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Making the Most of Your First Legal Job Search After Law School @thelegalintel

7 Mar

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.

Trial Day. Better Luck Next Time.

10 Jan

I didn’t post yesterday because I finally reached that point of tiredness where I was too tired for blogging. For me, that’s a big tired.

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Today we had our trial. I lost. I’m not happy about that. I had learned my lesson from day 1 of trial college. I prepared hard for this trial. I worked hard. I practiced. I even took it upon myself to pick to be responsible for the parts of trial that are the most challenging for me (opening, direct exams) and took on those tasks.

The judge who was assigned to my trial had very positive things to say about my partner and I. In fact, the only criticism she had of our our trial performance was that I was a little late with one objection. We put on a darn good trial. But we lost. I guess you just have that sometimes, but it’s extra frustrating when you are being taught and putting into action skills specifically designed to be persuasive (even when the facts are not great), and then you don’t manage to win over 5 brooding high school kids.

I’m definitely glad I went to trial college. I learned so much. The teacher’s pet in me loved hearing that I was on the right track, and even that I had a good handle on several “advanced” trial skills. The eternal student in me loved hearing the constructive criticisms, so I know where I need to work harder and grow more. My only regret in addition to not winning the trial) is that trial does not come up all too frequently, so it will probably be a while before I can put these skills into real life practice. Now it’s back to the real world, back to the writing and thinking, and back to the assignments that have piled up in my absence.

Here’s a gunner, there’s a gunner, everywhere a gunner gunner

8 Jan

We’ve reached the point in the week where I’m too tired to find an appropriate graphic for this post.  We’ll go for the tried and true lolcat. Obviously.

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The only people who willingly spend the first week of the year in trial college are gunners.  There’s no way around it. And I’ve come to admit that I, too, am a gunner.

For those of you smart enough to have foregone law school, this is the definition of “gunner” (courtesy of UrbanDictionary):

A person (usually a medical or law school student) who uses over 3 different colored highlighters, tabs every page in their notebook, and raises their hand after every question asked by their professor, regardless of if they know the correct answer or not. Gunners like to hear themselves speak. They use complicated words to make themselves sound smart even though they have no idea what’s going on in class- they pretend they do. They are trying to intimidate you and eliminate competition.

The foolish thing about being a gunner at trial college is that there really *isn’t* competition. Sure, there’s a mock jury who picks who wins, so I guess there is a win/loss aspect, but the overarching purpose is to improve your trial skills.  That being said, and despite trying to keep my obnoxiousness under control, I admit that at times I totally caved to the “ooh pick me! pick me!” behavior.  But so did everyone else. That’s what you have here.

Most of my colleagues are in study rooms gearing up for their trials.  My trial isn’t until Thursday morning, so I have a little more time to prepare.  I also believe in the law of diminishing returns.  I worked darn hard during class hours from 8:30am-5pm today.  I worked through lunch.  I discussed and focused and gave it my all.  Then instead of spending my evening holed up in a study room with my trial partner, I went to yoga class. Hot hot hot yoga class.  And I think that change of scenery was just enough to enable me to structure my thoughts, so that now I think I have a pretty darn good opening statement prepared.  Sometimes a break really is worth its while.

Trial College Brain Mush

7 Jan

As the days of trial college roll on, I become less and less capable of forming coherent thoughts in the evening time.  I’m so darn tired, my thoughts turn to mush.  Tonight after dinner, I somehow found myself in a shopping center, and blasted through $200 on pants and celebrity magazines.

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MINE! ALL MINE!

We only have one lecture session left, then it’s trial prep and TRIAL. We’re trying a personal injury/insurance coverage dispute. The topic gave me a shot of courage, it is right in my wheelhouse. Now if only we could try this case according to Allegheny County rules, then I’d be golden.

I feel like I’ve made big steps in just 3 days.  On day one, I was a little sheepish and afraid to ask the wrong question, or afraid I’d look foolish by saying the wrong thing.  But now that I’ve been up in front of the class several times, I’m feeling more comfortable.  I’m not so worried about saying the wrong thing.  I’m ready to say something and see if it works.  I’m lucky to be in a great class. We’re all 4-7 years in, we have similar trial experience, and there are no gunners (or, if there is a gunner, it’s probably me, but I’m trying to keep that obnoxiousness in check).

Opening statements were the most difficult part of the class for me, and I wish we had a chance to do them again in a classroom setting.  I guess I’ll just have to study up, take a deep breath, and get ready to open on trial day.  Wish me luck! (and wish me sanity!)

Esteemed counsel shocks and thrills the jury with her brilliant argument!

Esteemed counsel shocks and thrills the jury with her brilliant argument!

