focusing on practice areas in cover letters/interviews?

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Alyosha
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focusing on practice areas in cover letters/interviews?

Postby Alyosha » Wed Jul 28, 2010 11:00 am

I assume we will be placed wherever the firm has openings. If we state a particular interest in a practice area the firm is not hiring for, does that affect our chances for getting a callback? For example, I would like to work in bankruptcy or maybe tax law, but I primarily need a job. I don't want to mention this in my cover letters or the interviews if it is going to hurt my chances. OTOH, saying "i'm happy to work in any practice area" doesn't make a person seem very committed to practicing law generally.

Any thoughts on this?

270910
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Re: focusing on practice areas in cover letters/interviews?

Postby 270910 » Wed Jul 28, 2010 11:07 am

Word from a few hiring partners I have spoken with is that having thought about practice area reflects very well on a candidate, but there is no expectation to be devoted to a single practice. Some people can get by saying they went to law school to do X, especially if prior experience backs that up. But for others, it can just be a mature outlook such as "As a result of my experience doing ______ (this summer / in law school / etc.) and discussions with practicing attorneys I am particularly interested in practice area _________". Obviously you want practice area _____ to be one the firm is strong in and has openings in. I don't think, at the stage of the cover letter, you need to go out of your way to be specific that you would be amenable to working in any practice area.

Keep in mind that as a rising 2L employers know we have very little exposure to the actual practice of law, so it won't be held against us. What can be held against us is remaining totally ignorant of what practice areas seem appealing to us in the abstract (and why) or what practice areas the firm itself has. Sometimes you have to dig pretty deep, especially because firms love to advertise a broad array of practice areas. It's very common for a firm to list practices on its website even if they are only handled by a single partner, part time, once every few years.

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como
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Re: focusing on practice areas in cover letters/interviews?

Postby como » Wed Jul 28, 2010 11:09 am

Alyosha wrote:I assume we will be placed wherever the firm has openings. If we state a particular interest in a practice area the firm is not hiring for, does that affect our chances for getting a callback? For example, I would like to work in bankruptcy or maybe tax law, but I primarily need a job. I don't want to mention this in my cover letters or the interviews if it is going to hurt my chances. OTOH, saying "i'm happy to work in any practice area" doesn't make a person seem very committed to practicing law generally.

Any thoughts on this?


I put an interest in a practice area. It shows an interest in a practice area and it shows that you have researched the firm. You don't really know a ton about the practice areas yet, so I think they get that. I think it just shows some excitement to write a few details about their practice and then connect them with skills you have demonstrated.

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como
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Re: focusing on practice areas in cover letters/interviews?

Postby como » Wed Jul 28, 2010 11:11 am

disco_barred wrote:Word from a few hiring partners I have spoken with is that having thought about practice area reflects very well on a candidate, but there is no expectation to be devoted to a single practice. Some people can get by saying they went to law school to do X, especially if prior experience backs that up. But for others, it can just be a mature outlook such as "As a result of my experience doing ______ (this summer / in law school / etc.) and discussions with practicing attorneys I am particularly interested in practice area _________". Obviously you want practice area _____ to be one the firm is strong in and has openings in. I don't think, at the stage of the cover letter, you need to go out of your way to be specific that you would be amenable to working in any practice area.

Keep in mind that as a rising 2L employers know we have very little exposure to the actual practice of law, so it won't be held against us. What can be held against us is remaining totally ignorant of what practice areas seem appealing to us in the abstract (and why) or what practice areas the firm itself has. Sometimes you have to dig pretty deep, especially because firms love to advertise a broad array of practice areas. It's very common for a firm to list practices on its website even if they are only handled by a single partner, part time, once every few years.


I totally agree with all of this. Also, you can find numbers of partners/associates in each practice group on NALP. This is important. Some firms list practice area X, but you can see that only 5 people (of 350) work in that group. You subtly disclose that you haven't really researched the firms strengths if you state you want to work in practice area X.

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seespotrun
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Re: focusing on practice areas in cover letters/interviews?

Postby seespotrun » Wed Jul 28, 2010 11:21 am

disco_barred wrote:Word from a few hiring partners I have spoken with is that having thought about practice area reflects very well on a candidate, but there is no expectation to be devoted to a single practice. Some people can get by saying they went to law school to do X, especially if prior experience backs that up. But for others, it can just be a mature outlook such as "As a result of my experience doing ______ (this summer / in law school / etc.) and discussions with practicing attorneys I am particularly interested in practice area _________". Obviously you want practice area _____ to be one the firm is strong in and has openings in. I don't think, at the stage of the cover letter, you need to go out of your way to be specific that you would be amenable to working in any practice area.

