One of the biggest mistakes law students make when conducting their job search is the failure to research their selected 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 in the Career Services Department to develop your individualized market research plan and ensure that 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.
Networking is often most effective when you are at a smaller event . Focus on opportunities that provide more intimate interaction with those attending, rather than huge receptions where it is difficult to establish a one-on-one connection with someone else. The target attorney is more likely to remember you and to spend time chatting with you if you are only one of ten people attending an event, rather than 1,000 at a large reception. Look for small gatherings sponsored by bar associations, including section breakfasts, small group CLE’s, and sports activities. Moreover, people are often more relaxed and casual in small groups, so both you and your targets will be more comfortable and likely to make a real connection.
A cover letter is an important tool in your job hunt. While a resume lists your education, experience and skills, it may not convey if you are a good fit for the law firm or organization. That’s where your cover letter comes in–it helps the employer get a full picture of you, but it’s important to get it right!
1. Tailor each cover letter to the firm or organization for the specific position you want. Form letters (yes, employers can usually detect if it is a form letter) may eliminate you from consideration.
2. Address your letter to the hiring partner or other designated person. If you don’t know who that is–find out by contacting the firm. Never, ever write “to whom it may concern”.
3. Sell yourself. This is your chance to let the firm know YOU are the right person for the job.
4. It can be used as an opportunity to explain gaps in your employment, a return to school, staying home to raise a family or illness.
5. Research the firm and possibly work in details like referencing a published case tried by the firm to give yourself an edge. Showing you’ve done your homework will show that you are enthusiastic about this position.
6. Check it and then double check. Ensure there are no mistakes, whether they be spelling, grammatical, or factual, and make sure you’ve signed the letter.
7. Use the right format. If you have questions in this regard, please consult the Career Services Handbook in the Application Materials section, or make an appointment with one of our counselors through Symplicity.
Informational meetings are exactly what they sound like–interviews with attorneys to get information, not jobs. You contact an attorney and ask if he or she can talk to you about a particular practice area, locale to practice in, or merely how he or she got into that field. You are looking for tips, not a job, so the pressure is off both of you.
You first make contact by email or telephone, and ask if you could meet to talk about their practice, or refer to something they wrote or perhaps a case he or she tried. At the end of the meeting, don’t forget to ask the attorney if he could suggest other people you should meet–that way when you call, you can say who referred you, which may lead to another informational meeting. You can also ask the attorney whether it would be okay if you contacted them again down the road if you had more questions.
Be sure to show up on time (not early or late), and show up with good questions. Prepare to be there about 20 minutes, unless your interviewer wants to continue your talk, and always always send a thank you note for their time.
Although this is not a job interview, you are not asking for a job, they are not offering one, and absolutely no resumes are given, there have been many jobs secured down the road after a meeting of this kind. In the future, that attorney may be looking for an associate, or hear of another opportunity he or she may relate to you.
To read more of Jay Shepherd’s column, click here.
How can you differentiate yourself from other candidates in this tough job market? You need to have the skills many firms will be looking for. One new and lucrative niche right now is in the area of E-Discovery. It is vitally important and just as complicated. As more data is stored electronically, businesses and law firms need an E-Discovery attorney to help identify, preserve, collect, process, review and produce this electronic discovery. Further, law firms need expertise is advising them of relevant laws, how to protect e-files, and to advise them in trial. If you develop the technical knowledge and skills, you can be on the forefront of this burgeoning field.
When it’s time to decide where to practice law, don’t limit yourself to major cities. Consider smaller communities where towns may need new attorneys as older lawyers retire. There are many benefits to practicing in a smaller community, not the least of which is the economic benefit. The cost of living may be significantly less than living in the city, and there is certainly a variety of work to do. People in small towns prefer hiring local attorneys instead of hiring attorneys from the city that they must pay to drive out to their town. They want to hire someone they know and with whom they feel comfortable. Another benefit is having the chance to raise your family in a smaller community, where you know your neighbors and the parents of your childrens’ friends.
Improve your chances of getting hired by a small firm by understanding that while law is a profession, it is also a business. While getting legal experience during law school, you should also gain other skills required for running a business that can differentiate you from other candidates. Skills such as marketing or sales experience, accounting, collections or billing experience or budgeting experience could give you the edge, as these are all skills required to run a successful small business.
Are you tech-savvy or can you set up and maintain a network for a small office? While large law firms have a multitude of support staff, small firms have little or no support, so if you want to make yourself attractive to a small firm employer, being able and willing to perform non-legal tasks can make the difference. By demonstrating that YOU can help keep the business end of things running smoothly, you can land yourself a job in a small firm. You can read the rest of Damon Chetson’s article here.
There are many resources you can use to identify and research small law firms. A great starting point would be Martindale Hubbell, which is a listing of attorneys and firms, and allows you to search firms by practice area, firm size and location. Bar Associations in your desired locale usually keep lists of their members, and you should consider joining as a student member in order to start making connections. The American Bar Association is organized into divisions by practice area, and if you are interested in small firm practice, the General Practice, Solo & Small Firm Division is a good place to look. In fact, the Florida Bar has their own General Practice Solo and Small Firm Division which may guide you in the direction of small Florida firms.