing alongside the King, and keeping a little on the side for yourself. More commonly known today as a whistleblower action, where a private individual with knowledge of fraud gets sheltered by the feds and a nice cut of the penalties imposed for said fraud. So basically the same idea in Latin and common parlance.

For purposes of this column — which will be a collection of observational “poems,” chronicling experiences the writer may or may not have had during a pretty vanilla T1 law school and corporate legal career — what I am going for is the “whistleblower” allusion (quite self-flattering, not to mention self-righteous). Oh, and the pretentious use of Latin is designed to create a sense of sophistication where one probably doesn’t exist (sorry Bryan Garner, but it is true).

I now present to you my first poem:

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As we all know, a federal clerkship is the salve that cures all employment ills, even in a depressed job market. But now that the Law Clerk Hiring Plan is dead, everyone and their mother and their dog has been applying for these clerkships. Come August 2014, even students completing their 1L summer jobs will be able to apply for clerkships. It’s a frustrating process that just got even more chaotic.

As much as we wish that clerkships were doled out Oprah-style — And YOU get a clerkship! And YOU get a clerkship! — the competition is going to be that much stiffer now that anyone and everyone can apply, in any which way they so choose.

Aww, did you think you were going to be able to land a clerkship just because you applied to a less-than-prestigious district court, one not located in a major city? Think again….

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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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