Following a series of recent articles from news sources like WSJ and Forbes, would-be-attorneys appear to be increasingly despondent about their options following graduation. Nonetheless, based on the experience of my friends and colleagues, I think the job market isn’t as bad as the numbers might suggest. I’d previously provided some tips for new grads seeking their first job as a lawyer, but I thought it might also be helpful to share how I obtained my first job as a lawyer from a slightly less traditional route.
The school I attended, University of San Francisco’s School of Law, is a good school with a good reputation in the Bay Area, but has certainly never been ranked in the very top tiers of law schools. I tried (admittedly half-heartedly) to find a summer associate position after my second year in school, but was unable to. Instead, I worked for a solo entertainment law attorney solely for the experience the work would provide, but fully aware that the attorney would not be in a position to hire anytime soon.
When I graduated I wasn’t even knocking on the doors of the big firms. In fact, I didn’t actively seek out firms with more than 10 attorneys. There were a number of reasons for this. First, my ultimate goal was to start my own practice. Nonetheless, I believed that I needed that steady paycheck before and some solid experience before venturing off on my own. I believed that the experience a small firm would provide would better equip me to handle life as a solo practitioner. Second, although I graduated in the top of my class, I wasn’t sure a big firm would take my seriously. Either way, it didn’t matter. I quickly discovered that no firm, big or small, was interested in talking to me until I’d passed the Bar exam.
Nonetheless, I needed to make ends meet while waiting for my results. I signed up with a temp agency and took nearly any job I could get. I did document review, I acted as a legal assistant, and I even answered phones as a receptionist at a firm.
The receptionist position was for several weeks and was for a large international law firm that employed hundreds of attorneys. To be honest, I had to swallow my pride a little to answer phones for a firm after spending lots of money attending law school. Nonetheless, it turned out it was smart that I did. While I was working there an opening appeared for an associate attorney. A legal assistant I’d befriended told me about the position and asked me if I had a resume. She convinced me to print a copy from my email. She took it and immediately convinced the relevant partner to consider me for the job. He agreed and I was interviewed at the end of my shift that very day. The interview was short. In fact, I was only asked one question: “Where was the last place you traveled?” I was wearing a well-aged tweed sports coat and a pair of khaki’s with frayed cuffs (the interview had come as a surprise to me). I was disappointed that I hadn’t worn my nicest suit (or even something that was remotely “nice” looking). In the end, it didn’t matter and I was offered the position on the spot. The next time I returned to the office it was as an attorney with my own office.
So what’s the moral of my story? If you’re looking for that first opportunity as a lawyer, be willing to swallow your pride a little. Take any position that will help you get your foot in the door. It’s worth it for the chance to meet the people who may be able to help you get a job. The market is bad for everyone and any advantage can help.