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Bruce Stachenfeld

In my article of two weeks ago, I threw out the proposition that if you are running a law firm — or a department or practice group in a law firm — the critical mission is to “attract, train, retain and inspire talent.” If you can do this, you are probably going to accomplish great things — and the converse. So the question now is, how do you do it?

Below is the best I have been able to come up with. It is (mostly) from a speech I gave at an IMN conference in 2011. (You can read the original speech here.)

First — and foremost — Talent wants to be with other talented people. They crave it in their souls. They will put up with major “not nice people” and even poor working conditions, if they are convinced that other very talented people are doing it with them in the trenches. Consider Apple and Steve Jobs. He wasn’t thought of as a nice guy; indeed, quite the opposite. But when people looked around the room, they were awed at the skill sets of those in the room with them, and boy did they want to stay in that room, in the worst way. So they put up with Jobs’s not–niceness. (Of course, I do not advocate being this way as a boss — far from it.)

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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?

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Promising answers to questions nobody is asking, the Buzzfeed-style personality quiz is the most virulent force in social media. Which Ryan Gosling Character Is Your Soulmate? What Type Of Chicken Tender Is Right For You? Are You Turning Into Your Mom? The silly online personality quizzes are sort of the idiot stepchildren of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, that test designed to distill human personality into abstract terms. (For some background on Myers-Briggs, see here.)

The MBTI and its progeny have long been used by government agencies and educational institutions, but it truly has a foothold in corporate America. The MBTI supposedly helps employers to identify potentially successful employees and job candidates to identify their strengths. From the employer’s perspective, these tools offer a chance to identify potential successful hires based on something more objective than hiring managers’ hunches and first impressions.

A recent New York Times Magazine piece detailed an ongoing movement to “revolutionize the human capital resource allocation market” through Moneyball-style, Big Data empiricism. Apparently, employers are becoming more cautious and deliberate in their interviewing processes (the average length of the interviewing period had doubled over the past five years), while at the same time employing work-force-analytics software that can make the process cheaper and more efficient. All in all, around 80% of the Fortune 500 companies practice data-driven assessment in their hiring processes.

Which brings us to the legal industry, an outlier in this “revolutionary,” data-driven recruitment landscape…

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One of the best parts of Above the Law is seeing lawyers use their skills in inspiring ways. Sometimes that involves standing up to racist practices and other times it involves actively trolling the wacky stuff we write about. This is the latter case.

Yesterday, we wrote about a curious job listing that a recruiter posted seeking applicants for an Am Law 100 firm that expressly forbid Scorpios. It was a fun little posting designed to catch the eye of Above the Law applicants and we gave it its due appreciation for creativity.

But one Scorpio reader decided to take it a step further and apply for the job with an equally creative cover letter. And they responded….

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* Oregon’s ban on gay marriage was struck down yesterday, making it the thirteenth victory in a row for the marriage equality movement. The countdown to a SCOTUS case continues. [New York Times]

* After increasing its first-year class size by 22 percent just to pay the bills, folks at GW Law are starting to wonder what sort of long-term survival plan its new dean will propose. [GW Hatchet]

* Part of South Carolina’s Commission on Higher Education voted to reject the licensing InfiLaw’s takeover of Charleston Law, citing concerns about the diploma mill company’s rep. [Post and Courier]

* If can’t get a job after law school graduation, here are some jobs for your consideration — ones you didn’t need a law degree to consider in the first place, mind you. [Law Admissions Lowdown / U.S. News]

* Owners of the New Jersey mall where a young attorney was gunned down during a car jacking are attempting to get part of his surviving wife’s lawsuit dismissed. This is all really quite sad. [Star-Ledger]

Well, times have changed a bit…

Today’s horoscope for Scorpio reads:

In order to get what you want, you are almost certainly going to have to compromise. That could mean anything, so keep your ears open and your mind flexible. Things make more sense soon.

