Take advantage of winter break—when casebooks aren’t competing for your time—to establish the foundation for a spring job search. There’s much you can do now to ready yourself to roll out a strategic and effective plan.
Nurture existing relationships.
Toasting old acquaintances with a song on New Year’s Eve is quaint. But reaching out to them and letting them know you continue to value a professional relationship has actual value. The holidays, the New Year, and the beginning of spring semester present perfect opportunities to connect with people you already know and who are poised to offer you relevant guidance in the near or far future.
Consider the following possibilities as you begin compiling your list of contacts:
- Lawyers and judges you’ve worked with during internships, volunteer placements, and jobs.
- Individuals who wrote letters of recommendation in support of your law school admission applications.
- Lawyers or judges you’ve met previously through informational meetings and networking. •Law school professors with whom you’ve developed a good rapport.
- Friends, relatives, and former employers who are part of the legal community or otherwise positioned to assist you.
Next evaluate the most appropriate means of contact. Let the circumstances of each relationship dictate the manner and tone of the correspondence. A family friend may be the recipient of a holiday card, while a clinical supervisor receives an e-mail. When a holiday card is reasoned appropriate, know that you don’t send professional contacts religious-themed cards; photos of your family, children, or pets; or eCards.
Holiday card sent to hometown lawyer who wrote letter of recommendation in support of admission to law school:
Dear Ms. Cross,
I hope this holiday season finds you enjoying family and friends. I completed my first semester of law school and am happy to have final exams behind me. You were correct in your predication that I would really enjoy Marquette. I found the classes engaging and the overall community supportive. I remain grateful for the letter of recommendation you wrote on my behalf and for the time you spent discussing your law school experiences with me.
I will be in town from December 24 through January 4 and would like to treat you to coffee or lunch. I will touch base with you when I get to town. Otherwise feel free to e-mail me at email@example.com.
E-mail sent to former supervising lawyer at internship:
I recall when I completed my internship at the end of the summer that you were planning to travel to Europe for two weeks in November. I anticipate some extra time during my winter break and would enjoy getting together to hear about your trip and to share with you my plans for the upcoming semester.
I continue to focus my studies and experiences on public interest work. This past semester I took a course on human rights issues and volunteered with Legal Action. Both experiences were terrific.
I really appreciate your commitment to developing my legal skills during my internship, and I look forward to arranging a time to meet in the upcoming weeks.
Happy New Year,
Establish new contacts.
The legal job search really isn’t about who you know as much as it is about who knows you, likes you, and is willing to help and endorse you. Use winter break to expand your web of contacts. Commit to arranging informational meetings with lawyers practicing in areas of law or in communities that you’d like to learn more about. Your career services office (CSO) will prove to be a fabulous resource in directing you toward alumni and other professionals whose work complements your interests and goals. Other tools include www.martindale.com, lawyer search tools on state bar websites, your school’s alumni database, and people you already know (which is why you nurture existing relationships).
Be judicious in requesting meetings. You need to be prepared to impress. I recommend sending no more than three to four meeting requests at a time. Wait for the response, and go from there. Ideally a single meeting will generate additional contacts. An e-mail requesting an informational meeting works in most instances. Do make certain the e-mail is professionally written, including a formal salutation and a signature line. Other tips for drafting a request for an informational meeting include:
- Clearly state the reason for your contact.
- Establish a specific connection to the reader that validates your request to meet.
- State unmistakably that you are not expecting the meeting to be a job interview.
Example e-mail requesting an informational interview:
Dear Attorney Horneffer,
I am contacting you to request an informational meeting. As a first-year law student, I am excited to connect with Pepperdine alumni in the area and was particularly interested in talking with you regarding your immigration law practice.I understand you represent international corporations in matters related to employees and that you generously offer pro bono services to individuals with immigration status issues.
I was exposed to some immigration law as an undergraduate student working in a legal clinic and found the work interesting, but, admittedly, I know little about what it actually means to practice in this field. I am certain I will benefit from learning about your experiences.
I want to clarify that I am not expecting our meeting to be a job interview. I am on winter break from now through January 18 and welcome the chance to learn from you.
Create and revise job search documents.
Pulling together the documents that will comprise legal applications is another great winter break activity. Draft or update your résumé, select and polish a writing sample, compile a list of references, and learn strategies for drafting get-noticed cover letters.
First-year students need to create a legal résumé that conforms to the standards established by their CSO. The résumé you submitted to gain entrance to law school will need to be adjusted prior to sending it to legal employers. As a 1L, you’ll need a legal résumé whether you’re undertaking a traditional job search, applying to school-sponsored internship and clinical placements, or submitting applications to study abroad programs.
Second- and third-year students should update their résumés. Carefully assess your intended audience as you organize information on the document. Your résumé is a marketing tool and should be designed to promote your candidacy to target employers. You may determine that a single version of your résumé is ineffective based on the breadth of your career objectives and diversity of your experiences.
Being able to present a top-notch writing sample is also important. Your writing sample can positively set you apart from other candidates who boast similar grades and experiences. Employers are assessing your ability to analyze and apply laws clearly and precisely and to fundamentally write well.
Writing samples must showcase your aptitude for legal writing. 1Ls will need to use a document created during a legal writing course. You’re not obligated to submit to the employer what you submitted to your professor. Take into account your professor’s final comments and revise!
Second- and third-year students should be prepared to present a writing sample that spotlights the current level of sophistication in their legal writing and analysis. Relying on a document created for your first-year writing course isn’t preferred for 3Ls. It’s a red flag to employers if you haven’t produced a writing–sample worthy document in two years.
Consider using a document created for an upper-level writing course, completed during a legal job or internship (assuming you have permission from the assigning lawyer/judge), written for a law journal, or drafted for moot court. If you’re reading this and thinking you’re in trouble because you don’t have a solid sample, talk to your CSO staff about a plan to get one.
The upcoming weeks are prime time for organizing a reference list, especially as you meet new lawyers and reconnect with existing acquaintances. Remember to request permission for including a person as a reference and to provide each reference with a résumé and goal update so they can advocate for you effectively. Another document you’ll need is a current transcript. Most often transcripts aren’t available until the new semester begins, but you can confirm the process for requesting transcripts now. Start with an unofficial copy. Few employers request official transcripts. Cover letters round out the documents needed for your job search. Because each letter must be employer specific, you can’t draft letters in advance of knowing your target audience.
If you already have identified employers—get writing! If you’re wading into the world of cover letter writing for the first time, your CSO should have letter writing guides and examples that can get you started. Don’t give short shrift to letters. They play a significant role in generating interviews. Spring semester is fast and furious. And a well-executed job search is time intensive. Avoid getting sucked into the couch this winter break by making use of the immediate downtime to organize your documents and nurture and grow professional connections.
Erin Binns is assistant director for career planning at Marquette University Law School.
Vol. 39 No. 4