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.
This mistake seems so obvious that you may be wondering why I included it, but it is actually an issue that many firms have experienced. Office romances are bad for you, bad for the other person, and bad for the firm. This means no dating or flirting, which can be a recipe for disaster.
Moreover, if you are a law clerk hoping to be hired permanently by the firm, you may risk being passed over based upon a perceived lack of judgment for engaging in an office relationship. Think you can simply hide the romance? No way. They always come out in one way or another. This is one mistake that you must simply avoid.
It is easy to put off that challenging research or brief until the deadline is near. But the danger in doing so is that you might have an unexpected assignment pop up that steals your last day or two and puts you in a time crunch. The result? You either compromise your work product to complete it on time or you miss a critical deadline. Nothing will kill a promising career faster than procrastination. Be organized and commit to completing all assignments in advance. Allow for additional time in the event the assignment takes longer than expected. When asked when you can complete a task, incorporate a one day buffer for cushion. When possible, submit assignments early.
You’ve landed your dream job as a clerk or an associate at a great law firm. Now that you have secured the position, how do you succeed at the actual job? For a start, have a positive attitude. Eagerly accept new assignments and absord as much knowledge as you can. Embrace every experience and task as a learning opportunity. Ask questions that reflect your intellectual curiosity. First impressions are incredibly important, so give an extra 10%! In upcoming blogs, I will share four more tips for how to be a successful associate or clerk so you can not only land the legal job of your dreams, but have the legal career of your dreams, as well.
Many students mistakenly believe that a firm or any other legal employer will automatically hire the applicant with the best grades. In practice, however, while grades are important, they are by no means the sole factor or even the most important factor for most firms. Rather, firms are interested in whether you are a good fit for the culture of their organization and whether you have any connections to the local area that make you more likely to remain long term. Having strong academic credentials cannot overcome these two factors, so focus on target markets where you share the same value system and have evidence of your commitment to the community.
It’s called an “elevator” speech because it is supposed to be short enough that you could easily finish it in a short elevator ride. You will be delivering your pitch in a compressed time frame, so include only the most interesting and relevant information. If it is more than a minute, it is too long. People are busy, and you will have only a few seconds of their attention. Keep it short!
One of the purposes of a thank you note is to distinguish yourself from other candidates. Thank the firm for the opportunity to interview, then remind them why you are the best fit for the position. Focus on the factors that the interviewing attorney(s) seemed to care most about. If they spent a large portion of the interview discussing your connections to the local community, note that you are looking forward to moving back home and to developing meaningful relationships with the local legal community. If the interviewing attorneys focused on your practical knowledge, remind them what legal experiences you have and how well they have prepared you for the position.
Millennials are accumstomed to a world of instant results through technological innovations, and they bring those expectations to their job searches. But as any seasoned career services counselor will tell you, things move slowly and deliberately in the job search process. In part, this is a reflection of how law firms operate. If you interview on Monday, do not expect the firm to make a hiring decision the next day. The firm may need to wait until the next regularly scheduled partner’s meeting next month to discuss the matter. Or perhaps the firm is interviewing other candidates over the next couple of months. I am astounded when students express outrage at not hearing back from a firm after a mere week or two. If you are not mature enough to understand the culture of law firms and the fact that the hiring process takes time, you will not fare well in this legal environment. So start your job search early and be patient!
For an effective elevator speech, you must always be honest. Don’t be tempted to exaggerate your experiences or your academic qualifications. Lawyers are often skilled at detecting half-truths and identifying phonies. If you are perceived as hiding something or are caught in a misrepresentation, you will then have an integrity issue for which there is no remedy. So avoid trying to make yourself smarter, richer, or more experienced. Use humility and just be yourself, which is when you are most effective.
Millennial students should be prepared to step out of their comfort zone by developing personal relationships with members of the legal community. The first step to networking with attorneys is understanding the business climate and the practice of law. Read the newspaper and any local legal publications. Talk with local practitioners to learn what areas of law are expanding and which are shrinking. How has the business of operating a law firm changed in the last ten years? This due diligence will help you avoid marketing yourself in slow and stagnant practice areas so you can focus your efforts of more fertile fields.