No matter how much you enjoy learning for the sake of learning, there will come a point when you’re going to have to land a real legal job.
So just for the heck of it, let’s take a look at a number of ways law students today are excelling in their job search efforts and an equal number of ways where many continue to fall short. If you find you’re doing any of the not-so-effective moves listed here, don’t take it personally. Just consider this a heads up on how you can improve your search and land more (and more satisfying) positions.
Smart trends in job searches
While many of my private clients are practicing lawyers seeking alternative career paths, I’m continually involved with law schools and law students, and I follow trends in hiring and job searches at the law school level.
Several current developments are exciting and can open doors for those who take advantage of the opportunities. Here are five:
• Embracing career services—Career services offices at law schools are more valuable than ever before. Savvy students are recognizing the value in getting to know their counselors and the resources they have available.
Your counselors likely have everything from resume templates to employer information to names of alumni connections to pursue, not to mention active leads on a variety of different positions. If you don’t click with your assigned person, ask to switch, but don’t quit. Getting hired is easier when your CSO has your back.
• Acknowledging that BigLaw isn’t for everyone—When the bottom fell out of the legal market during the last recession, many law students just couldn’t accept the fact that there weren’t going to be enough BigLaw jobs to go around. For many, their creed was, “My search will be different.” But that only led to more disappointment.
Today, there’s more of an acceptance among students that, while there are still some BigLaw jobs available, there simply aren’t enough positions for all those pursuing them. Of equal import is the realization that not all students flourish in that kind of environment, anyway.
• Knowing yourself—As law degrees have risen in cost (and decreased in clear-cut job opportunities immediately postgraduation), more students have thought long and hard about why they’re actually going to law school in the first place.
Every job search benefits from clarity of vision; if, for example, you know that you want to use your JD in government service, you’ll be better able to focus your search, seek out relevant course and work experience, and create the right network for yourself from the very beginning of your law school experience.
• Engaging early with the larger community—More and more law students are giving back to their communities from their first year in law school than ever before. Whether as a means to an end (to gain networking contacts and experiential development) or to simply get outside and be a part of a world larger than law school, participating in academic and civic projects makes you a more interesting candidate for any job and one with a better story to tell an interviewer.
• Advocating for equal opportunity hiring—Today’s law students seem focused on compelling employers to adhere to the highest standards of equal-opportunity hiring. They won’t accept employers who discriminate on the basis of sex, race, religion, or sexual orientation and, in standing up for those principles, increase fair hiring for all.
Not-so-smart job search trends
Some students, however, could up their game and get better results in their job search. Here’s what they could change:
• Being online all the time—No doubt that the internet has opened up a myriad of job search resources, information, postings, and other leads. But being online 24/7 isn’t the best job-hunting strategy.
By all means, use whatever online and social media resources you have, such as LinkedIn, to see who you know, what types of positions are out there, and where there might be vacancies. But you have to supplement the computer findings with human contacts! At the end of the day, a human being is still going to be the one to hire and work with you.
• Sitting out on helpful programs— In my opinion, there’s no good reason to sit out a single career development program offered to you by your law school or larger community. If you learn even one thing from attending a program, it will have been worth your time. Even if you learn that you have absolutely no interest in the type of law discussed, that knowledge is invaluable in narrowing down your range of possible choices.
• Missing networking opportunities— On a similar note, until your first job is signed, sealed, and delivered (and maybe not even then), never miss the chance to make a new acquaintance. It’s absolutely impossible to tell when or where that connection may become incredibly valuable for you. Understand that who you now know and who they may one day introduce to you is the holy grail of job connections.
Also (and I refer you back to the first not-so-smart move), make these in-person meetings wherever and whenever possible. You’ll get more focused attention from your contact, and the opportunity to really connect with someone grows exponentially when you meet face to face.
Finally, understand that networking is a long and winding, two-way street, and your ability to give back along the route is every bit as important to the relationship as what you take away.
• Casting your net too narrowly— While I don’t like the phrase, “A law degree is a ticket to do anything,” you can certainly leverage a J.D. to help you get your foot into lots of doors. But you have to be thinking outside the box.
Course work internships, externships, summer positions, research opportunities with faculty and alumni, and clinical experiences all offer ways to think more holistically about your future career. Yet many students don’t even open their minds to the possibility of a JD-advantage position or non-legal alternative until the end of their third year, when it’s too late to effectively test the water.
• Engaging in self-limiting thoughts and actions—A negative mindset begets a vicious cycle. When you assume you’ll never get a job, that your career services office can’t help, that you’re forever confined to one practice area, you’ll consciously or unconsciously minimize any attempts at help. And while it’s totally normal to feel down when you can’t see your way through the job-search malaise, turning against the people and resources specifically designed to assist you isn’t a productive choice.
While finding the right job is equal parts art and science, when you know yourself, seek out the help you need, involve yourself in your community, create strong contacts, and maintain realistic expectations, you’ll succeed in your search efforts more reliably than students who use a hit or miss, hide-behind-the-computer, “woe is me” strategy.
There are enough jobs out there for all law students; how you go about getting them can make all the difference.