When law firms are examining candidates for full time associate positions, they generally consider not just whether the attorney will be a good associate, but also whether he or she is likely to be a good partner. As a partner, you will need the ability to develop strong relationships with clients and to attract new business. To become a more attractive candidate, consider how you can improve your professional development skills and how you can demonstrate them to hiring firms. Proper social and office etiquette is a strong start, but you should also demonstrate mature judgment and an understanding of the business of law firms. If you are uncertain how law firms operate in that regard, schedule an appointment with a career counselor to learn more.
Regardless of the type of law you will be practicing, you will be expected to have superb writing skills. Whether you will be drafting briefs, motions, client update letters, or contracts, you craftmanship as an attorney will be judged by hiring law firms through your writing skills. I have known many associates with great potential who never became partners because they lacked critical communication skills. Likewise, many students or graduates never make it to an interview with a firm because their writing samples are deficient.
To be marketable to a law firm, you must have strong writing skills. If you lack confidence in your writing abilities, take as many writing courses as possible in law school. Work with your professors and academic success counselors for additional guidance. Prepare a flawless writing sample that you can submit as required for job postings. When possible and if you are confident that you have strong writing skills, attach your writing sample even if unrequested. Any student can claim to be an excellent writer in a cover letter, so it is helpful to demonstrate your actual abilities to the firm.
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!