A Dream Delayed Creates Other Opportunities. Look For Them.

Hello and welcome to the August edition of “Coming of Age” and congratulations to all of you who have recently completed the Bar Exam! Now what? Oh, yeah.  A job.

Like so many of my colleagues who have  just graduated from law school and finished taking the bar exam I find myself feeling slightly deflated by the lack of law job opportunities available to us bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, young, would-be associates. Over the course of my own job search these past several months I’ve kept a running list of of things to keep in mind throughout this process. With the exam in the rear view mirror and the job search in full view, I thought now would be a good time to share my personal notes on the subject.

To be [a lawyer] or not to be [a lawyer]

Over the last four years there has been a significant shift in the legal world.  But you knew that. There has also been a  surprising number of recent law grads taking on non- JD preferred jobs. Law jobs are not as bountiful as they once were which leaves a lot of recent law grads working in jobs that don’t require that fancy degree after all.  But it’s preferred. The internet is full of commentary on the subject from people holding these positions and screaming their heads off they were hoodwinked. “Where’s my corner office, six figure salary, and signing bonus?!?”

If you haven’t realized it, then perhaps it’s time to wake up. Unless you already know without a doubt that you’re going to brave the legal world as a  solo practitioner, there are no guarantees that a JD required job  is out there with your name on it. Many recent law grads that I’ve spoken with simply refuse to consider non-JD preferred careers. One person went so far as to say that they felt it was “beneath” them to settle for anything less. I personally have a strong desire to practice law but I’m not turning a blind eye to other opportunities either. Once you’ve passed the Bar Exam you will always have the option to practice law regardless of whether or not your first job requires a JD or not – keep all of your options in front of you.

Face Time

No; I’m not talking about the iPad app. I’m talking about getting your face in front of as many practicing attorneys in the field as it is humanly possible to reach out to. As I’ve documented continuously through my columns here at SPU, lawyers have continually told me that networking is just as crucial to landing a job as making decent grades in law school. Now is exactly when this skill and effort comes into play. Pick up your address book  and start giving anyone and everyone a call. Offer to take them to lunch, meet for coffee, or wash their car on the weekend if you have to (OK I’m exaggerating a little but you get the point). Finding a job in the legal field is indeed a peculiar endeavor. I’ve spoken with several attorneys who have told me that they got their start in the business from a “guy who knows a guy” – your immediate contact may not have a job opening for you but odds are that they probably know someone who does.

Additionally, many firms don’t post their openings on the web or job sites, rather they rely on their own in-house attorneys to find potential associates which makes “facetime” all the more crucial.  Whenever you do have the good fortune to meet with a practicing attorney, have a resume on hand so that if they do ask for a copy to circulate around to their colleagues you’re prepared and can show that you’re serious about getting started as soon as possible.

Evolve to Survive

In the 2008 movie re-make of the 1951 classic, “The Day the Earth Stood Still” there is a scene that reminds me of the challenge law grads coming of age in this economy. While pleading with the alien Klaatu to spare humanity from eradication, Professor Barnhardt explains that:

“you say we’re on the brink of destruction and you’re right. But it’s only on the brink that people find the will to change. Only at the precipice do we evolve.”

As I mentioned earlier, there may not be enough law jobs to go around but it doesn’t mean that you have to give up on your goal of becoming lawyer. If you find yourself on the outside looking in, place yourself as close as you can to the field of law you want to practice in. For example, if you want to practice Oil and Gas law and can’t find work as an associate, then try to find work as a Landman – you get hands on experience in the field with relevant subject matter and eventually the opportunity to move over to the associate’s chair will present itself with a little hard work, ingenuity, and some due diligence. If you want to practice Sports Law then consider seeking opportunities with college athletic departments and NCAA Compliance offices.

Be willing to relocate to where the jobs are at. Look for jobs in smaller markets where small to medium size firms are usually looking for someone to bat cleanup behind senior associates and take on the odds and ends aspect of the job as opposed to squarely setting your sights on a Big Law job in a major metro area like New York or Los Angeles. We don’t have the luxury of calling our own shots at this stage, so if the mountain won’t come to us, then we must go to the mountain.

Above all keep the faith and continue to put in the hard work that got you this far. We may have to work harder than many of our older colleagues at just getting our foot in the door to the legal profession, but I’m convinced that those that overcome the odds will usher in a new breed of lawyer that appreciates the opportunities that the profession grants them.

What have you done to help your job search?  Have you considered getting close to the action in your practice area by seeking out a non-JD preferred job?

All opinions, advice, and experiences of guest bloggers/columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, practices or experiences of Solo Practice University®.

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