Ever wonder how someone else got their legal job? Do you feel uncertainty as to whether what you are doing to search will ever lead to a great position? Over the next few weeks, we will be featuring the job hunt stories of and tips from recent Quinney graduates who did not have firm employment when they graduated from law school. Read on for the first two of these stories.
2009 Graduate #1 (Anonymous)
What I am doing now: I am working as a family law associate at a mid-sized firm in Salt Lake City. I have started to take on my own cases but am also receiving heavy mentoring in-house from the partners in my practice group.
What I did during law school to gain legal experience: I took advantage of every opportunity available to get insight/experience in the fields I was interested in, mainly family law and criminal law. I did Moot Court and Trial Advocacy. I focused on Moot Court because it has a heavy writing component and gave me the opportunity to distinguish myself as a good writer. I didn’t participate in the write-on to do a journal because I wanted to focus on practical writing in Moot Court rather than academic writing. I was able to win an award for my Moot Court Brief which I think was helpful for my resume. I also worked at a prosecutor’s office as a clerk, which gave me a great deal of writing and research experience. I participated in the civil clinic, interning at Utah Legal Services for a summer doing family law. I also did the criminal clinic at the DA’s office for in-court experience and the Innocence Clinic for case investigation experience. I attended as many networking opportunities as I possible but still focused on my grades, studying and personal life.
What was I doing after I graduated: After I graduated, I focused on passing the bar exam before I began a serious search for a job. I emailed the different bar organizations in the practice areas I was interested in and was able to find volunteer opportunities. I continued to volunteer with the Family Law Clinic whenever I can. I did the Dean’s Fellowship to gain some law firm experience. In hindsight, I would have focused more on finding a placement for the fellowship that was in an area I wanted to practice in instead of any firm that needed the help.
What did I do to seek employment/how did I land at my current job: I checked a number of different job-websites every day: Symplicity, utahjobs.com, usajobs.gov, craigslist.com, indeed.com, etc. I also made sure to keep up with my contacts and always kept an ear open for opportunities. I signed up for automatic job notifications in the cities I was interested in working for and Salt Lake County. I only applied to jobs that I was seriously interested in, a fact that I could highlight in interviews. In my experience, most employers are looking for someone who will stick with them long term, so focusing on areas where I could show a sincere interest seemed to be helpful for landing interviews. I landed my current job through a posting emailed from the PDO. I spent some time putting together my application materials, revising cover letters, etc., and hand-delivered the documents. I think many of the hiring attorneys like to see hard copies of your materials, so if there is an option for submitting a paper application, it’s a good idea to do so. I also tried to distinguish myself in my cover letter as truly interested in the position by stating the reasons why I wanted to practice family law. The hiring process was two interviews over about 3 months. I made sure to be myself during the interviews and only said things that I really meant. The firm was just the right fit for me and I the right fit for them. I sent emails with sincere thank you, highlighting the reasons why I was impressed with the firm, gave them a letter of recommendation and I waited. Getting the call saying that I was hired was one of the best days and suddenly all the agony of five months of job searching was forgotten.
Best advice I can give graduates who are still seeking (can be more than one piece of advice): Try to stay busy and do not get discouraged. The right thing will come along. Keep an open mind for any opportunity that might be a good fit for you and consider why you would be a good fit for that particular place. When you apply, highlight those reasons. Look for volunteer opportunities, not just for networking, but also to remind yourself that you are a lawyer and you are capable of working in this field. The confidence you get from these experiences is invaluable for your interviewing demeanor and your general sanity. Try to enjoy yourself while you have the time, do the things you love as often as you can, you can’t apply for jobs all day long after all. Try to pick up contract work, I did some through the firm I did my Dean’s Fellowship at, it wasn’t all that interesting or good for my resume but it passed the time and reminded me again that I was a skilled researcher and writer. Don’t be bitter or begrudge other people and their successes—yours will come along, and beyond that, the legal community in Salt Lake is incredibly small so people always hear about it. You never know when you will have to work with someone so always act accordingly.
Above all, be yourself. Do not try to be the person you think that particular employer is looking for, if you are the right person for the job, then you have a much better chance of landing it by being yourself than by trying to be something you’re not. You will also be happier with the job you get once you get it, and you won’t have to worry about finding another job anytime soon because you will be where you belong.
2009 Graduate #2 (Anonymous)
What I am doing now: I am building up my solo practice while working part time on a contract basis for a bankruptcy law firm. In my solo practice, I have done some debt settlement negotiations and foreclosure sale challenges. I’ve also worked with some small businesses drafting operating agreements and contracts, and defending various claims. I have also done some random contract and probate work for friends and family. With the bankruptcy law firm, I have been contracted to help expand their practice into a new geographical area. I work part time for them meeting with clients and filing cases that are referred to their satellite office.
What I did during law school to gain legal experience: The one thing I did that provided the most legal experience during law school was to do a judicial clinic with the Federal Bankruptcy court. I treated my time there like a full time job rather than a few credit hours I needed to fill. Doing that provided an opportunity to really get to know the judge and his staff, and allowed me to be involved in a meaningful way in the judicial process. My time with the court provided the best legal experience and education I received during my entire law school career.
What was I doing after I graduated: Trying to study for the bar and plan a wedding. Job seeking took a back seat in the initial months after graduation. Plus, I was still not certain whether I wanted to commit to opening my own practice or trying to get a job with a firm.
What did I do to seek employment/how did I land at my current job: Not being sure whether I wanted to start my own firm or work for an established firm, I tried to move full steam ahead in both directions at the same time. I knew if a great opportunity at a firm came along I could drop my solo practice at any time, but if I didn’t find opportunities I liked I would be ready to continue on my own. I sent out a few resumes, stayed in touch with the Professional Development Office, and tried to keep an eye on the job board for opportunities that looked appealing. At the same time, I began the initial steps of opening my own practice by doing some financial planning, researching law firm business structures, and creating a business plan and marketing strategy. Eventually, I obtained a Dean’s Fellowship and a placement with the bankruptcy firm for whom I currently work part time. The Dean’s Fellowship provided an opportunity to work at a firm and gain experience without the firm having to commit to me financially or otherwise. This basically provided an extended tryout for me at their firm, and in the end they offered a part time position on a contract basis that would allow me to continue to gain experience with them and maintain and grow my solo practice at the same time. So I feel I now have the best of both worlds.
Best advice I can give graduates who are still seeking: First, BE CREATIVE. I felt that in general law school was very good at advertising experiences and avenues for job seekers that followed a certain path (Law Review, top whatever % of the class, etc.). But that was never my path, and sometimes I felt lost in the shuffle. Law school can sometimes suck the creativity out of the students with all of its structure in briefs, arguments, legal research, etc., but if students are willing to think outside the box, there are plenty of opportunities within the legal profession. Second, UTILIZE LAW SCHOOL RESOURCES LIKE THE PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT OFFICE. I wasn’t certain what I wanted to do, but I at least knew a few things that I didn’t want to do. So don’t hesitate to contact Anneliese and the Professional Development Office even if you are not sure exactly what you are looking for.