And apparently, that compromise includes coming to grips with the knowledge that you have no shot at the latest job listing from an AmLaw 100 firm. Because they have a real problem with 1/12th of the population….

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Earlier this week, Jim Saksa wrote a piece in Slate entitled “You Can Do Anything With A Law Degree,” where he argued that you can’t do everything with a law degree despite the propaganda of the law school-industrial complex. Apparently he didn’t realize you could herd sheep. All in all, it was a great addition to the growing pushback to the lie that it’s a good idea to blow six figures on a legal education even if you aren’t committed to a life at least tangentially in the law and you get into a microwave law school.

It’s already generated some ridiculous defensive blowback. One carefully constructed rebuttal to the Slate piece, attempting to rehabilitate the “law degree as fashionable accessory” argument, looks on its face like a serious challenge. It’s not….

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Keith Lee

For the past couple of days, I’ve been at a conference held by Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS). The purpose of the conference was to kick off a year-long project entitled Foundations For Practice that was being helmed by Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers (ETL), a subset of IAALS. ETL is trying to determine the fundamental skills that new law graduates need to make them as appealing as possible to employers directly after they graduate from law school — i.e., how can law schools make sure that their graduates have skills that are valuable to future employers.

IAALS gathered a diverse group of lawyers to discuss the issue. Present were public defenders, judges, former ABA presidents, attorneys general, public interest lawyers, general counsels, Biglaw partners, and small firm lawyers such as myself and fellow Above The Law columnist Carolyn Elefant. We were there to give our perspectives on what were the skills we thought were necessary for new lawyers. Obviously there was strong general consensus as to what skills were necessary for new lawyers to have.

Or not….

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I previously wrote about the depressing prospects for graduates of all but the top ten or twenty law schools (“Two Law Grad Markets”). And yes, these were statistical generalizations, and the experience of specific individuals with particular skills and backgrounds will always be different, pro and con. But as an industry, if you care about our supply chain for talent, many law schools are burning platforms.

There are actually some closely connected problems driving this dynamic:

  • More JDs are being turned out each year than there are (a) full-time, (b) long-term jobs, (c) requiring bar passage, (d) at current salary levels;
  • perhaps the primary reason for the mismatch between supply of JDs and current demand for them (about two supplied for every one today’s market is demanding) is that clients increasingly resist paying for junior associates, which makes it uneconomic for firms to invest in traditional training;
  • but/and at the same time, every sentient observer is painfully aware that vast segments of the U.S. population — consumers and businesses alike — remain underserved by lawyers.

This would prompt any economist to ask, almost instinctively, “Why isn’t there a market-clearing price where supply and demand can meet?” Which is another way of asking, “What if there were a way to address both these problems at a single stroke?”

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “From Across the Desk: An Apprenticeship to Practice — That Works”

Ed. note: This is the latest post by Anonymous Recruitment Director, who offers an insider’s perspective on the world of law firm hiring.

Today I continue to address some of the questions that I have received from you by email. Once again, I note that these are simply my personal views on the questions presented.

Current Associates

1. How do law firms assess job moves on a résumé, particularly when the moves were dictated by life circumstances (such as the need to follow a spouse into a secondary legal market)?

There is an unspoken belief amongst many recruitment professionals that a candidate who has moved around too often is a problematic candidate.  Whether this is true or not, recruitment professionals view a fifth-year candidate who has already been at three firms as easily discontented. The thought then becomes — why would this candidate be happy at our firm? How are we any different than his or her previous employers? While candidates are often able to explain their moves (e.g., personal circumstances), recruiters then question the depth of experience that a candidate has had to date. Is a candidate who has stayed at one firm for five years more experienced that a fifth-year associate who has moved firms three times?  In my experience, employers always favor the former candidate. Partners like loyalty and depth of experience, be it actual or perceived.

2. How long after graduation should an associate remain at a less than ideal job in a secondary market before submitting a résumé to a Biglaw firm in a more desirable location, such as New York or Chicago?

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