Job Hunting for 3Ls and Recent Law Grads: What Do You Want?

Clear eyedIn part two of our job-hunting series for 3Ls and recent law grads, Katie Slater of Career Infusion Coaching discusses a critical — and often overlooked — set of questions: What do you actually want to do? What suits you?

If you missed part one, you can catch up here. Now, without further ado, here’s Katie.

Job Hunting Advice for 3Ls and Recent Law Grads

So, after part one, you should have a better sense of your strengths and skills — time to think about what you actually want to do.

In this part, the goal is to determine what types of law or fields would suit you, and explore some of your other job-related preferences.

What Type of Work Do You Enjoy?

Here are some questions to ask yourself about the type of legal work you’re most suited for:

  • Do you enjoy code-based fields, such as tax and immigration law?
  • Would you rather operate in a less-defined or less rule-based legal area, such as commercial litigation or corporate work?
  • Do you want to work one on one with clients who directly benefit from your help?
  • Or do you get satisfaction more from doing good work, regardless of how big the client is or who the client might even be?
  • Do you need to work for certain types of clients, or is it more about the work itself?
Think Back On Your Law School Experience

If this is a tough one, as I know it is for many overwhelmed 3Ls, again start thinking about what you’ve done in law school (besides study, drink, surf the internet, and watch TV).

What did you do, and enjoy, in law school?

  • Have you liked working at law school clinics? If so, you may want to consider direct service — helping people in need and interacting directly with clients and the public.
  • Have you enjoyed researching for a professor, spending time on your own digging into the nitty-gritty of a subject? You may want to consider areas of law that focus on getting very granular — tax and ERISA come to mind, or FERC or other regulatory administrative/agency law.
  • Have you led organizations successfully? You may want to consider positions that would include a management function, such as in-house positions or executive director/director-track at non-profits or other similar organizations.
  • Did you work for a judge and enjoy it? What part did you enjoy — the research and writing, or the interaction with the judge and others in the court?

Often I find that people who enjoy litigation like working within the system and yet being able to have some discretion and make a difference within it. You also can determine whether you should be aiming for a smaller litigation firm or your own practice if you love being in court interacting with people, or a bigger firm that would allow you do more research and writing and have less time in court.

Again, think of your enjoyable successful experiences and see what you can glean about yourselves from those experiences.

Following on the captain of the intramural team example — if that is you, you may be the type that loves being active, out and about and it’s not going to be great if you have to sit on your own for hours at a time. It could be that policy or lobbying work might be more interesting for that type of person — or anything with lots of interaction as a usual part of the job.

If you are stuck about what types of law are interesting to you, think about what clinics you loved, or classes in general — legal and non-legal.

What Gets You Fired Up?

Also consider what type of work you feel is ultimately of value, as that is quite revealing. Additional thoughts: What gets you fired up in conversations? When do you find you lose track of time?

And, do not forget the basics:

  • What inspires you?
  • What areas in life truly make you happy?
  • What were you most looking forward to post-law?

Yes, I know that these questions can seem almost alien when you are faced with the crush of a high debt burden and few job postings.

But pursuing something that will make you feel happy to go to work in the morning is so worth it, even if it may mean a more difficult path in the beginning — ask many of the older graduates of your law school.

I am not saying that you should only look for work defending death penalty cases or appealing convictions if you loved your Innocence Project clinic in law school — but I am saying that you will feel so much more connected to your job and able to enjoy your overall life more if you can connect to some sense of mission or some values at your workplace. Mission or a values fit might manifest in the institution’s commitment to pro bono, or the cool people around, or the actual everyday work.

What Physical Environment is Best for You?

That leads to the question of environment. To understand what kind of workplace best suits you, consider the following questions in particular:

  • Who do you like to be around?
  • What situations do you thrive in?
  • Are you someone who needs and enjoys time to research, think, write and likes to work on your own? Larger law firms might suit you, or places generally that do not require many meetings!
  • Or, are you more gregarious and find yourself leading younger lawyer groups, participating in the law school follies, or otherwise organizing people? You may need to seek work where you are doing a lot of work in teams or collaborating.
  • Another option, are you someone who is always coming up with new ways to do things at your law school or pushing change of some sort? You need to consider whether you’ll mind spending hours alone at your desk in an office or cubicle, or if you really need to be out and about in the community or at least interacting a lot with others in the office.
What Are Employers Really Looking For?

Finally, what are employers looking for?

I know it may seem at times to be everything you are not, but try to look objectively at job descriptions in postings.

While the desperation blues can make you feel as if you do not have anything to offer, use the strengths and skills list you’ve developed to match yourself philosophically to postings. Do not waste your time or theirs if there really does not seem to be any overlap, but think creatively about how your skills fit their needs.

Reach Out and Ask for Help

Also, try to question people who may know about the fields you’re interested in and the specific places you may want to work. Here are some useful things to ask:

  • What kind of person thrives there?
  • Is there a type of person who seems to do that kind of law?
  • What skills does it really help to have?
  • Are there any commonalities among the people of that firm/department/court?

An example of this: One of my departments in New York was notable for all of us being big readers. Most of us whenever we headed for the subway would be pulling out a book (these were pre-e-reader days!) We therefore tended to look for and people were more successful in the group if they liked to continue to learn and read outside of work.

That isn’t something you can pitch in a cover letter, but it is something that will help you connect in an interview and let you know if you would suit that group of people.

Developing a sense of your strengths, skill set, types or areas of law you are interested in, and environments you should seek will take some time, but it will provide some needed parameters for this initial job search and for those down the road.

Tomorrow, we’ll get into more concrete job search steps, so stay tuned!

Read On:

Catch up on any parts you’ve missed:

Also check out our interview with Katie, where she talks about her own career path and the number one thing that prevents lawyers from having the careers they want. (Hint, it’s a four-letter word.)

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Got job hunting tips or questions? Leave them in the comments!

Image by Willymann via stock.xchng.


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