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OCIs and more: A tongue-in-cheek look at the legal job search

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Networking

Besides finals, cold-calls, and the ever-present need to “keep it together,” a universal and timeless woe for most law students is the search and obtaining of employment. But, fear not fellow law students! Opportunity is everywhere. Sadly, this lighthearted tutorial can only marginally cover: on-campus interviews, networking, and a thing I like to call “nep-working.”

First, let us begin with the hyper-Darwinian, ritualistic, stress and disappointment-inducing on-campus interview. Thanks to the tireless efforts of your department of career services, employers can come to you!

However, as the first sentence may imply, the on-campus interview is not for the faint of heart. Nevertheless, my first suggestion is to cast a wide net—you can’t be picky.

So, what do you do if you get selected for an interview?

Besides obligatory research on your potential place of employment, I recommend you get to know yourself. You will inevitably be told, “So, tell us about yourself.” Keep your accolades at the tip of your tongue, but also tell employers what makes you “you.”

Employers already know you made that three-point-whatever and worked for Senator What’s-His-Face over the summer (it’s on your resume, they can read). What employers need to know is whether you have top-notch culinary skills, are into cross-fit, or rock at Harry Potter trivia. Essentially, potential employers want to see your personality and determine whether you’ll mesh well with their firm’s culture.

Great law students are a dime a dozen; set yourself apart! I once made the mistake of having no personality during interviews because I was under the impression firms wanted this uber-professional, suit-and-tie kind of guy—this was definitely wrong. In fact, my first offer was a result of emphasizing my baking skills and saying the words “tres leches cake.” I kid you not!

True to this advice, that clerkship was one of the best experiences of my life. But, even if you don’t get an offer the first go-around, rest easy in knowing that the firm that eventually does give you an offer genuinely likes you.

Now, once you’ve gotten that offer, it’s up to you to make good on your promise of being this amazing person and perform! Clerkships are long-term interviews. Moreover, the legal community in many areas is rather small. So, the most important takeaway from those prized summer clerkships is not only the work experience, but the relationships that you build with those already in the legal community.

Further, it would behoove you to not only build those relationships, but to maintain them as well. It follows that, depending on your performance as a clerk, your potential employer pool may expand or contract.

Having arrived at a perfect segue, let’s talk more about this small community and the important role of networking when seeking employment opportunities.

Start from within: your campus. If you look at faculty profiles on any law school website, you soon learn that law professors are juggernauts in their fields. I assure you, your instructors didn’t achieve that level of acclaim by sitting at home alone and eating a bowl of chili from a can—be proactive!

If you are interested in a particular area of the law, the professor teaching that area will more than likely be able to point you in the right direction, or even give you the name of someone else to pester! Resources are plentiful if you have the right equipment (see friendly, genuine personality), motivation, and creativity.

Moving onward and toward the perimeter of your law school’s walls, look to your friends and colleagues. I tell this to everyone who will listen: “When you leave law school, all you have is your JD and your reputation.”

I’m not even telling you to join every club—I’m only imploring your being a decent human being. Your classmates will soon become your colleagues in the profession, your judges, and your legislators. Be great to them. I’ve heard horror stories of sabotage, discord, and in-class, nigh gladiatorial combat; heck, this may even be your law school, but thankfully not mine!

Law school is certainly not the place to “be in your feelings.” Moreover, in addition to kindness being the best approach to mitigate the pains of law school interaction, law school is exponentially more bearable if you have a great support system of friends you can trust and classmates who think you’re a cool person. The same is, I’m told, an actuality in the practice and, back to our point, likely makes the job hunt easier, too.

Segueing again, and leaving the walls of the law school, we can finally discuss “nep-working.” What is “nep-working” you ask? A portmanteau of nepotism and networking, of course!

For those lucky few who get the jobs via wit and superior interview skills, there are the luckier and even fewer who get the job through societal connections and proper cocktail party etiquette. And for these lottery winners, the best advice I can give is:

  1. Don’t name drop (often),
  2. Don’t rely solely on your connections, and
  3. Don’t get too “lit” at those cocktail parties.

I’ve seen legal careers end before they even begin due to uncouth, jaw-dropping spectacles worthy of Page Six headlines. Don’t be that person. Instead, use nep-working opportunities as a chance to get your name and interests out there.

Also, observe those potential employers you easily connect with outside of the well-choreographed dance of OCIs. Have karma on your side: emanate positive vibes, and so shall positive vibes return to you!

Speaking of karma, remember that upperclassman who just graduated or finished that awesome clerkship? Hope you made a good impression because (s)he can either tip the scales in your favor or blackball you faster than you can say res judicata.  Alums love to pay it forward, but only if they know they can count on you to honor the name of thy school.

Really, the point of my writing this is to emphasize that some of the best ways to score a job is being kind, having integrity, and not taking life too seriously.

In closing, to you 1Ls: congrats! It only gets more time-consuming, but at least now (hopefully), you know how to play the game! And to upperclassmen, including myself: “just keep swimming.”

Josef Ventulan Josef Ventulan is a 2L at Southern University Law Center and a junior editor for the Southern University Law Review. His internship experiences include public interest, in-house counsel, and will soon include a law firm and the federal judiciary.