Unrelated: (maybe?) I keep trying to make a joke about how someone here is totally Ignatius J. Reilly.  Apparently I am THE ONLY PERSON AT TRIAL COLLEGE who has read a Confederacy of Dunces.  More book nerds at trial college, plz.  At least I think I’m funny.

There is no success without preparation

5 Jan

Trial college went from 7:30am-7pm today, with nary a break in between. Boy am I tired. And I still have homework.

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We focused on opening statements today. I do not like doing openings. I don’t care much for closings either, but openings are my absolute least favorite part of a trial. I’m very much an action/reaction, question/answer, challenge/solution kind of person, and openings are so one sided. It’s a speech, but it’s a speech that you have to make a totally disinterested panel of jurors interested in. It’s super super hard.

Since work has been very busy, I did not do the reading ahead of time and did not prepare my opening ahead of time. I thought “oh heck, it’s a CLE. Who prepares for a CLE?” It’s no defense, but I wasn’t the only one. Out of my class of 8, it was noticeable that only two people prepared ahead of time. And you know what the result of this was? Six less than stellar opening statements.

I was embarrassed. I was embarrassed because I was cocky. I was sitting in the chair thinking “oh heck, I’ll wing it. It’ll be great. I know how to do trials.” But you know what, that’s not true. I’ll do great if I prepare. And I didn’t prepare, so my opening was bad. I’m glad for the lesson. I needed to be cut down to size. Overconfidence does not win trials. Being prepared wins trials.

The instructor (a distinguished Virginia Circuit Court Judge) remarked that my opening sounded more like an appellate brief than an opening statement. He was completely right. Big words and complex sentence structures doesn’t win over juries. I need to remember my audience.

I’ve learned helpful lessons today. Though I fell flat on my face in my opening, I am proud that I did not get defensive and try to justify my performance. I listed to the instructor’s comments and realized Yes. He’s right. I did it wrong. He’s telling me I did it wrong because he is trying to help me.

I did it wrong today, but I’ll do it right tomorrow. And even if I do it right tomorrow, I still need to listen closely, because there is so much more to learn.

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Snowy Pittsburgh

27 Dec

When the snow starts falling in Pittsburgh, this California girl prefers to stay indoors until Springtime breaks. The snow started yesterday, and I was thrilled that I had already arranged to have the day off. The roads were still snow covered today, and as I lazily awoke and stumbled about the house, I considered staying home today as well. After all, it would be a slow day and everything I needed to do, I could do from home.

Then Baby Beez woke up. In rare form.

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Yet another blurry picture, because this kid never sits still. Here she is breaking in her new cowgirl boots with a little boogie. She was bolting around the house. Suddenly, grown up time in the office sounded perfect.

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Coffee and privilege logs and pleadings. And I got to pick the music.

NaBloPoMo Day 7: Chillin out Maxin’ Relaxin all Cool

7 Dec

What is the best way to relax after a hard day?

lolcatbaddayI’m easy to please.  All I ask for relaxing is to just do something (or nothing) that is not work.  Usually this takes the form of ordering a pizza for dinner and hanging out on the couch with my family and the TV on.  Or maybe it means coffee and magazines.  But it usually is just some form of me sitting around.  On really bad days, I’m sitting around with a glass of wine.

In an ideal world, I’d say that after a hard day, I relax by going for a run or some other athletic activity, but in all honesty after most days I’m too beat to do much else than just sit there.  Since getting a Kindle, I have been reading every single night before bed.  This means both that I have read nearly 40 “fun” books this year alone, but also that I manage to slow my mind down enough that I can sleep through the night.

Hanging out with my family does make me feel a million percent better when I’ve had a bad day.  I spend my days doing work that is hard.  Law is complex and uncertain and confusing.  Sometimes (often) the practice of law feels like I’m picking my way through landmines.  And the stress is even more exacerbated because you are responsible for solving someone else’s problems.  So if you set off one of those landmines, you’ve blown it for both you and them.  (If it’s not already painfully obvious, this hasn’t been a great week.)

You know what’s not hard? Parenting.  People say parenting is hard, but it’s not.  It is very frustrating and very exhausting and full of unwinnable battles, but it is not hard.  And hanging out with my kid after a hard day makes me feel a little better, because it’s pretty darn hard to truly screw up this parenting thing.

Also, ice cream.

NaBloPoMo Day 4: Lead? Follow? Or Collaborate

4 Dec

Do you feel most comfortable being a leader, a follower, or a collaborator?

