The Loser’s Guide to the Job Hunt

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Posts: 11
Joined: Mon May 01, 2017 9:35 am

The Loser’s Guide to the Job Hunt

Postby loser » Mon May 01, 2017 9:39 am

This guide is based entirely on my research, knowledge, and experience, as well as observations about my friends and classmates. I don’t guarantee that what’s in here will work for everyone – or even if it would work for anyone. But it worked for me. I finished law school a few years ago, so, during the tough times. I went to a respectable non-T14 in a major market. After 1L I was barely below median, at graduation probably in the bottom quarter (more on that in a minute), yet I did quite well. At my school, at that time, very few people in the top 1/3 got callbacks, yet at OCI I had more interviews than anyone I talked to who was in the top 1/4, and even more interviews than a few people I knew who were in the top 10% (who underperformed). I managed a few callbacks, but didn’t get biglaw. However, after graduation I had a better employment situation than almost everyone else who missed out (doesn't include people with specific goals that they managed to attain). So I’m hoping the following will help you.

First off, there are two kinds of job candidates – the generalist and the specialist.
A generalist is someone who can be pushed into any role, any position. Biglaw typically wants the generalist – they hire large numbers several years in advance, and don’t necessarily know which departments will have a need, so they want someone who they can train for whatever role they need.
A specialist is someone who has a strong interest in, and preferably already some training in, a particular niche. Just about everyone else wants this. Small firms, corporations, government organizations all hire on need, and usually want someone who has a clear desire to fit that need, and preferably won’t need as much training.

So now the bad news. The job hunt starts before your first semester of 1L grades are out, and preferably even before law school even starts. You see, you want to have a leg up on everyone else. Employers cannot initiate contact before December 1st, but there’s nothing to stop you from contacting them before you matriculate. You can spend the summer before law school contacting partners, hiring managers, etc. and meeting them, maybe even intern as a paralegal. This is where you use any personal network you may have. Know anyone who’s an attorney, or works with attorneys? Get in touch. Use linkedin; if there’s an attorney 2 or 3 degrees of separation, contact them.

If you don’t know them personally, put in the subject line something like “Jane Brown recommended I get in touch”. Then explain that you just got accepted to XYZ law school (or, if you’re a real striver, that you’re thinking about applying to law school) and that you’d like to learn more about what they do, their job, their specialty, their company, whatever. Try to include something specific “I’m interested in insurance litigation because XYZ, I see you do insurance defense”, followed by asking for 5-10 minutes of their time for a quick phone call.
Some will blow you off, some will just give you a quick phone call, and some will offer to meet for coffee. One Hiring Partner actually invited me over to an event at the law firm, where I got to do some quality networking.
Step 2 is to have some legitimate questions ready. Ones that are specific to the firm/practice area/individual, to show that you actually do your homework, and aren’t just angling for a favor. People want to help, but don’t want to feel like you’re taking advantage. So at least feign that you’re genuinely interested. I certainly wouldn’t ask for favors at this point, unless it becomes absolutely clear that that’s ok. Step 3, which is crucial, is to ask if you can keep in touch with them – and do so. You want to create an ongoing relationship. Always follow the same rules: be courteous and curious. Be friendly and polite, and ask for advice and tips (never favors or connections – if they’re willing to give it, they’ll offer it)

When law school starts, your employment search is basically frozen until December, and for most people, once it opens up they generally fire a bunch of applications to judges for a summer clerkship, then go back to prepping for the exam. And, of course, if you do well enough on the exam, you come into biglaw territory, but if you don’t, well, your time may have been better spent elsewhere. Note: absolutely prioritize studying over everything else – but this should also be part of the mix. The goal is to get a job, grades are just one part of your toolbox.
During law school, you should start doing research into target firms – basically, the alumni database is your friend. Make sure you do all your organizational stuff well ahead of time, because once December 1st hits, you’ll be spending most of your time prepping. But you can pre-draft emails and categorize targets, in the same way that the other strivers are putting their applications for summer clerkships together (which, by the way, you should be doing too).
So, December 1st, you’re going to print out and mail in a gazillion applications for next summer, as well as emailing a couple hundred attorneys asking for some of their time. This is also a good time to get in touch with the attorneys you contacted prior to law school. If you can figure out how to do all that and still study, then you’re star material.