Keep in mind that as a rising 2L employers know we have very little exposure to the actual practice of law, so it won't be held against us. What can be held against us is remaining totally ignorant of what practice areas seem appealing to us in the abstract (and why) or what practice areas the firm itself has. Sometimes you have to dig pretty deep, especially because firms love to advertise a broad array of practice areas. It's very common for a firm to list practices on its website even if they are only handled by a single partner, part time, once every few years.


A few nights ago, I spoke to a hiring partner and expressed my concern about compartmentalizing so early in my career - specifically, my concern about selecting the practice area at the firm that isn't hiring. He told me that it's a necessary risk that one has to take, but don't be overly specific. Choose either lit. or transactional and run with it. However, if you aren't married to either lit. or transactional (or a specialized area like bankruptcy or white collar), then what disco said about revealing your "interests" based on the strength of the firm is credited. Because, let's be honest, the goal for OCI is to get a fucking J.O.B. Very few people ITE have the luxury of pursuing their specialized interests. So do your research, know the firm's strengths, predict where the firm has its greatest hiring needs, and sell that firm on your "interests" in their strongest practice area.

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Matthies
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Re: focusing on practice areas in cover letters/interviews?

Postby Matthies » Wed Jul 28, 2010 11:24 am

Alyosha wrote:I assume we will be placed wherever the firm has openings. If we state a particular interest in a practice area the firm is not hiring for, does that affect our chances for getting a callback? For example, I would like to work in bankruptcy or maybe tax law, but I primarily need a job. I don't want to mention this in my cover letters or the interviews if it is going to hurt my chances. OTOH, saying "i'm happy to work in any practice area" doesn't make a person seem very committed to practicing law generally.

Any thoughts on this?


What's the reference here? OCI, mass mailing, targeted mailing, summer job or permanent placement?

OCI = not that important to put in practice area, though might help if your serious and can back it up.
Mass mailing = counterintuitive to the carpet bomb technique anyway
Targeted Mailing = hell yes, that should be why your targeting them in the first place, and not "I need a job any job will do."

Just remember everyone else will be doing the same thing you're doing, and employers will be getting far more apps than they can or want to interview. They are looking for a reason, any reason to discard you or move you to the next phase. If your seriously interested in a practice area, can demstraote that by example, and are targeting that employer because they have X practice area then by all means do so.

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Matthies
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Re: focusing on practice areas in cover letters/interviews?

Postby Matthies » Wed Jul 28, 2010 11:31 am

seespotrun wrote:A few nights ago, I spoke to a hiring partner and expressed my concern about compartmentalizing so early in my career - specifically, my concern about selecting the practice area at the firm that isn't hiring. He told me that it's a necessary risk that one has to take, but don't be overly specific. Choose either lit. or transactional and run with it. However, if you aren't married to either lit. or transactional (or a specialized area like bankruptcy or white collar), then what disco said about revealing your "interests" based on the strength of the firm is credited. Because, let's be honest, the goal for OCI is to get a fucking J.O.B. Very few people ITE have the luxury of pursuing their specialized interests. So do your research, know the firm's strengths, predict where the firm has its greatest hiring needs, and sell that firm on your "interests" in their strongest practice area.


I have to agree with this. For the vast majority of law students what type of lawyer you will be will be determined not by you, but by where the firm that hires you places you. Most JDs come out of LS as generalists with just a smattering of focus in any one area.

That being said, those that do want to practice X, and have targeted all their LS activities towards X, should make X their primary focus. The benefit is you can easily prove a commitment to X (if you have done it right) and a more advanced knowledge of X, and ability to hit the ground running on X that puts you ahead of the generalist applicants, even those with better school/rank, at least for X related jobs.

The downside is your likely going to have to make things happen for yourself unless you see an add for X. Also it won't be belivavable when you start applying for Y and Z jobs when everything on your resumes screams X practice area. Therefore it can help if what you want to do is really X, but can hurt if what you really want is just a job. Know the pitfalls of specializing too much and be ready to counter those.

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seespotrun
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Re: focusing on practice areas in cover letters/interviews?

Postby seespotrun » Wed Jul 28, 2010 11:41 am

Matthies wrote:
seespotrun wrote:A few nights ago, I spoke to a hiring partner and expressed my concern about compartmentalizing so early in my career - specifically, my concern about selecting the practice area at the firm that isn't hiring. He told me that it's a necessary risk that one has to take, but don't be overly specific. Choose either lit. or transactional and run with it. However, if you aren't married to either lit. or transactional (or a specialized area like bankruptcy or white collar), then what disco said about revealing your "interests" based on the strength of the firm is credited. Because, let's be honest, the goal for OCI is to get a fucking J.O.B. Very few people ITE have the luxury of pursuing their specialized interests. So do your research, know the firm's strengths, predict where the firm has its greatest hiring needs, and sell that firm on your "interests" in their strongest practice area.


I have to agree with this. For the vast majority of law students what type of lawyer you will be will be determined not by you, but by where the firm that hires you places you. Most JDs come out of LS as generalists with just a smattering of focus in any one area.

