Job Hunting for 3Ls and Recent Law Grads: How to Get the Inside Scoop

ShadowIn part four of our job-hunting series for 3Ls and recent law grads, Katie Slater of Career Infusion Coaching provides tactical tips for getting insider information on job listings and potential openings.

Try to Contact Someone Before Submitting Your Application

A word on job postings.

When you discover positions you want to apply for, before blindly applying, find out who you know who might know someone at the place you are applying and see if it is possible to contact them.

Even if it is a friend of a friend, or a recent alum from your school, this can be a great source of free inside information on what the company or firm may look for generally, or, better perhaps, what they may be looking for specifically here.

You may also be able to understand better how to pitch yourself in the cover letter and what you should highlight on your résumé.

Finally, they may be willing to introduce you to a person who has input in hiring for the position. Be aware that many companies are now using screening software for applications. By getting inside information, you may be able to better place your application for screening, but it would be vastly preferable to get to bypass the software and get your information in front of a real person.

Put Your Research Skills to Work

Also, and this should be music to law students’ ears — research the dickens out of the position.

Just looking at the web page is not good enough.

  • What has been happening to the firm or group or company?
  • Where are they going?

This will help you tailor yourself and have some good things to discuss in an interview. Can you get in touch with someone there or at the very least find the hiring manager’s name off of LinkedIn to properly address your cover letter?

Look for Volunteer Opportunities

As part of your action plan, do not neglect such steps as volunteering in your field(s) of interest. This can include both legal and non-legal volunteering opportunities.

Doing pro bono cases or other work with established attorneys can be a great way of developing and using legal skills while building connections in your legal community.

Many local bar associations do matching programs with established attorneys and law students, and your law school may also have some programs like this (separate from clinics).

Also, volunteering in non-legal organizations such as community groups in areas you are interested in gives you insight into the issues facing the field and again, allows you to build connections to potential employers and referrals. It also often is a lot more comfortable way to do that dreaded networking thing, as you will most likely be much more yourself. It is also a nice opportunity to have people see you in action and see your commitment to that cause.

Can You Shadow an Established Attorney?

The other step I want to mention is shadowing established attorneys.

This can be a great way of really getting to understand what is involved in a particular field and frankly what the heck a day looks like in the shoes of a working attorney.

What is shadowing? You ask an attorney in the field you are interested in if you can simply observe them for a day, a week, or a month (or longer).

I spoke to a woman attorney in Houston who did this to change fields after working in one area for a couple of years and realizing it wasn’t for her — she gained very valuable contacts and a much better understanding of what the new field entailed. It is now her current field. Understand that BigLaw may raise eyebrows at this, so it probably is more suited to smaller shops or companies.

Explore Part-Time Positions

While I appreciate these are now getting thin on the ground or are highly competitive, do not rule out trying for part-time clerking or internship positions in smaller shops — even if they do not pay very much (or, if you can float it, at all).

Any exposure is helpful for learning what you like and do not like. As well, if you are committed, they may be ultimately able to offer you a more permanent position — at the least, you can get a good referral and they may be able to refer you to other opportunities or connect you with other people.

This has been the route for many legal graduates in the past few years to find their permanent positions.

Do You Need More Skills?

Finally, gauge whether you may have a skills gap based on what you are seeing in job descriptions. What skills are people looking for?

Can You Take More Classes in Your Institution?

I know there is no substitute for the experience often wanted (although see above for what you can do to start to chip away at that argument), but while you are at an institute for higher learning, make sure you take advantage of any classes that you might be able to get at a reduced rate or have a bit more time-flexibility to fit in.

I know that you may not want to pay for anything more at the law school, but look into whether you can cross-register for courses at other schools or departments at the larger institution at a lower rate. There may also be TA positions that you could qualify for.

What areas might be worth it? Brushing up on languages you have some familiarity with or learning a new one, and do not overlook some business or marketing classes. You will be ahead of many colleagues if you have a clue about how to market yourself and your business and the challenges that clients face if you want to go into any sort of practice serving business clients.

Look for CLE Opportunities

Also do not neglect looking into CLE opportunities while you are still a student or after you graduate — you should qualify for reduced rates through student memberships to bar associations or check to see if your law school belongs to organizations such as PLI. (Note from Alison: PLI sometimes runs free pro bono trainings and they offer scholarships, too.)

Particularly consider the intensive one or two day CLEs if they are available to you to bone up on an area of law you are interested in — it will speak highly to your interest level and determination. Right now, you probably have more time than when you land your full time position to go to CLEs. You also won’t be having one eye on your Blackberry, and can pay more attention to the material. Plus, all sorts of practitioners have to take them — so make sure you go to live CLEs. You can pick up skills and meet people in that field, and some of the hours may be able to be applied to your first year CLE requirements (though please check your local bar requirements!).

Broaden Your Scope and Cross-Train

And the last advice on tactical steps? Cross-train, meaning make sure you meet with people and groups that are not just lawyers.

For example, while you are on campus, see what other organizations have events you can go to. Betsy, the 2009 UofH graduate, says that she wishes she did more cross-networking with alumnae of other schools while she was at law school, particularly as she did her undergraduate at the same institution.

Do not overlook joining young professionals groups in various sectors and industries in your area. At the very least, you will get a sense of what future clients’ concerns are and what they are looking for.

And don’t forget about alumni networks you already have access to by dint of graduating from somewhere.

The Bottom Line

Developing and implementing concrete steps in a coherent approach, whether that be a step plan or a tiered approach, will give you some structure to the job search and let you have something to follow in an otherwise free-form environment.

Best of luck, and tomorrow we’ll talk about how to handle the mental and emotional strain of a prolonged job hunt.

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