Monday, April 05, 2010

10 Tips for looking for a legal job after law school

1. Learn the common areas of practice.

When you apply for a legal job, the lawyers interviewing you will ask you what areas of practice you’re interested in. Of course, the optimal answer is that you’re interested in the very area of practice that they themselves work on and are hiring an associate to help them with. So in order to properly answer this question you have to first find out what the common practice areas are. Legal practice is divided into a variety of unofficial practice areas. Lawyers usually concentrate on cases within a particular practice area or a couple of practice areas. Sometimes, sole practitioners will do some things in several different practice areas but most lawyers find comfort in sticking to a definite practice area. What are the major practice areas? Here are a few: criminal prosecution; criminal defense; insurance defense law (representing defendants in personal injury cases where you are hired by the insurance company for the defendant); plaintiff’s personal injury; real estate transactions; real estate litigation; entrepreneurial business practice; corporate business practice; securities law; entertainment law; wills, trusts, and estate; intellectual property; mergers and acquisitions; maritime law (in which there are sub-practice areas of plaintiff’s personal injury, insurance defense, cargo loss, and some even more esoteric divisions); tax law; environmental law; bankruptcy law; and workers compensation law. There are other areas, but these are the most common.

2. Decide what you can do and what you love to do.

Once you know the practice areas, the next important question is: in which practice areas is it reasonable for you to believe you can get a job? And of those practice areas, what do you really love doing? It may be that in the beginning you’ll have to be happy doing something like insurance defense cases that focus on auto accidents even though your real desire is to be a specialist in products liability law. If the area you love and the area you can reasonably get into are two different things, try to pick something close to what you love. People are most effective in their work when they enjoy it. So what do I mean by asking what you can do? For example, many of the firms that do mergers and acquisitions law are large, powerful, corporate law firms that only accept graduates from the top of the class in the top law schools. As a result, unless you’re able to find a smaller firm in a smaller city that does mergers and acquisitions work, it may not be reasonable to think you can get into that practice easily if you’re from a small law school or were not in the top of your class.

3. Find the firms that engage in the practice areas you want to target.

There is a lot of information about law firms and what they do on the internet. It is also worthwhile to talk to people and network to find firms that have particular practices. Knowing someone in a firm is often the best way to find information about a viable job. Look for as many firms as possible since you will probably have to talk to more than 100 firms to find a job in a tight market like the one that currently exists.

4. Research the target firms.

To be successful in a legal interview, it not only helps to be a good candidate, but to know as much as possible about the firm you’re interested in. You especially need to know their practice areas. If you know what their partners do, where they went to school, what interests they have, and what published cases they may have been involved with or what major litigation they have been involved in, you can ask and answer questions intelligently and you have a chance of demonstrating to the firm that you picked them because you really are interested in their particular practice, not because you’re merely applying to every law firm in Southern California.

5. Write a good resume and cover letter.

You need to explain in your cover letter what kind of job you’re looking for and why. What attracted you to this particular firm? In your resume you need to present personal information about yourself, your education, and your job experience that demonstrates you have the qualities that a law firm would be looking for in a potential candidate. That would include things like proof that you know how to work hard, proof that you’re intelligent, that you’re capable of thinking on your feet, that you’re a good legal researcher, that you know how to write, that you’re good with public relations, that you have an excellent memory, etc. It is definitely worth getting advice from someone in the legal field about your resume and cover letter to be sure it meets with the expectations of the industry. In addition, you must carefully proofread the resume and the cover letter. Many many people have failed to obtain jobs because of spelling errors or errors in spacing or consistency in their resume. When employers are making a snap judgment of who to interview by going through hundreds of resumes, small difference make a big impact. You also don’t want your resume to be ugly, too plain, or too ostentatious. You want a resume that is businesslike and well-balanced. It should be appealing to the eye and provide the information the reader wants quickly and easily.

6. Send your resume and cover letter to as many target firms as possible.

In particular look for firms that are advertising openings. The daily newspaper provides a list of law firm classified ads at the back in every daily issue. Firms also sometimes advertise online. Word of mouth, though, is probably the best way to find an opening. Don’t be skimpy in the number of firms you apply to. The more you apply to, the more likely it is that you’ll get a job.

7. Follow up on your letter.

You need to find out who in the firm is responsible for hiring decisions or who that person’s secretary is. Follow up with the secretary to be sure your letter and resume were received and to find out what, if anything, the next step would be.

8. Be persistent.

Hard work pays off in seeking a job. Don’t nag the people who you’re applying to, but make sure that you apply to many places and that you follow up with each of them.

9. Network.

As I’ve mentioned above, a personal contact is the best way to get a job. When you’re looking for a job, you shouldn’t only do the things mentioned above. You should get involved with networks which may lead you to a job source. Join chapters of the local county bar association, especially chapters that deal with the practice area in which you are interested. If you’re a conservative or libertarian, it doesn’t hurt to become a member of the federalist society. If you’re a believer, you may want to join your local Christian legal society chapter. Having attorneys as friends may help you get a job and may also give you an opportunity to refer cases to someone, to obtain referrals, and to occasionally get advice and help. The best way to make friends is to be a friend. If you talk to others, listen to them, and encourage them, they may be able to help you as well.

10. Be positive and thankful.

In the brutal world of looking for work it’s easy to feel bitter. But any kind of bitterness, resentment, or unthankfulness will show on your face and make you look bad to potential employers. You need to remain positive and thankful for whatever it is that you have and the opportunities that you face. Prayer is an important part of any job search. Knowing Jesus Christ is the one thing that can help you be positive and thankful throughout the unpleasantness of the job search experience.

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