How I Got My Job-Working in a Smaller City or Town

Sometimes it may seem that a large city is the only place to practice law.  Not so!  Many SJQ Alums practice law in smaller cities and towns, and find that they are very happy doing it.  Over the next few issues, you can read about some of these alums in the “How I Got My Job” feature.


Dan Bokovoy, Uintah County Attorney’s Office, Vernal, UT

1.    What did you do before law school and why did you decide to go to law school?  Before law school, I worked with adults with disabilities. One of the young men with whom I worked was charged with a Domestic Violence Assault. I researched the law to see what his options were. While searching through the Utah Code, I fell in love with its organization especially with how violations broke down into specific definitions and elements. At the time, I didn’t feel like I had any real direction in life, and suddenly the prospect of studying the law made perfect sense.

2.    What kinds of things did you do during law school?  During my second year of law school, I completed my Masters in philosophy. Also, during my second and third year in law school, I worked with the Utah Attorney General’s Office in the Criminal Justice Division. The pay wasn’t great, but I made those vital connections that one needs in an ultra-competitive legal environment.

3.    Where are you working and what are you doing?  I am a Deputy County Attorney for Uintah County. I prosecute cases in the Eighth District Juvenile Court and in the Uintah County Justice Court. Because we have a small office (we have a total of five attorneys: four prosecutors and one civil attorney), I have had a lot of great opportunities to work on other matters as well, including second-chairing on felonies and helping out on civil matters.

4.    What do you think helped you land the job?  Two things were essential in helping me land this job: connections and experience.

First, and perhaps foremost, were the connections I had developed while working with the Utah Attorney General’s Office. One of the Assistant AG’s called the Uintah County Attorney on my behalf. As a result, I was given one of the ten scheduled interviews.

The second important thing was getting experience in the area where I wanted to practice. As I’ve said, during law school, I worked at the Attorney General’ Office where I worked in criminal matters. Also, after law school, I got a job as a bailiff/law clerk at the Fourth District Court where I had to go through five weeks of police officer training to get my special functions certificate. These jobs did not pay well. Before I got this job, I remember watching the opening previews at a movie theater and seeing an advertisement for a TSA position which required a high school diploma. They paid $24 dollars an hour. Here I was with a Masters, a JD, having passed the Utah and California Bar, being over 100k in student loan debt, and making about $12 an hour! However, you sometimes have to pay your dues and start with these low paying positions to get the experience and connections to ultimately land the job that you really want.

5.    What do you like about practicing in Vernal?  I really enjoy practicing law in Vernal. I grew up in the small town of Ramona, California, so I enjoy the environment of a small town. I never have to worry about traffic congestion.  I live two minutes from my office and about three minutes from the Eight District Court. In other words, if I have a hearing at 8:30, I can leave my house at 8:25. I can walk to work, if I want to. I can go home for lunch or go to a park and eat lunch with my wife and daughter. I live 12 miles from the majestic Red Fleet State Park, or from the stunning Dry Fork Canyon. We have all the shops we need all within five miles. For anything else, we can simply make online purchases or take the scenic drive to Orem or Salt Lake.

6.    What kinds of things do you think helped push you to job seek outside of Salt Lake?  I thoroughly enjoy working in Vernal, but honestly, I never thought of working out here. Instead, I went to where the work was.

7.    What tips do you have for students who are job seeking?  I’ve read several news articles saying this is the worst era ever for newly graduated law school students. Did you all catch that? THE worst era EVER! I believe it, too. I’ve personally applied to dozens upon dozens of positions, including positions typically not associated with a lot of applicants. For example, the Fourth District Court used to scramble to fill its bailiff/law clerk positions. However, when I worked there, I worked alongside graduates of Yale Law School and Vanderbilt . So, I know how tough it can be to find a job.

To combat this, be ready to do anything to make those all-important connections and obtain that essential experience. Jump at any pro bono opportunity. Take the bar exam from another state. Expect low paying jobs. You may even try clerking for free. During this difficult time, don’t get discouraged by all those thin envelopes. Don’t despair over your chosen occupation. Despite all the jokes, the law is a noble profession. Remember, whenever people mention respectable positions in society, they invariably mention lawyers. Don’t forget that. Finally, expect great things, for they will come. Hard work always produces positive results.

John Webster, Bartlett & Webster, Riverdale, UT

1.  What did you do before law school and why did you decide to go to law school? Before law school, I worked as a youth counselor and was planning to be a Ph.D. psychologist.  The program director of a ranch based program I worked for (Turnabout Ranch) convinced me to sit for the LSAT.

2.  What kinds of things did you do during law school?  (Clubs, journal, work, clinics?)  During law school I had three children and commuted from Brigham City.  I was not much of a “joiner” and did not participate in any clubs on campus.  I worked full time for a small firm in South Ogden doing primarily employment law (plaintiffs).  The attorney I was working for was a good attorney and mentor but was experiencing mental and emotional problems.  During my second and third years his problems worsened and eventually led to his withdrawal from the practice of law.  During this period, I ran his office.  It was a little weird but I learned a lot about what to do and certainly what not to do.  He gave up his license due to his disability and closed his practice during my last semester.  Instead of hitting the ground running and taking over his practice I was left without a job and without prospects for one after I graduated.

3.  Where are you be working and what are you doing?  I opened up my own shop and then a year later Matthew Bartlett (SJQ 2002) graduated and we opened Bartlett & Webster.  We run a fairly general and ambitious practice.  We are defined more by what we do not do–bankruptcy, immigration, social security–then we are by what we do.

4. When and how did you first decide to start your own firm? Because of my personality and family composition I knew that I was not going to work for a “firm.”  I always planned to work north of Salt Lake and had planned to take over the practice for which I worked during law school.  As soon as that fell through I knew that I would open my own shop.

5.  What do you like about practicing in Northern Utah? Less pomp and circumstance. Egos may be just as large but they are not as dressed up.  Also, the courts are much less officious and you can develop a good working relationship with the judiciary.

6.  What kinds of things do you think helped you build your practice outside of Salt Lake?  Mostly hard work and understanding that when you have to develop your own clients work is not always accomplished by sitting behind a desk. It is hard to make rain if you are in your office 60 hours a week.  I spend a lot of time out doing other things—rubbing shoulders.  I get most of my work through referrals that are generated non-traditionally.  Also, I am not uptight but I make sure work is done well and in a timely manner.  I carefully guard my reputation.  I will not take junk to court.  I will not make lazy representations to the court or other counsel.  I turn down as many potential clients as I accept.  Also, maintaining relationships with other attorneys if vital.  Having a cadre of other attorneys to brainstorm with is imperative.  It also helps to recognize that we all swim in the same pond and that although we work for our clients we do not share the same emotions.  We cannot adopt our clients anger, emotion, hurt, etc.  We still need to deal professionally with each other.

7.  What tips do you have for students who are job seeking?  Talk to everyone.  Be likable.  Act confident (even if you don’t feel confident) but not pompous or arrogant.  Get advice from attorneys who have time in grade.  Almost all of us will take time to talk to you and give you pointers.   In this economy don’t be burdened with the narrow minded view that you have to be “hired” or die.  There is plenty of work, some of it is non-traditional.  Many attorneys will share work on a part time basis.  If you are writing briefs for 10 different attorneys you are working full time.