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How to Find Your First Job As an Attorney

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One of the hardest stages of your legal career occurs about a month after you take the bar exam. If you are like most young attorneys, you will not have a job lined up at this point. If you have a job with a large firm lined up, that’s great. I presume that you do not, though, so keep reading.

It is especially hard to convince an organization to hire you when it is not certain that you have even passed the bar exam. For this reason, many attorneys start their careers as temporary or contract attorneys. Some attorneys find jobs unrelated to law in the private sector, others go to work for the government, and some remain unemployed for several months while looking for a job.

If you have been unemployed for a few months and still have not had anything beyond a first-round interview, do not despair. Law firms are notoriously slow when it comes to hiring people. The key to getting a job is to be patient but persistent. That is, make contact with several people at the firm at least once every two weeks. This could be via an e-mail or a short phone call. Let them know that you are still interested in working at their firm, and tell them what you have been doing in the meantime.

Sending out resumes and interviewing at small and mid-sized law firms is time consuming if done properly. It is not a full-time job, though, as you should be able to take care of all your applications and research in about 20 to 30 hours per week. The way you spend the rest of your time is very important, as it is a great way to distinguish yourself from other applicants. Think about it – if you were a partner at a small law firm who had to choose which one of seven qualified applicants to hire, would you pick someone who looked for jobs on the internet all day, or someone who attended lectures on current developments in the law and wrote a monthly column for a local newspaper? Obviously, the more active and engaged applicant is more appealing.

Here is a list of recommended activities to do while you look for a law job:

1) Attend lectures on law, business, politics, and current events

2) Write for a newspaper, magazine, or website

3) Volunteer and pro bono legal work

4) Networking events

5) Stay in contact with your law professors

6) Tutor students for the LSAT

The more of these activities that you do, the faster you are likely to find a job. What all of these activities have in common is that they force you to contact other people. Even if you do them every day, though, it could still take three to six months to find a job. Do not get discouraged. You will get a job offer eventually.

Finding a law job is a bit like fishing. You could catch a fish during your first five minutes on the lake, or it could take all day. Regardless of how long it takes, keep working at it and eventually you will find a job.

Attend Lectures

In most cities across the United States, lectures on many subjects are free and open to the public. You can probably find lectures on just about every subject, especially if you live in a large city, but focus on law, business, politics, and current events.

The most immediate benefit of attending a lecture is the information that you learn from the speaker. It is always good to know what is happening in the areas of law, business, politics, and current events. Also, knowing current trends can help you to identify organizations that are more likely to be hiring attorneys. Sending targeted resumes to firms, companies, and other organizations that have just recently identified a need for more attorneys on their staff is likely to result in a job offer. In a competitive job market, being one of the first people to apply for a job is crucial.

Another benefit of going to lectures is meeting other people who attend them. The people who go to lectures tend to be professionals who work in related fields. Try to talk to as many people as you can both before and after the event. Exchange business cards if you can, but also ask the people what other lectures and events they attend, and if they belong to any clubs. As you get to know people, they can introduce you to other professionals in the field. At future events, you will already know a few people there and they should introduce you to more people. Let them know that you are an attorney who is looking for a job, and they might give you some good ideas about where to apply. If you are lucky, one of the people who you meet will be in charge of hiring attorneys at an organization.

Whenever you attend a lecture, try to briefly meet the speaker. Follow up with the speaker soon after the lecture. I usually send a short e-mail the next day, simply stating that I enjoyed the lecture and hope to attend future events at which they will be speaking. The speaker will usually appreciate your compliment, and may invite you to their next lecture or place you on their mailing list. At the next event, make it a point to talk to the speaker after the lecture. Let them know that you are an attorney who is looking for a job, and see if they have any suggestions on where to apply or if they know an organization that is currently hiring.

When you attend lectures, keep in mind that not only law firms hire attorneys. Banks, corporations, political organizations, non-profits, and media companies all employee significant numbers of attorneys. That is why I recommend attending lectures on law, business, politics, and current events.

Write for a Newspaper, Magazine, or Website

Writing is a key skill for any attorney. You probably spent a lot of time in law school learning how to become a better writer. Do not let your writing skills get rusty while you are looking for a job.

One of the best ways to ensure that you are regularly writing and keeping in shape is to become a columnist. Many small magazines and newspapers have columns that appear once a week or once a month. Depending on the publication, these columns could be on a variety of subjects including law, politics, hiking, gardening, sports, etc. Find a subject that interests you, and look for an opportunity to write an article about it. Contact several newspapers, magazines, and websites to see if they are interested in having an occasional article on your subject.

