My latest Young Lawyer column for The Legal Intelligencer:
You’ve graduated law school, passed the bar, and are raring and ready to go into practice. Unfortunately, the job market has not been kind to its newest members. Recent statistics show that only about half of new law school graduates have secured full time legal employment. Qualified candidates abound, and it is essential for you to distinguish yourself from the competition. Now that bar prep is behind you, you can take advantage of some newfound time for your job search as well as complementary activities.
Get Involved in Your Local Bar Association
Many bar associations offer free memberships to lawyers in their first year of practice, and it is well worth the money (and more) to take advantage of this opportunity. With far more candidates than there are open positions, networking is key.
Most bar associations offer committees and divisions for every possible interest, and all are equally valuable in networking opportunities. By establishing yourself as a leader within the young lawyers division, you can make friends with other young lawyers who can give you a heads up when their firm is hiring, and maybe put your resume in the right hands. Becoming involved in practice area focused committees will introduce you to more seasoned practitioners who may personally be making the hiring decisions.
There is no one division of the bar that is better than any other in terms of networking potential. Regardless of how you choose to associate yourself, assuming a leadership role is essential. Show initiative, dedication, diligence and above all, friendliness, and you will stand out when a colleague learns of an open position.
Pursue Pro Bono Projects
Pro bono representation provides a valuable community service and is the ethical duty of every attorney. It can also serve as a teaching ground for the nuts and bolts of basic practice. Pro bono representation in conjunction with your local bar association is frequently covered through the bar association’s malpractice policy. There are diverse opportunities for pro bono involvement, including serving as counsel in protection from abuse hearings, drafting estate documents through a local Wills for Heroes project, or preparing expungement petitions. The pro bono committee or coordinator of your local bar association can point you in the right direction for these engagements.
Pro bono practice is also a good entre into getting to know other local practitioners. If you confront a legal issue with which you are unfamiliar, do not be shy about reaching out to more senior practitioners and asking for their thoughts. Bouncing legal theories off a more experienced practitioner will increase the quality of your representation. It also will not hurt that a more experienced colleague will get to know you and get a sense for the quality of your legal abilities.
Publish! Publish! Publish!
Legal newspapers, blogs, and bar association publications are continuously seeking high quality articles for publication. Publishing articles on an area of law you are passionate about can help guide your job search. For example, if you long to be a litigator, a well-worded article on a change in local procedure will catch the attention of attorneys in that field. Changes in substantive law or procedural rules, new legislation, and noteworthy court decisions all make for useful, attention-grabbing articles. Do not get hung up on the academic. An article that makes the reader’s job easier—by concisely identifying the legal issue and giving practical advice for dealing with that issue—will best catch the attention of other practitioners.
The guidelines for submitting an article are usually easily available in the publication itself or on its website. You are better off authoring the full article ahead of time instead of just a pitch. You can always put together a quick abstract later if the publication requires it. You should only pitch your article to one publication at a time. However, if the article is not picked up by one publication, feel free to pitch it to another.
Be aware that local and small industry publications generally do not compensate their contributors. The value in publishing is developing your own research and communication skills, and attracting the attention of other local attorneys who can help you in your job search, or possibly offer you employment themselves.
Catch up on your Community
The world is much larger than the practice of law, and your efforts toward legal employment should not be exclusively focused in the legal community. Use this time to get involved with your community at large.
Nonprofits of all stripes are always seeking volunteers. Arts organizations and charities need volunteers to solicit contributions for benefit events. Better yet, most benefit events need volunteers for the event itself. As a volunteer, you will forego the steep ticket price, help out an organization in need and have an opportunity to mingle.
With time to spare and elections on the horizon, it is also an ideal time for you to canvass on behalf of your favorite political figure. Young professionals’ organizations are also ideal for making connections, both in your job search and for long term business-building purposes. It is hard to go wrong with community involvement– pick an interest and run with it. You will better your community and make invaluable connections.
Meet People, Make Friends
The best opportunities are often happy coincidences. “Networking” can be a dirty word, suggesting self-interest and shallowness. Think of your job search as a time for meeting people and making friends. While you will hope that they can keep you in mind for employment opportunities, also think about what you can do for them. Respond “accepted” to as many events as you can and offer to help out the host. Attend alumni events for your university. Participate in “town hall” community meetings concerning local issues. When folks hear you are a lawyer, they may well call you about legal advice that you as a job searching new graduate are not yet capable of giving. Build up your relationships with other lawyers so that you can provide appropriate referrals, and you will receive thanks from both the lawyer and the client.
Submitting resumes alone will not find you a job. You need to approach this search period as a full time commitment to making broad but meaningful connections. The job market is in employers’ favor right now, and it is in your best interest to set yourself apart as a candidate. Leadership, enthusiasm, and developing a positive reputation in your community are all positive steps to distinguishing yourself in that next interview.
Reprinted with permission from the March 7, 2013 issue of The Legal Intelligencer. Copyright 2013 ALM Media Properties, LLC. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. All rights reserved.