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Own Your Job Search with Planning, Persistence, and Determination


Planning, persistence, and determination are essential ingredients in every legal job search. Jobs—summer or permanent—aren’t secured by luck. Even the right-place-at-the-right-time stories have a backstory of someone seizing an opportunity, cultivating a relationship, or taking initiative to be in thatright moment.

Like the first-year law student I recently met who was able to introduce himself to front-office folks of major league baseball teams. The student, whose goal is to work in the sports industry in the future, didn’t happen upon these individuals. He learned that team managements were in town for a meeting with the commissioner of baseball, so the student and his friend elected to take their law books and laptops and study in the bar of the hotel lobby where the team representatives were staying. The fact that the student now has business cards in hand isn’t a product of chance; he recognized an opportunity and took action.

Own your job search. Identify and seek out opportunities before they’re advertised to the masses. Doing so requires commitment and follow-through but in turn you assume executive control over your search, determining its momentum and direction.

Define Your Job Search

Defining the scope of your job search is a critical first step. You need to be able to articulate the range of your search in terms of location, employer type, and nature of work. The purpose of establishing a workable perimeter for the search is to give you direction that promotes efficiency and protects quality. The “I’ll go anywhere and do anything” job search isn’t plausible. Are you really going to find and apply to a few firms in Albuquerque on Tuesday, federal government positions in D.C. on Wednesday, and public interest internships in Kansas City on Thursday?

Location. The “where” of your search is important to establish in a proactive, focused search. Be specific. Don’t simply state you’d like to be in Atlanta. Define what you mean by Atlanta. Are you considering suburbs? How far from the city can/will you travel? Most employer search tools generate answers for specific cities, not larger urban areas so if you search Atlanta your results won’t include surrounding communities. For purposes of quality control, select no more than three locations, especially if they are larger urban areas.

Employer type. Next establish employer preferences. Think of employers in four basic categories: (1) law firms, (2) government agencies, (3) nonprofit legal service providers, and (4) companies. Be open to working in any setting, but prioritize where you’d most like to work. Will your job search start with firms and then move to government agencies? If, yes, what size law firm is appealing to you? Are you considering federal and state government positions? Force yourself to explore your decisions and be able to articulate a reason for them. Doing so upfront is readying you to draft cover letters that answer the question of every recruiting employer: Why do you want to work for me?

Nature of work. With respect to nature of work, draft a list of three to five areas of law that interest you. Include civil litigation in the list as this work complements the skills of law students and young lawyers, so there are more opportunities in this practice area than in others. A summer spent researching and drafting documents for a civil litigation firm doesn’t set you up for a lifetime of personal injury work. You needn’t have a strong proclivity for the practice but rather the ability to articulate in a cover letter and/or interview why the nature of the work interests you at this juncture of your studies and career.

Identify Employers and Lawyers

Having set up malleable borders defining your search, you’re well situated to identify employers matching your preferences. Start with your ideal position in relation to what’s realistic for you based on academic standing, finances, personal commitments, and other life factors as they exist. Use online tools and resources from your career services office to build a list of employers meeting your criteria. How you define your search will impact the resources that are most beneficial to you (e.g., for firms and for public interest positions). Other go-to resources include bar association directories, Google searches, and existing professional contacts.

Once you know your target employers, you need to identify which person in the organization will receive your correspondence. Select individuals who are likely decision makers. If it isn’t obvious or known who is directing recruiting or making practice group decisions, an alum of your law school is a great option if one works for the employer. Expect that a “to whom it may concern” letter will see the bottom of the trash bin.

Initiate Contact

Goals are defined and recipients are identified. Now it’s time to request meetings and interviews. Determine first what it is you are asking of the receiving lawyer. Are you hoping for an informational interview? Would you like to discuss the possibility of working for the employer?

The purpose of your correspondence will dictate its form. E-mails are appropriate for requesting informational meetings. When requesting an informational meeting, you’re asking a lawyer to give of his or her time to educate you regarding his/her practice and to guide and direct you with respect to your own career and course of study. You don’t set up informational meetings to ask for jobs. If you meet with a lawyer and impress the lawyer and the lawyer has a job to offer, you won’t need to ask for it. It can be smart to refrain from including your résumé in the initial correspondence requesting an informational meeting. The presence of the résumé can cause the recipient to question your motives and may make him/her apprehensive about agreeing to talk.

When reaching out proactively to express your interest in a job with an employer, send a traditional cover letter and résumé. Whether these documents are sent via e-mail or US mail is largely contingent on knowing the market and considering your specific audience.

Always include in your correspondence that you will follow the e-mail or letter with a phone call in a specified time frame, and then do so. Proactive job searches require commitment and follow-through at every stage.

Use Job Postings

Reliance on job postings should be a single component of a larger job search strategy. There are many fewer advertised positions than the number of students seeking work. And if you’re seeing the most amazing opportunity on your law school’s job posting site, so are all of your peers. Once an employer advertises a need, the candidate pool can get crowded quickly. Don’t ignore postings. Someone is going to get the job; it could be you. Just keep postings in perspective.

Depending exclusively on job postings tends to increase anxiety. No matter how many times you check the site or attempt to will the perfect posting to appear, you’re shackled to the whim of employers. Your efforts are paralyzed until and whether an employer decides to advertise a need.

Legal jobs have never been tossed out nonchalantly like Tootsie Rolls at a parade. Job offers require pursuit. And the pursuit can be rewarding. When you take control of your job search and direct it with prudent action and thought-out strategy, you stand to learn a great deal about the profession and where you fit into it. Organize and implement a focused search that emphasizes proactive steps, and you’ll be on track to securing a good-fit position.

Tips for Using Job Postings Effectively

  • Develop a list of go-to job posting sites that are most likely to have opportunities that fit your preferences for location, employer type, and nature of work.
  • Schedule a regular time in your week to visit job posting sites and be prepared to turn your application around quickly (without sacrificing quality) when you find positions of interest.
  • Apply liberally to positions that even tangentially match your preferences, but don’t waste your time or the employers’ if you have absolutely no intent of accepting an offer if extended.
  • Make use of the job description and employer information to brand your candidacy in your cover letter and on your résumé in terms that match the employer’s needs and preferences.
  • Don’t find comfort in deadlines. Employers often begin interviewing candidates in advance of published deadlines and may hire before deadlines expire.
  • Follow employer directions. If the employer wants the documents mailed, don’t e-mail them.
    Be realistic. The fact you desperately need or want a job doesn’t make you qualified when you’re clearly not.
  • Recognize the role of job postings in your search and don’t let the lack of postings discourage you.

Referrals and self-initiated contacts are noted each year as significant means of securing jobs by graduates responding to employment surveys. Given that we are all linguistic sinners—prone to at least occasional error—we must approach the subject with some humility. On the other hand, we shouldn’t be timid or lax. When you see errors in form, start looking for errors in content. You’ll doubtless find them. That’s because clear and accurate thinkers use words well—at least in their native language.

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