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For me, it is completely dependent on the circumstances.  If the task at hand is one that I’m familiar with, I’d prefer to lead, because I know what needs to be done and how to do it.  If it is a task I am not so familiar with, or if I’m working with a group of people who like to schedule lots of meetings to talk about the things that need to be done (instead of actually doing those things), then I suppose I fall in the “follower” category, except I’d prefer to call it the “legwork” category.  I am not interested in holding meetings to talk.  If something is actually going to be accomplished in a meeting, that is fine, but meetings for their own sake are not my style.  I’d rather everyone else sit and chat and get out of the way, while I get the work done.

Admittedly, I’m not very good at being a “collaborator.”  I can work fine in a team, but prefer that responsibilities are clearly deliniated, and responsibility is very clearly allocated.  When I had group or team projects at school, I frequently chose to work with the kids that I knew would not contribute at all.  I got a talking-to by the teachers a couple of times, because I’d do all the work and others would coast based on my efforts.  To me, I so dreaded the uncertainty of unclear division of labor and having to wonder whether the others would actually do what they said they’d do, that I would rather pick a group where I had to do all the work myself because at least the division of labor would be certain.  That is neither the most effective nor the most mature way to work on a “team,” but I think it serves well to illustrate how important clear deliniation of responsibilities are to me.

I love that at my work, the structure of most assignments is 1 partner/1 associate.  While we work together on developing ideas and strategy, the tasks themselves are fairly clearly distributed.  I don’t think the leader/follower/collaborator paradigm works well to describe the dynamic.  I suppose technically the partner is the “leader” and the associate the “follower,” but associates are encouraged to speak up, share their thoughts, and challenge things they find problematic, so it’s not a true leader/follower dynamic.  It’s also not quite a “collaborator” paradigm, because each person has specific tasks that they complete independently.  The structure of this working format fits my personality well.  I love that I know what my tasks are and what is expected of me.  I especially love that, at times when I have uncertainty about the parameters of what I’m supposed to be doing, I work with people who are completely open to me being frank and saying “I need more guidance, I’m not sure what you are asking me to do.”

NaBloPoMo day 3: Being a “Pro”

3 Dec

What do you consider yourself a “pro” at?

zebra-social-media-expertI’ve spent years thinking that it is presumptuous to declare yourself a “pro” at anything, and that instead it is up to others to identify and announce your expertise.  So I sat back quietly, waiting for someone to call me up and tell me how much they want me to give a presentation about all these things that I know.  THIS IS NOT HOW THE WORLD WORKS.  People don’t know what you know unless you tell them.  Declaring yourself a “pro” at anything of course must be preceded by a lot of elbow grease, patience, and really gaining the expertise in your claimed area.  Then you tell people what you know about by writing about it, and helping people out whenever you can when they have a question of your area, and writing some more, and reaching out to the world and offering your expertise.  I’ve had to put my squeamishness over being presumptuous aside.  You won’t be recognized as an expert until you are an expert, and you show the world that you are an expert.

I’m a pro in two things:

1. Allegheny County local civil procedure. I rock the socks off this county’s local practice (bookmark this page because you will never see that phrase again).  My first 3 years in practice were spent at a small firm.  This was simultaneously the most stressful experience in the history of the universe, and also the absolute best thing for my career and comfort/familiarity with local practice.  When you work for a small firm, you are thrown RIGHT into the fire.  It’s not “sink or swim” because sinking is not an option.  Even though you are just barely a lawyer, you still are a lawyer, and you are representing people and their rights and interests.  Failure is not an option.  So you figure things out, sometimes you do things right, rarely do things turn out to be actually wrong, and almost all the time you get by with doing things not-quite-right-but-close-enough-that-it-gets-the-job-done-and-everything-turns-out-ok.

I’m lucky to practice in a county that is incredibly forgiving with local practice.  If something is not-quite-right, the court will still hear it.  And after thousands of hours of getting it almost-right, you start getting it actually right more and more often, and you go from wading in a fog to actually knowing how to do stuff. And that’s where I am now.  I know how to do stuff.

2. Blogging and law (but not Bob Loblaw’s Law Blog).  Holy cow, I’ve been blogging nearly eight years now.  And I’ve gone from a blogging college student to a blogging law student to a blogging lawyer.  And now my practice also incorporates the intersection between law and social media.  That intersection is staggeringly broad. It’s like saying “I am an expert in the internet.” It is so broad it is virtually meaningless.  My expertise is more specifically in defamation issues and discovery issues (i.e. when and in what circumstances can your social media content get dragged into a lawsuit).  I’m working on an article/presentation about social media defamation issues right now that I’m really excited about, details to come as it progresses!!

Social Media Power Practices for the Young Lawyer Set

18 Oct

My latest article for the Legal Intelligencer was published today: Social Media Power Practices for the Young Lawyer Set.

If you have a subscription to the Legal Intelligencer, the article is available online and in the print edition.

But you can also read it right here!

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