Landing that first job as an attorney can be a stressful experience for many recent law school grads. I’ve witnessed friends who graduated with good grades from great schools spend months (even more than a year) waiting for that first chance to prove themselves. The market for recent law grads is exceptionally tough right now. And if you’re out there looking for a shot, it probably feels like every job listing you’ll come across requires 3-5 years of experience. In fact, I can say that some firms I’ve worked for make it almost official policy to only hire attorneys with at least three years experience. But you’ve got to earn that experience somewhere, right?
Meanwhile, recruiters are often not the answer because most firms don’t want to pay a recruiter’s fee simply to hire a new grad. Somewhat ironically, recruiters are more helpful once you’ve developed 3-5 years experience and you are ready to make a jump to a new firm.
And when you do find jobs that accept new grads, it can be very difficult to make your resume stand out in the mountain of submissions from every other new grad who’s applying for that job.
First, let me tell you that there is no magic bullet for finding your first job. There isn’t. However, I do believe that more likely than not you’ll get your first position through people you’ve met in person and not because someone blindly picked your resume from a pile. Like many aspects of being a successful attorney, you’ll discover that networking and cultivating relationships will help you find your first paid gig. Here are a few of the ways people I know found their first job as an attorney.
Get your foot in the door
When I graduated from law school I needed to make money immediately. Sure I had a grace period for the repayment of my student loans, but there is no deferral or grace period for rent, food, and utilities. With as much debt as I’d already incurred through law school, more debt wasn’t a solution. I needed a paycheck.
I signed up with a temp agency and told them I’d like to work in law firms. I was willing to take pretty much whatever positions were available. In the months after I graduated from law school I worked as a legal assistant, a receptionist, a file clerk, and performing document review at multiple different firms. Eventually, a month after receiving my bar results, one of the legal assistants at a firm I’d been working at mentioned that there was an opening in one of their practice groups. They hadn’t yet even posted a job listing for the position. I immediately handed her my resume which she passed on to the partner on the team. Thanks in large part to her recommendation, I had an interview with the partner heading the team the very next day. When I returned, there was another temp filling in at the reception and I was directed to my office. I’d been given the job.
In the years I worked at that firm I watched as at least two other temps were hired as attorneys directly from working in the file room. For me, the lesson here is that you do whatever it takes to get your foot in the door. Once you’re in, you have a chance to get to know the people at the firm and develop positive relationships with them. What’s more, you’ll also get the inside scoop on new positions and, if you’ve made friends with the people in the firm, you’ll have people rooting for you inside the firm.
WIthout question, interning is an even better way that temping to get your foot in the door – if the opportunity is available to you. Not only will you have the opportunity to meet people in the firm, but you’ll also be able to demonstrate your potential value to the firm in the very role you’d like to fill. Unfortunately, not every internship will lead to a paid position and paid internships are becoming increasingly rare. Nonetheless, I know many friends who found their first attorney position through an internship.
As I mentioned before, there is a good chance that you’ll get your first break as a result of the relationships you have built. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to already be working inside the firm. If you have friends already working at firms you’d like to join, you can ask them help you find a position. This can range from asking them to notify you of openings at their firm, asking them to give you tips on what the firm might be looking for in potential recruits, and/or asking them to pass your resume on to the hiring partner.
If you’re looking for a position in a specific practice area or industry, but don’t already have connections in those fields, you’ll need to develop new connections. There are plenty of ways you can do this.
First, you can network the old fashioned way. Attend events, CLEs, and conferences to shake hands, trade business cards, and get to know people in person. Follow up with your new connections by connecting with them on LinkedIn or offering to buy them lunch sometime to discuss their practice area.
Second, you should also be developing relationships with people through social media outlets. Follow attorneys you’d like to work for on Twitter and LinkedIn. Reply to and retweet their Tweets. Follow their updates on LinkedIn. If they are involved in LinkedIn Groups, join those groups and join their conversations. If they have a blog, follow their blog and comment on their posts. Don’t overdo it (you don’t want to come across as a stalker), but you also want them to recognize your name and the fact that you are interested in the practice area they are engaged in. Developing a relationship with someone online is often easier than you might think, and can be an excellent way to build a professional relationship. Make sure they know that you are looking for a job so that with any luck, next time they are hiring they’ll think of you first.
Practicing attorneys, how did you find your first job? Do you have tips for newly licensed attorneys on the market? Share them in the comments section.
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