In today’s challenging legal market, employers can afford to be more discriminating, and one of the ways they have done so is by looking for candidates who have the most relevant legal experience. In the past, firms were willing to train associates, but the current culture is one where associates are expected to hit the ground running. Clients are no longer willing to subsidize associate training, and partners can’t afford the cushion they allowed in the past for the learning curve. As such, law firms are seeking attorneys with demonstrated experience in relevant fields. To make yourself more marketable, obtain as much legal experience as possible. The ideal experience will be in a relevant area of law and in the same geographic community. For example, if you plan to practice in Mobile, Alabama upon graduation, then ideally you should have summer work experience there. This is important because it shows that you understand the culture of the market and it reiterates your commitment to that community. If you don’t have any work experience, it is never too late. Look for opportunities on job posting sites such as Symplicity, or create your own opportunity by seeking volunteer experience with a law firm.
Connections to the local community are an important consideration for law firms when hiring. They look for any links to the immediate or nearby communities. Why? The more roots you have there, the more likely it is that you will be a long term member of the team. Traditionally, new associates without any connections to that location tend to stay a few years, then leave to move back home. As such, some firms will not even consider an attorney for employment unless there is abundant evidence that he or she will remain there. When associates leave, firms lose the time and money they invested in training and mentoring the associate. Moreover, clients prefer long lasting relationships rather than a revolving door of associates on their cases.
You are most marketable to a law firm in your hometown or any other city in which you have existing roots. To demonstrate those connections, be certain to communicate what relatives or friends you have there, any prior work experience in the community, and any volunteer efforts with local organizations. Express your eagerness to return “home” or to be “near my family.” Talk with your Career Services Counselor about where you should focus your job search for maximum results and how to demonstrate your community connections.
Several factors influence a law firm’s hiring decisions. In the next few posts, I will highlight the key considerations. One of the most important factors is whether you fit the firm’s culture. Each law firm has its own office environment. Some are more formal, some are more casual. Some encourage associates to work late hours and to bill as much as possible, while others may encourage a more balanced work life. The culture may be a reflection in part of the clientele or of the geographic location of the firm. For example, a firm in Atlanta, Georgia is more likely to have a diverse culture than a firm in Waycross, Georgia. And remember – even superb grades or excellent writing skills cannot overcome the perception that you will not fit with a firm’s culture.
Research the target firm to get a good grasp of its value system and then examine whether you are a good fit for it. If you aren’t, then consider whether you should pursue working with that firm since you may be setting yourself up for failure or unhappiness. If you think you would be a great fit for the firm’s culture, incorporate subtle references to your shared values in your cover letter or interview.
If you don’t find a suitable position for summer work experience in Symplicity or other job posting sites, create your own opportunity! Contact law firms and ask if they would be willing to accept an unpaid volunteer or intern for the summer. Not every firm will be willing, but you only need one! If the firm is not able to accept a summer intern, ask if they know of any other firms or solo practitioners who would be willing to accept a volunteer. Reach out to firms in any city where you have potential accommodations for the summer, such as staying with your parents in your hometown or with a relative or friend in another city. Focus on cities that do not have law schools since they will have less market saturation. For assistance in creating your own opportunity, schedule a counseling session with a Career Services Counselor.
If you are looking for job postings for an out-of-state job search, check out the BYU Intercollegiate Job Bank. This site offers job postings from a large number of law schools throughout the country. It is password protected, but you can obtain the login information by coming by the Career Services Office to pick up a yellow bookmark.
The Winter Break is a great time to relax and to decompress as you prepare for the next semester. However, it can also be a good time to network or to gain valuable legal experience. Some students may shadow an attorney for a week or even volunteer to work at a firm during their holidays. This is great experience which can be placed on the student’s resume, can lead to other job leads for the summer, and provides practical, hands-on experience. Explore opportunities for shadowing or clerking in your hometown since you will likely be there over the holidays. Even if it is not your target market for your permanent position, it will enhance your marketability to have more legal experience.
To enhance your job search, you need to understand the business of law. Read legal publications and target those published in the geographic area in which you wish to practice. Research by speaking with local practitioners and officers in the bar association to learn more about the law firm hiring process. Do your due diligence!
One of the biggest mistakes I see law students make when conducting their job search is the failure to research the local legal market. While there may be many factors that influence where you want to practice, a significant factor should be whether there are opportunities there in the legal field. Unfortunately, however, students often blindly select locales without ever considering what the local job market is like or whether the geographic location is already saturated with attorneys.
To avoid this mistake, you must research your potential markets. One of the best ways to do this is through informational meetings with local practitioners and judges, who are often finely tuned in to the local market. In addition, you might contact the state’s bar association to request any demographics or surveys regarding hiring trends or average salaries.
Researching the market should be one of the first things you do before you even commit to a state’s bar exam, so remember to start early. Make an appointment with a Career Counselor to develop your individualized market research plan to ensure you select the locale with the most potential, which can affect the time it takes to find a job, how hard you have to work for it, and what your compensation will be.
Interested in working as an associate for a firm in Atlanta that specializes in Bankruptcy? If so, go to Symplicity and review the recent job postings. Our office constantly searches for employment opportunities publicized through bar associations, legal publications, and legal employers. Each week, we have several new postings, so make it a habit to review new postings in Symplicity at least once a week.