I can still remember the day, over a decade ago, that I started submitting applications to law schools in my favorite cities. Influenced both by Hollywood’s depictions of attorneys and my parent’s encouragement, I’d wanted to be a lawyer at a relatively early age. By the time I was in college my goal had become more specific and, in part, I envisioned myself as a hip entertainment attorney representing my favorite bands in cut-throat contract negotiations with major labels. It was a dream I carried with my through my time in law school.
Long story short, after passing the Bar Exam I struggled to find a position as an associate at a firm practicing entertainment law. Instead, I considered myself fortunate enough to receive an offer from a big firm that specialized in corporate defense. At least I could afford rent and pay off my student loans. It wasn’t a bad gig, but it also wasn’t what I’d gone to law school for. For awhile, I’d given up the idea that I’d ever practice entertainment law.
Many new lawyers-to-be soon will receive their results from the Bar Exam (on November 22nd in California). Unfortunately, it’s been my experience that many of them also won’t land positions practicing in the area of law they’d imagined when they applied for law school, instead settling for any job that pays the bills (and loans). Happily, as I’ve learned, that doesn’t need to be the end of their story. As many of our readers already know, I’ve been practicing entertainment law for several years now. Indeed, it’s my experience that it’s easier than ever to earn the job of your dreams. And, yes, I said “earn” because it’ll require a lot of hard work and taking a few risks. If you’re still onboard, here’s how you do it:
Network, Network, Network
Networking in the industry and practice area you want to specialize in will prove to be the most important part of landing that dream job. After all, expanding your network expands the pool of potential referrals, potential clients, and/or potential employers. Have no doubt, there’s at least some truth to the saying that, “it’s not what you know – it’s who you know.”
Thankfully networking is easier than ever. You can begin immediately simply by following relevant people on Twitter, joining certain groups on LinkedIn, and interacting with blogs. Of course, social media probably isn’t enough itself, you still need to attend conferences, panels, and other networking opportunities as much as possible. Quite often, the connections you make in person prove to be the most valuable connections you’ll make.
Switching practice areas isn’t easy. In fact, at times it will feel like starting over. You’ll almost certainly need to learn new skills, new industry-specific information, and familiarize yourself with relevant laws. When I began practicing as an entertainment attorney, I had plenty of familiarity with contracts and contract negotiations. I was already familiar with copyright law and trademark law. I was, however, less familiar with many of the nuances of the publishing industry. To make up for it, I read everything I could on the Internet and in books on the subject.
Share What You Learn
Networking and learning are the first steps, but if you want people to trust you with referrals and new work, you’ll need to demonstrate your knowledge to your new connections. You’ll need to prove to them that you’re competent in your practice area. For that reason, I recommend sharing the information you learn with your new network connections as often as possible. Engage with people in the LinkedIn Groups you’ve joined. Reply to and interact with people you follow on Twitter. Leave comments on blogs or, better yet, publish blog posts of your own that will interest people in the industry you represent. By doing that, you’ll establish yourself as an expert in your field. If you can accomplish that and have enough relevant connections, the work will come to you.
The hardest part is staying committed and remaining patient. In my experience, it’s worth the effort.