That being said, those that do want to practice X, and have targeted all their LS activities towards X, should make X their primary focus. The benefit is you can easily prove a commitment to X (if you have done it right) and a more advanced knowledge of X, and ability to hit the ground running on X that puts you ahead of the generalist applicants, even those with better school/rank, at least for X related jobs.

The downside is your likely going to have to make things happen for yourself unless you see an add for X. Also it won't be belivavable when you start applying for Y and Z jobs when everything on your resumes screams X practice area. Therefore it can help if what you want to do is really X, but can hurt if what you really want is just a job. Know the pitfalls of specializing too much and be ready to counter those.


I think that "proving" that you want to do X for 2L OCI is pretty easy to do. Most of the applicants have similar work experience (i.e. none). My UG degrees were in business; therefore, I'll sell the strong corp. firm on my interest in corporate. However, my 1L summer was with a District Judge; therefore, I'll sell the strong lit. firm on my interest in litigation.

Of course, this is tougher to do if you were a biomed. engineer in UG, passed the patent bar, and loaded up on IP classes for 2L. But for the cookie-cutter law student (think: liberal arts degree, no meaningful work experience, etc.), tailoring your "interests" to the firm's strengths isn't a terribly difficult thing to do.

Alyosha
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Re: focusing on practice areas in cover letters/interviews?

Postby Alyosha » Wed Jul 28, 2010 11:44 am

Wow, thanks so much everyone. These replies have been super helpful.

Matthies, I am thinking mostly about OCI right now.

Thanks again. This is why TLS can be such a helpful resource.

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Matthies
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Re: focusing on practice areas in cover letters/interviews?

Postby Matthies » Wed Jul 28, 2010 12:05 pm

seespotrun wrote:
Matthies wrote:
seespotrun wrote:A few nights ago, I spoke to a hiring partner and expressed my concern about compartmentalizing so early in my career - specifically, my concern about selecting the practice area at the firm that isn't hiring. He told me that it's a necessary risk that one has to take, but don't be overly specific. Choose either lit. or transactional and run with it. However, if you aren't married to either lit. or transactional (or a specialized area like bankruptcy or white collar), then what disco said about revealing your "interests" based on the strength of the firm is credited. Because, let's be honest, the goal for OCI is to get a fucking J.O.B. Very few people ITE have the luxury of pursuing their specialized interests. So do your research, know the firm's strengths, predict where the firm has its greatest hiring needs, and sell that firm on your "interests" in their strongest practice area.


I have to agree with this. For the vast majority of law students what type of lawyer you will be will be determined not by you, but by where the firm that hires you places you. Most JDs come out of LS as generalists with just a smattering of focus in any one area.

That being said, those that do want to practice X, and have targeted all their LS activities towards X, should make X their primary focus. The benefit is you can easily prove a commitment to X (if you have done it right) and a more advanced knowledge of X, and ability to hit the ground running on X that puts you ahead of the generalist applicants, even those with better school/rank, at least for X related jobs.

The downside is your likely going to have to make things happen for yourself unless you see an add for X. Also it won't be belivavable when you start applying for Y and Z jobs when everything on your resumes screams X practice area. Therefore it can help if what you want to do is really X, but can hurt if what you really want is just a job. Know the pitfalls of specializing too much and be ready to counter those.


I think that "proving" that you want to do X for 2L OCI is pretty easy to do. Most of the applicants have similar work experience (i.e. none). My UG degrees were in business; therefore, I'll sell the strong corp. firm on my interest in corporate. However, my 1L summer was with a District Judge; therefore, I'll sell the strong lit. firm on my interest in litigation.

Of course, this is tougher to do if you were a biomed. engineer in UG, passed the patent bar, and loaded up on IP classes for 2L. But for the cookie-cutter law student (think: liberal arts degree, no meaningful work experience, etc.), tailoring your "interests" to the firm's strengths isn't a terribly difficult thing to do.


Yea litigation vs. transactional is not really what I had in mind when I said focus on X. If you want to do tax law, IP, environmental (specialty areas) then you need to focus on that in your cover letter. But again the odds you would be doing that for OCI are slim to none, since OCI is by its nature how one finds a generalist position in the first place. Hence why I asked the context.

Very different strategy for cover letters for permanent positions vs. summer SA. As to cookie cutter law sdteunts, again don't know much about that I went part-time and everyone in my class save maybe a handful had other experiences and pretty much knew what they did or did not want to practice with their law degree (although not necuasserliy what they did before) so lots of targeting resumes to specific employers/practice areas.

To the OP, keep it general for general employers, specific for specific employers. But tailor your cover letter/experiences to the individual employer as much as you can. Ability to write well, research and work independently are good skills to focus on when you're not sure what you want to do at the firm as those apply anywhere in any practice area and to all employers. Pick 2-3 skills you have that the employer needs, then backup each with an example not on resume then close the letter.




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