NOTE ON INTERNING FOR A JUDGE: the most generic thing you can do is intern for a judge. Nothing wrong with it. As one hiring partner told me “everyone interned for a judge – I don’t know what that means, but everyone’s done it”. (his father was a judge, what he meant is some judges just make their interns get coffee, others let them write briefs. But off a resume there’s no way of knowing the difference)
What that means is that interning for a judge is a safe bet. It looks perfectly fine and won’t make you stand out in any way. Not interning for a judge is noticeable. Now, it can be noticeable for its absence, as in “why didn’t this candidate intern for a judge?”, or it can be noticeable for what you did instead. If your grades are within range and you’ll be apply for biglaw, play it safe and intern for a judge. If you’re not in range, interning for a judge is fine if your goal is to work for a solo or a small firm that does a decent amount of litigation. If you’re aiming for another outcome, try to take a 1L internship that lines up for such an outcome (or, better yet, that can easily be used for a myriad of different directions, such as interning at a regulator)
For example, you may have interned at an insurance company or the state insurance regulator. When you apply for an in-house job at an insurance company, or as an associate for an insurance defense firm, mention it in your cover letter, and it’s a huge bonus over everyone else. And yes, this can make up for slightly worse grades. With any luck, you’ll have more than one job to choose from.

If the results were good, update every attorney you’re in touch with and tell them how well you did. If applicable, thank them for any advice they’ve given you. If results were not so good, but you had one good grade, contact the ones where you can highlight the good grade. E.g. if you did well in crim, tell every DA or defense attorney how well you did.
Now flip it around. If you didn’t do well in crim, contact every DA and defense attorney, tell them your grade was “not as good as you hoped” (and if it’s not too low, such as a B+, tell them what it was) and ask for advice on how to do better. Basically, you’re either getting in touch with positive news, or asking for help with negative news.

Get a summer job and keep in touch with every attorney who responded to your attempts at initiating contact. To continue the above example, ask insurance-related attorneys for advice on the application to the insurance internship. Better yet if one of them works there, ask to get the inside scoop (and maybe they’ll even offer to forward your application to the right person). If you end up with multiple offers, ask for advice – ask the bankruptcy attorney if it makes more sense to intern at the insurance company or at the securities regulator. Do keep in mind the possible about-face – tell the insurance attorney you’re taking the securities regulator internship because insurance is heavily regulated in XYZ manner and you think it’d help your long-term development by knowing how regulators work.

Remember that it’s not about what you learn, but what you take away from your internship. At a minimum, you want to get a good writing sample and a strong reference. It doesn’t matter how bad you are at your job, if you got those two things, you did good. Great means networking. Wherever you intern, be it a judge or a private company, everyone there has a personal network into the legal community. It’s not just about getting a written reference for your file, but the personal introduction from the judge to the defense attorney, or your supervisor at the regulatory agency forwarding your resume to her old law school buddy. And for everyone you meet, follow the same rules as above – be courteous and curious, and don’t ask for favors.

Do your homework. Make sure you really understand how OCI at your school works. I can’t really give too many tips here, because every school is different, but, there’s usually something in place so that everyone is guaranteed a few interviews. Figure out how to take advantage of the system to maximize your interviews.
Now that you know how to get the best results out of the bidding system, it’s time to research the employers coming to OCI. You may be able to rig the system to guarantee interviews with Cravath and Skadden, but if your grades are too low, you’re just wasting your time. Figure out how deep a firm may go at your school, and check your rank accordingly. Don’t be afraid to push the envelope, but don’t be stupid either. Now, think very hard about which firms you most want to interview with. Then figure out how to use the system to maximize your opportunities. For example, if the school pretty much guarantees you’ll get an interview with your number one pick, use that for a stretch firm. Put a few safeties in, firms that your grades are actually too good for, just in case. Consider this the most important logic game of your life
That being said, despite common wisdom, it’s not all about grades. A large part is about conformity – do you look, think, and act the part? And this is much harder to fake than you may think. Some people fit the mold, and they’ll outperform people who don’t. I’ve had friends with grades a little below the generally acknowledged cutoff for those firms get multiple offers, and friends with slam-dunk grades strike out.

