It's that time of year where posts start cropping up of 2Ls/3Ls missing big law, and as I tend to do, I'd figure I'd offer my completely anecdotal, random, and potentially unrelatable experience in the hopes that it encourages at least a couple people to keep plugging away and to not give up on practicing law.
Full disclosure: My ideal career path is to eventually be a solo attorney, but based on advice from a lot of people I trust, it was necessary to get a couple jobs with other lawyers before I was completely out on my own. This is not a "how to get a big law job" thread. It's just about how how seemingly random events have ultimately played out, and that I hope seemingly random events may help you as well. That said, I have had three big law interviews, so maybe keep reading if that's your thing.
Before My First Lead: I transferred from a T3 to Ohio State. I did well 1L year (top 10%) but did pretty average at OSU (top 30ish%), so I'm not someone who had stellar grades and a stellar school and rode that to a job. I did, however, land an SA at a reasonably sized firm in a small market (Akron-Canton) for my 2L summer. That seemingly went well until two weeks before the SA was over, two partners left the firm. This led to a 0/6 offer rate and me going into my 3L year without a job.
I did what any over-anxious and over-analytical law student would do--panicked and searched TLS for perfect solutions to my predicament. I mass mailed and even flew out to San Francisco to meet Ohio State alumni and network with them, and ultimately came back encouraged. But still nothing would bite, and I went all the way into Christmas break of my 3L year without any hard leads.
My First (and Eventually Only) Lead: On a random Saturday morning over Christmas break of my 3L year, I went to my hometown YMCA with a friend to play racquetball. I ended up playing cutthroat (three person racquetball) with my friend's friend, and this friend actually turned out to be (1) a former D-1 tennis player who absolutely kicked my ass, and (2) a partner at a small/mid-size law firm (20-25ish attorneys). He said he was retiring within a couple years and they were looking to hire somebody. I told him I was interested and we should get lunch or something.
We exchanged emails and I came in for an interview in January of my 3L year. Things seemed to go pretty well, but they eventually dinged me due to corporate politics that aren't worth explaining. They were my only lead, so I thought out of the box. Ohio State offered a "Career Start Grant," whereby the school would pay me $2,000 to work for an employer of my choice (and thus at no cost to the employer) for up to three months.
So I advised the firm of this grant in March or April, and because the firm had nothing to lose at this point, they let me work under this grant for three months. I lived at home with my mom, started the September after I graduated, and worked pretty damn hard for three months (came in early, left late, made sure to do perfect work, etc.). Finally, just two days before my grant was set to expire, they hired me.
I have been here for a little more than three years (and just put my notice in last week). Granted, this wasn't some prestigious job--it was almost certainly what this forum calls "shit law"--making $50k a year doing random civil litigation. But it paid the bills, provided me with a ton of hands-on experience (which will be valuable come interview time), and my billable hour mark was 1,400 hours, so you get what you pay for.
Anyway, I made mistakes along the way, but always sought to not miss deadlines, turn in good work product, look professional, and be courteous to staff. I also gained a ton of hands-on experience: drafted pleadings and motions, conducted a handful of depositions, tried an arbitration matter, etc.
But even more important than that, I always sought to meet attorneys in town and see what was going on in the legal community. I joined the local bar association's social committee, the grievance committee, the local district's federal bar association, and attended the most boring Chamber of Commerce events you can possibly imagine. I showed up on time at every one of these events (including committee meetings at 8AM), did very thorough grievance investigations and presentations, always sought to immediately call back opposing counsel, and bought attorneys more coffees and beers than I can count. I actually had a separate gmail calendar to calendar all these meetings and schedule follow ups.
I should note, before getting to the next part, that I had three big law interviews (Cleveland and Pittsburgh) just this year. I came very close to getting one of these jobs, but I think I ultimately couldn't fake wanting to do big law. If you want to do big law, you will get recruiting emails, and you will get interviews within 1-2 years of practice.
A Second Opportunity Emerges: Funny enough, at one bar association event, the secretary of the bar association said she was retiring. This led to me saying something like, "Oh, I wish I could retire," and for whatever reason, she took this as, "Oh, he's looking for a switch." And because she knew me from the bar association, and because I was always on time at every dumb committee meeting she took the minutes for, and because I had come to know a lot of attorneys in the area, this seemingly innocent comment led to four interviews over the past year. If somebody called the bar office to see if anybody was looking for a job, she recommended me, and then when that attorney sought out what other attorneys thought of me, they knew me and (apparently) spoke well of me.
Recently, this led to an interview with a solo practitioner who has an absolute monster civil/corporate litigation practice (my ideal practice). I've seen her books and she brings in something like $350-400k annually. We met three times and ultimately agreed to the following compensation package: $60k salary, with me keeping 25% of originated receipts, 20% of receipts exceeding 1.5x my salary, and 20% of contingency fee receipts in which I am the primary billing attorney. Having looked at her books, and knowing the clients I'm bringing with me, I'd be surprised if I don't clear the $100k income mark in a year or two.
Hopefully that job goes well, because my ultimate goal is to be out on my own. This job seemed like an ideal landing spot/transitionary job to do that.
Why I Typed All This (Other Than Not Wanting to Work During My Notice Period): I go through this long-winded rant just to tell people in law school--and I'm not being revolutionary here-- "networking" is just a fancy word for going out and actually meeting people. Get coffee and beers with lawyers and non-lawyers. Text friends (high school, college, law school, random, whatever) and family to see what's up. Be courteous to staff no matter where you are. Use this Christmas break and the easy part of spring semester to catch up with and meet people.
Probably half my clients are friends from high school who started businesses. I play cards with 14-16 dudes once a month, and despite finding half of them to be unbearable Roy Moore defenders, it's led to clients. My old baseball coach saw me out at a bar and then hired me to defend an arbitration dispute that I successfully tried. And that relationship has led him referring me more clients from his church.
On and on, life is a bunch of super random events. I went to the YMCA to play racquetball four years ago this month as a single dude with $100k in student loans and no leads for my first job. I ended that month with a lead for a job, met the girl who I would eventually marry, and still have over $100k in student loans. Life's freaking crazy, people.
So go out and do stuff. Meet people. Don't bunker down and just mass mail. Keep up with friends, family, people from church, people from your hometown, whatever. Just keep plugging away and you'll land something, somewhere, and you'll start gaining experience. My experience is obviously anecdotal, but the first job seems to be the hardest to get. Once you get that under your belt, you're on your way to eventually forging your own career path.
(On Campus Interviews, Summer Associate positions, Firm Reviews, Tips, ...)
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Thank you for this. I was sworn in on Wednesday and it’s been a tough several months financially and I’ve been feeling a little lost with where to go from here. Your post helped cheer me up a bit. Good luck with everything!!!
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