One of the best subjects that you can write about is law, but unfortunately the demand for legal columns is not very high. Just about any subject will be fine, but law, business, and other professional subjects are preferred.

The reason that I recommend writing a monthly column is because it only requires about one quarter of the time commitment of a weekly column. Unless you have been offered a significant amount of money to write a weekly column, you do not want to spend too much time writing articles and not looking for a job.

Most newspapers and magazines will pay you for writing a monthly column, but websites typically do not. Compensation for articles varies greatly, but expect to earn about $100 to $200 per article, depending on the length. Remember that your primary goal in writing a monthly column is not to earn money. It is more important to practice your writing skills, develop impressive writing samples, and have an interesting activity to talk about during job interviews.

Soon after I graduated from law school, I was fortunate enough to find a newspaper in New York City that was looking for an attorney to write a monthly column about current developments in real estate law. The newspaper published my name and contact information at the end of each article. My published columns helped me to get some new clients, and they are also excellent writing samples when I apply for a job.

Volunteer and Pro Bono Legal Work

One of the best ways to improve your skills as an attorney is to work on active cases. Of course it is preferable to get paid for legal work, but while you are looking for a job, you can get some excellent experience by working on cases for free.

Handling a pro bono case gives you an opportunity to apply everything that you learned in law school to a real case. The actual practice of law tends to be very different than what you studied in law school. It is best to work on a couple of cases in different areas at first. When you a find an area that you like, specialize in it and get as much experience as you can.

You do not have to limit your volunteer work to pro bono legal cases. Many large non-profit organizations have many volunteers but also employ attorneys. Actively volunteering shows that you are ambitious and care about your community. When you show up for a project, this is your chance to show the organization that you are a good worker who is capable of handling difficult projects. Do as much challenging work as you can. If the first tasks that you are assigned to seem menial, do not worry. Most of the time, the organization is testing you to see what type of worker you are. If you handle your first tasks well, you should get to work on more interesting and difficult matters in the future.

The first pro bono case that I ever worked on involved a poor woman who was being illegally pursued by a collections agency. Working with a friend who is also an attorney, we were successfully able to get the collections agency to drop the case. I was encouraged by this, and began working on more cases. When I eventually decided to start my own law practice, I already had experience managing and handling real legal cases, and I had the self confidence that comes from winning a case.

I have also done volunteer work for the American Red Cross. They were kind enough to write a great letter of recommendation for me. Most employers that I have showed the letter to were very impressed.

Part-time volunteer and pro bono legal work is an excellent way to build your resume, gain experience, and contribute to worthy causes in your community while you are looking for a job.

Networking Events

Attending networking events while you are looking for a job is obviously a good idea. Attending the right types of events and getting the most out of them is more difficult.

There are many different types of networking events. I have attended networking events sponsored by bar associations, law firms, universities, social clubs, corporations, political organizations, music groups, restaurants, non-profit organizations, and even public libraries. As a general rule, you never know how good an event is going to be until you attend it. For this reason, I recommend attending as many events as you can.

Before going to a networking event, learn as much as you can about the group sponsoring it. Also, read the news related to the group and its field. For example, if an event is being sponsored by a financial company, you should know what has been happening in the stock market, the state of the economy, any notable mergers and acquisitions, current market forecasts, and how the sponsoring financial company has been performing. Being knowledgeable about current events will enable you to comfortably talk to people who work in the industry, and there is nothing more embarrassing than being the only person in the room who has not heard a major piece of news.

Bring several of your business cards to any networking event. Your cards should be accessible, and be ready to give one to anyone who asks for a card. Randomly going through your pockets or handbag looking for a business card is unprofessional and makes you look disorganized. Also, keep any business cards that you receive in the same place. I was once at an event where someone mistakenly handed me a card that they had received five minutes earlier from someone else! Again, you want to appear organized. Personally, I keep a stack of my business cards in my front right pocket, and place any cards that I receive in the left inside pocket of my jacket.

When you arrive at a networking event, be outgoing and approach people. Politely introduce yourself and ask people about their jobs. Unlike other events, networking events are designed specifically to be an opportunity to get to know people in a certain area. Keep you conversations short and professional, and meet as many people as you can. I always try to arrive early so that I can introduce myself to people soon after they arrive. Depending on the size of an event, you may not be able to meet everyone but try to exchange cards with many people.

