This post provides advice for getting into law school and for maximizing your chances of obtaining a legal job upon graduation. The bottom line is that in addition to top LSAT scores, grades, and schools, you can distinguish yourself in the application process by a) demonstrating that you are focused such that you are likely to be one of those students with several job prospects upon graduation; and b) emphasizing your strong desire to give back to the school that provides you the opportunity. Below are four specific steps to take with advice on how to accomplish each step.
1) Come up with a preliminary plan of what you will do with the law degree.
a) What area of law do you intend to practice?
One great way to distinguish yourself from peers and to attract and have clients for life is to understand the business of your client, as discussed in Making Partner. Here are five ways to do that:
- Read all of client’s big documents. If client is a publicly traded company, read the annual and quarterly reports filed with SEC and the latest prospectus. These documents contain valuable information about the company, the business challenges it faces, and its strategies for dealing with them. If the client is a privately owned company, read a recent Offering Memorandum that it used to attract venture capital investment or the client’s recent comprehensive business plan.
- Read all of the competitors’ big documents. Learn who your client’s strongest competitors are and review their disclosure documents. Comparing your client’s disclosures to those of its competitors will provide lots of information about your client’s industry, the different strategies implemented by the various players, and the hot button industry issues.
- Review the client’s web presence. Find out what the client says about itself on its own website, blogs, twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. This task may be good, productive work for an intern who may have the time and technical know-how to surf the net and find lots of relevant information that cannot be found through merely typing in a search term in Google. Instruct the intern to check websites of competitors, industry websites, and anything else related to client’s business or industry.
- Read the trade press. Learn which trade associations your client belongs to and subscribe to the associations’ publications to get a sense of where things are going in the industry. Go to trade association conferences as well.
- Visit the client. Ask the client if you could spend a non-billable day or two at their office in an effort to better understand their business. Go see how the products are actually made and sold. Get your hands dirty. Ask questions. Meet with the workers. Learn the different personalities of managers and subordinates alike.
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There is plenty of good information out there on networking. This link adds to the discussion and the advice found in Making Partner by elaborating on four keys to effective networking, namely: first seek to provide value to the person with whom you are networking, then help people help you by being specific about what you want, what you offer, and how they might help.
Image courtesy of bplanet/FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
LegalJob was asked about what it takes to be a successful attorney. This post focuses on one important quality that should help toward that pursuit — having the long view mindset. In other words, do not look for the short-term payoff in the things you do for yourself or for others because it is not likely that there will be one. For example, you may have to invest many years working on your writing and speaking skills before you can carry the confidence of a so-called expert in your field. The investment in yourself is worth it even though the acknowledgement from the world or your colleagues may be delayed. Below are three tangible steps to take toward being successful in the law with the long view in mind:
- Brush up on your writing and speaking skills at every opportunity.
- Write articles in journals covering your area of law. Write articles in industry publications. Write memos to the client. Write status memos to partners. Consider turning long e-mails into memos. Ask for specific feedback on writing projects.
- Take writing classes. Hire a coach. Enroll in a program.
- Speak at bar events either as a panelist or a moderator. Speak at client industry events. Make presentations at firm lunches.
- Take speaking courses. Hire a coach. Enroll in a program (i.e., Dale Carnegie course).
To refresh, LegalJob suggests you position yourself for maximum job opportunities by “picking a major,” excelling in classes in that major, and obtaining relevant work experience in the area. In addition to positioning, LegalJob suggests that it does not hurt to be open to opportunities you had not previously considered.
While letting life happen and being open to various opportunities, remember to ask upfront about the people with whom you will be working, the quality and type of projects on which you will be working, and the extent of professional development opportunities available. Each of these concepts is discussed in more detail below and in Making Partner.
The people with whom you will be working.
This post speaks to the “let life happen” piece while you continue to cover all your bases and position yourself for maximum opportunities throughout your legal career. This material will be presented in two parts (so a total of three posts on the whole subject).
No matter how rigorous you have planned, life may bring you an opportunity you have not considered. This post will help by providing three questions to ask when considering any opportunity, including ones that may be initially perceived as undesirable or at least not as good as your original plan.
Take the following example. You follow the advice in part one and plan to practice transactional tax at a big law firm. Unfortunately, however, the only opportunities that come your way are positions with the Department of Labor (working on ERISA/tax matters) or with a State tax agency. Should you give up on your dream of working for big law? What questions can you ask to help make a reasonable decision? In general, it will be helpful if you choose a place with pleasant people, where you will have lots of responsibility working on high quality projects (that could translate to another legal employer), and where you have plenty of opportunities to speak, write, and grow as a lawyer.
LegalJob recently participated on a jobs panel where there was a healthy debate about whether law students and associates should plan as much as possible by focusing on only one type of law practice and further, a niche within that practice area. The argument against planning everything out is that you cannot control life no matter how hard your plan. That is true. Also, the dissenters worried that if you over plan you may risk taking yourself out of the running for an opportunity in a practice area you may enjoy (but have not previously explored) or with an amazing legal employer you never considered. Sure that could happen but this point does not seem to be a strong enough argument against planning.
So, LegalJob thinks it is advisable to do both. As discussed in Making Partner, position to the extent possible and then be open to all possibilities that come to you, including opportunities off-plan. Positioning yourself means taking as much action as possible for you to be able to soundly demonstrate to a future employer your ability to focus and high level of commitment to your practice area.
This post (part one) discusses the positioning piece. A second post (part two) will discuss ways you can be flexible to keep doors open. Consider these positioning steps:
We have previously posted about the importance of securing a mentor and a sponsor and this advice is also emphasized in Making Partner.
Check out this article for tips for finding a mentor and a sponsor.
As a refresher, a sponsor is generally an elder statesman/stateswoman who is in management or other position of influence when it comes time to fight for you — annual raises, bonuses, leadership positions for you at the firm, work opportunities, consideration for partnership, etc. Having an effective sponsor is so crucial that if LegalJob could only offer two pieces of advice to associates, they would be to do excellent work and secure a sponsor early.
The concept of understanding the problem you are trying to solve may be one of the most important keys to being an effective lawyer. To wit, this blog has a number of posts that cover this issue in the context of providing advice for meeting expectations of law firm partners as does the book Making Partner.
As discussed throughout this blog and in Making Partner, the best plan for law students to secure any job is to pick a major early, take classes in that area and do well, and gain some substantive work experience in the area. For those that have not planned ahead, consider these five steps.
1) Do some research to find out what agencies are hiring.
- Talk to professors, career services folks, lawyers
- Regulatory areas are generally good as demand is up.
- Consider these active areas: Immigration, Environmental, Tax, IP, Health law, Elderly law, Financial services (Dodd/Frank)