Wondering How to Get a Job? Here’s Advice from a Law School Career Counselor

Pick up the phone!If you’re concerned about finding a job after law school, today’s interview is for you! We’re talking to Philip Guzman, Director of Public Service Programs at North Carolina Central University School of Law.

After an extremely varied career, as a teacher (high school and law school), prosecutor, law firm associate, solo practitioner, and more, he’s turned to career counseling — a job for which I’m sure he’s uniquely suited!

He’s got great advice on evaluating whether law school is right for you, and for finding a job when you graduate. Take it away!

Alison: I’m applying to law school right now, and I’m concerned about all the horror stories I hear about recent graduates not finding solid jobs. What are the most important things I should think about when deciding whether to enroll, and when choosing a school?

Philip: First of all, thanks for having me on The Girl’s Guide to Law School. I love what you are doing on your blog and on Twitter!

In the past, students made the decision to attend law school for varying reasons, not simply to practice law:

  • Some pre-law students just wanted a J.D. to “expand their horizons” when they finally decided on a career path. The thought was that “it can’t hurt” to have a law degree.
  • Others found the analytical thinking process involved in a law degree fascinating and plowed ahead for the “experience” of law school.

#1: Are You Passionate About Being a Lawyer?
Now, given the state of the economy and changing employment hiring patterns in both BigLaw and the public sector,

Law school should only be for those who can articulate a true reason for attending — the desire to become a practicing attorney!

A student needs to be able to say, “This is my passion, this is what a really want to do!”

The first question that I ask a law student when he/she comes for an initial Career Services Office appointment is: “Why did you decide to go to law school?” Surprisingly, many are unable to answer that question.

When deciding whether to enroll in law school or not, I believe that if you can’t give a clear and concise answer to that question, ending with a carefully thought out career path, you should decide against law school.

#2: Consider the Costs
If you can clear that initial hurdle, the question then becomes:

Can I afford law school given the debt that I will incur and my employment prospects?

A law school candidate must evaluate all the possible types of student loans available (Equal Justice Works has some great information on their website) at each law school under consideration and see how a specific loan balance would play out through the course of a career.

Along the same lines, I believe that it would be a good idea for prospective law students to actually sit down with a financial planner to map out what types of savings he/she will need over the course of a law career.

Work backwards. Start with what you will need to retire and then return to where you are now in life.

When I do these programs for students, I always hear that they now see that it is never too early to start thinking about financial concerns and the availability of loan money.

Do not be cavalier with a “let’s see what happens” attitude. If you have any hesitation about the costs that accompany a law degree, then don’t go to law school!

#3: Be Realistic
Finally, I urge all who are considering law school and a specific school to be realistic.

If a top tier school appears too expensive, don’t go in that direction. Frankly, so few graduates will get the “big bucks” BigLaw job that it does matter where you go. Most law students get in-state jobs, so why not simply consider a local school with a great alumni base that will help you get a good job in an area of interest?

I’m a 3L going into my last semester of law school, and I don’t have a job lined up yet. What are the three most critical things I need to be doing right now to ensure I eventually find a job I like?
  1. Do not lose track of the fact that the most important thing to do to become marketable is to PASS A BAR EXAMINATION. Do not panic. Many graduating 3Ls have told me that the majority of firms now hiring are waiting for the pool of candidates who have successfully passed the Bar. If you are not in that group, then all chances of getting a job are out the window. Keep your eye on the prize. Focus on becoming a licensed lawyer — first and foremost.
  2. Hopefully, by the last semester of your 3L year you have identified a specific area of practice — maybe not a specific job but a general field. I advise students preparing for their 2L internship to select a job that will give them the “skill set” they need to be prepared for that first job out of school. This is the process that the graduating 3L needs to be doing at this time. Hone down the areas of practice (and the locations where you would consider practicing, by the way) for which you are best prepared given want you have done in law school. Then start focusing in like a laser beam on which firms, public interest entities, and non-profits might be a good employment fit.
  3. Call in the Cavalry!!! (The people who can help you find a job.) Start with your alumni base. After you work through #2, above, look to those who are in your desired practice area and have walked the same halls that you are currently walking. (Remember that a strong alumni base is also a good thing to consider when you are applying to a law school.) Friends, family, classmates, contacts from prior internships/jobs — reach out to ALL! Make a list in your Spring Semester and start picking up the phone. Don’t be shy in asking “Can you help me get a job? Do you know anyone whom I should be speaking with?”
Could you talk a bit about what you do in the average day at work, and how it’s similar to (or different from) what you thought you’d be doing when you applied to law school?

I am currently the Director of Public Service Programs at North Carolina Central University School of Law in Durham, NC. The job is certainly much more than I thought it would be when I closed my law practice and went back to teaching as a career counselor.

I work primarily with law students to map out career strategies and goals. In furtherance of this, I review resumes and cover letters and conduct mock interviews with students as they prepare for real job interviews. I also go out into the law community to market our school and plan career-related events for our students.

I often still feel like the high school teacher that I once was when I walk the halls speaking with students and even attending classes to see what’s happening in each class and the many practice areas.

What is surprising is that no two days are the same and I enjoy that because each day presents new challenges mirrored in different ways.

When I applied to law school, I was a high school teacher and I thought that litigation would be the career I would choose. I tried to take those courses and clinical programs that would put me in the best position to be a litigator. Fortunately, it worked for me because a summer internship in the Criminal Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles, CA along with a yearlong Criminal Clinic as a 3L, translated into my first job as an Assistant District Attorney in Brooklyn, Kings County, New York and my career as a litigator was off and running.

When I applied to law school, I never thought that I would be heading back to teaching but here I am as an attorney career counselor.

The lesson I would urge all law students to take from this is to keep their eyes open to where they came from.

One never knows what direction your law school degree may eventually take you, even with all the careful planning that is needed in these days of a troubled economy.

— – —

Thanks, Philip!

If you’d like to get more great career advice, follow him on Twitter at @pag2010. Or check out some of his other publications: A Day in the Life of a Law School Career Counselor and JD Profiles.

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  1. Excellent interview! Your readers are so fortunate to have direct access to some of the best minds in the areas of law school success, bar examination success, and job and career success. I think Philip makes some excellent points here, particularly with respect to urging prospective law students to do their diligence and gain clarity about why it is they are going to law school to begin with. Putting in this work up front will set a solid foundation for success going forward. I also love Philip’s advice about “calling in the cavalry” in your third year of law school if you have not yet secured a job. This is a simple, but truly important point. As lawyers, we tend to shy away from asking for help. We hope to line up a job before graduation and if not, the most diligent students tend to send out resumes and applications en masse, hoping to hear good news eventually. Securing a job is hard work, and will often require you to send out your resume endlessly. However, you can streamline this process, or at the very least get through it with assistance, if you reach out to people in the community who may be able to help you. We get a lot of things in this life by asking – and just asking is one of the easier tasks you will be called upon to do, from now until the end of your career. Great interview, as always, Alison – and excellent advice Philip!

  2. Very nice write-up. I definitely appreciate thks website.



  1. […] I’m a 3L going into my last semester of law school, and I don’t have a job lined up yet. What are the three most critical things I need to be doing right now to ensure I eventually find a j… […]

  2. […] Read the full interview here, found on the Girls Guide to Law School blog (don’t be put off, men: the blog is usually just […]

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