If I know that a networking event is going to be very large and well-attended by people who I want to meet, I usually invite a friend. Rather than walking around the room with my friend, I recommend that we split up and talk to different people. About 45 minutes later, I briefly talk to my friend and we exchange information on who we have met so far. If there is anyone who is an especially good contact, then I make it a point to talk to that person before the event is over. At the end of the event, my friend and I exchange the contact information of all the people who we met. There is nothing wrong with sending someone an e-mail saying “A friend of mine met you at the event yesterday, but unfortunately I did not get a chance to introduce myself. I understand that you are an attorney in the field of…” Try to arrange a meeting with anyone who could provide job leads for you.

Following up is just as important as meeting people at a networking event. It is unlikely that someone you meet at a networking event will offer you a job on the spot. The next day, send a short e-mail to all of the people you met. Say that it was nice to meet them and comment on something that you talked about. For example, if you discussed entertainment law during the event, then say that you enjoyed the discussion and would like to learn more about what they think of the music industry. If possibly, schedule a time during the next two weeks to have coffee with the person. Keep the meeting short, and be prepared to tell the person a little bit about your experience and what types of jobs interest you.

Also, ask people if they can put you in contact with other attorneys. This is an easy way to meet new people who could be valuable contacts. Start by sending the person a short e-mail saying that you were referred to them by their friend. Never attach a resume to an introductory e-mail. Get to know the person and let them know that you are looking for a job. If the person knows of a job opening, then they will ask you for a copy of your resume.

This sounds like a simple way to meet new people and increase the list of contacts who could refer job openings to you, but you would be surprised how few people actually do it. By following up with people, you will distinguish yourself as someone who is interested in a field and committed to finding a job.

Networking events are a good way to increase your number of professional contacts, and you should attend as many as you can while you are looking for a job.

Stay in Contact with Your Law Professors

If you are like most law school graduates, then you have not seen any of your law professors since you took your last final exam. Most law professors worked in private practice or for the government at some point during their careers, though, and it is likely that they still have some good connections. It always surprises me that more people do not stay in contact with their law professors, especially when they are looking for a job.

I recommend keeping in touch with at least one professor in every area of law that interests you. Send each professor a friendly e-mail at least 3 or 4 times a year. Ask about current developments in their field of law and mention any important cases that you have seen in the news. You should maintain a friendly dialogue via e-mails or the occasional phone call. Do not constantly ask a professor if they have heard of any job openings. Instead, ask them for advice about where you can look. Also, if a law professor knows anyone who is currently working at an organization that interests you, request the person’s contact information so that you can contact them.

If you receive someone’s contact information from a law professor, call the person and ask if they have 10 minutes to talk to you. Keep your initial conversation to about 10 minutes. Ask the person about current trends in their field, and see if the person knows of any job openings. If they do, then contact the appropriate person. If they do not, though, then thank the person for their time and follow up with them a few weeks later. Things change quickly in the legal world, and a law firm or government agency that was not hiring at all two months ago may suddenly need several new people. They key here is to be persistent and maintain regular contact with people in the field.

If you have completely lost touch with your law professors and are quite certain that they do not know who you are, then try to find an opportunity to see them in person. For example, at my law school there is a dinner and auction for charity every spring. Most of my former law professors attend this event. I always bring plenty of business cards, and some of my law professors have even referred clients to me after getting re-acquainted and learning about what I do.

Regardless of the size of your law school, most students do not maintain any contact with their law professors after graduation. By making even a small effort to stay in touch, you will distinguish yourself as an ambitious and outgoing person. This will impress your professors, and they can help with your job search.

For these reasons, you should stay in contact with your law professors, especially if you are looking for a job.

Tutor Students for the LSAT

The most obvious benefit of tutoring is the money. LSAT tutors are generally well compensated, and the hours are usually flexible. Tutoring students for the LSAT is a good way to earn a little extra money while you are looking for a job.

The way I see it, though, the key benefit to LSAT tutoring is the contacts that you can make. Think about it. Who hires an LSAT tutor? Mainly students who are either in college or have recently graduated. Many of these students have parents who are attorneys. Sometimes, the person hiring the tutor is a middle-aged attorney with a son or daughter who is struggling to get into law school. Either way, many of your students will have at least one attorney in the family.

As you work with your student and prepare them for the LSAT, you will slowly gain their trust. Keep in touch with the student after they take the LSAT, and follow up with them to see how they scored. If you build a good professional relationship with the student, they are likely to take an interest in your career.

See if you can meet with any attorneys that your student knows. Personal referrals, regardless of who they come from, are a good way to get an interview or at least a preliminary meeting with an attorney. If you did a good job preparing the student for the LSAT, this will show that you are a competent and diligent worker.

The more students that you tutor for the LSAT, the more contacts you can make. Try to limit your meetings with any one student to once or twice a week. That way you will have more time to take on more students.

Best of luck!


Eric Lawrence
Legal
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