Well, if you got an offer out of OCI, congratulations, you won. Most of the hard work I made you do was for nothing. For everyone else, keep reading.

Keep in touch with every attorney you’re in contact with. Ask them if they know of any internship opportunities. I know I said earlier not to ask for favors, well, here’s where you ask. Don’t sound desperate, don’t sound like a leech, but ask. Simultaneously, apply to every opening you see. Remember to tailor your application to each opportunity. I know that becomes harder and harder to do as you fire off the thousandth application, but, keep at it. There are tricks you can use, but you still want to tailor every single app. Continuing my theme from earlier, your application to Metlife should be different from your application to American General, even if it’s the same job in the same industry. Tell them why that company is special. “I want to work in insurance because my cousin’s dad died, but thanks to his Metlife policy, my cousin was financially ok”, some kind of crap like that. For every company, review the company’s website, particularly the news section, and mention something there.

If by some lucky miracle you’re able to apply to the mythical midlaw firm, remember that you’re not a generalist, but a specialist. Midlaw tend to not be full-service, even if they say they are. Find out what their main practice areas are (or any practice area that’s growing) and strongly proclaim that that’s what you want to do. If possible find out who their big clients are. By way of example, one midlaw firm I applied for, by reviewing the news, I learned that their biggest client was a fast-growing investment management firm specializing in the Hispanic market, and was growing by buying up lots of smaller investment management firms that had predominantly Hispanic clients. I also researched my interviewer, who practiced in that area. So I asked whether he worked on the XYZ deal, and had a few follow-up questions about the transaction. The fact that I knew the deal he worked on that closed not even a month ago, and asked some questions about the particulars thereof, well, how do you think that went over? After that, the job was mine to lose. (I turned it down, because I had a more preferable offer)

Ok, so you decide you’re willing to take any job, anywhere. Well, there’s always openings in rural Wyoming, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to hire you. They might be desperate, but they’re not stupid. So, you need to craft a story as to why you, who grew up in an east-coast mega city and went to an Ivy League undergrad, would want to live in the sticks. If you can’t convince them that you really want to live in Wyoming, you ain’t getting offered. Convince them you belong there. Tell them about your love of rodeos, or the times you spent visiting cousin betsy in podunk position, may as well play that hail mary. Talking shit on the elitist snob liberal atheists can definitely win you brownie points with the right good ole boy – just don’t overplay your hand.

Nothing matters more than a job. I don’t care if you have to cut every class all semester, if it gets you a job it was worth it. You’re scrambling for whatever you can get. But you still need to study for the bar. My advice is, the day you get access to Barbri/Themis/Kaplan, is the day you start bar prep, because you’ll be pulling double-duty with the job search. At this point, just keep pounding the pavement. Keep in mind that a lot of companies and small law firms won’t hire you if you’re not admitted, but that doesn’t mean you can’t keep trying. And you can always clerk for a bit, or offer to intern while you await your results. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Now here’s where the problem lies. You’ve only got so long before you’re damaged goods. If you’re unemployed two years past graduation, you’re unemployable. Go hang out a shingle – and go read guides on how to be a solo. Even if you can’t live off of it, you’re at least active. Even if your only client is helping your brother with his speeding ticket, you still haven’t dead-ended. You can always tell prospective employers that you wanted to go solo, and tried, but it’s not all you thought it would be, and want to go back to working for someone else. Or, you could say you liked it, but believe working at XYZ will give you some advantages. One of my classmates even started a tech company during 3L, and that experience can always be leveraged into a real job.
(I wonder what happened to him?)

If all else fails, I remember a few years ago there was a guide here about transitioning away from law. Try digging that up.


Posts: 605
Joined: Tue Apr 04, 2017 7:33 pm

Re: The Loser’s Guide to the Job Hunt

Postby carsondalywashere » Sat May 20, 2017 11:24 pm

0L here, but I think this is an awesome guide. Thanks!

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