The law school OCI program is wrapping up. While a number of law students have successfully secured employment for the summer of 2016, a great many have not. If you have found yourself in the daunting, and wholly unwelcome, position of having to extend your job search, do not despair. Contrary to popular belief, your legal career has not ended before it even started. You are, however, in a tough spot and your situation needs to be addressed immediately and aggressively. When I advise individual law students, I ask that they approach this next phase of their job search by keeping two important points in mind. First, recognize that you are not alone. It may seem like everyone else on the planet landed a job, but trust me, this is far from reality. Second, I know how defeated you feel right now. You put so much of yourself into this crazy marathon of a hiring process and ended up empty-handed. Who could blame you for feeling a bit disheartened? Go ahead and allow yourself a moment to grieve then don't look back and turn all of your attention forward. In other words—and for your own good—shake it off.
Taking an honest and comprehensive look at your job search performance up to this point is the ticket to finding a job in the near future. My experience reviewing the applications of thousands of law school students shined a very bright light on how ill-prepared the vast majority of the students can be. Frankly, I have always found it to be just plain shocking. The problem is rampant and definitely non-discriminating. Law school, class rank, background, and previous experience make zero difference.
Ask yourself several questions:
- How did you approach and execute each step of your job search?
- Did you give potential employers your very best on every level?
- Did you enlist the assistance of career services?
- Did you apply a safeguard to ensure that the delivery of every document and every piece of correspondence was absolutely, positively error-free?
- Did you talk to any attorneys to learn firsthand what the practice of law is all about so you would be armed with the ability to speak confidently and intelligently on the subject?
- Did you take full advantage of mock interview opportunities?
- Did you prepare for your interviews by sharpening your interview skills with the intensity and commitment they so desperately deserve?
- When you did your interviews did you clearly convey your strong interest in each firm?
- Were you able to back up your interest due to diligent research?
- Did you convincingly demonstrate a genuine thirst for the law?
All of these questions are no-brainers yet, all too often, ignored.
At this juncture you should also reexamine your priorities. Where can you be a bit more flexible with your goals? Maybe you would be willing to expand your search geographically. Or perhaps you’d be okay with a job in a different area of law than you were originally targeting. In many cases this should not concern you too much because the interests and practices of attorneys can change over one's law career. If you always pictured yourself in a large firm, it may be worth it to consider midsize or boutique firms which can offer terrific opportunities. A wealth of possibilities can also be found in the government and corporations, as well as public interest organizations. Your number one goal is to gain legal experience. Where you gain that experience is not nearly as important as the experience itself.
If you are only interested in BigLaw there may still be opportunities out there. Though they are sparse at this stage of the process, they are not necessarily impossible to find. Firms are forced to play a numbers game in this dicey hiring system and things can go awry. They can miscalculate the number of offers to give and end up with fewer acceptances than intended. In my 25 years of experience with BigLaw I can personally attest to the difficulty and happenstance of filling a class with the target number of acceptances. For instance, I recall one recruiting season when a firm made a sizable miscalculation and received only a portion of the acceptances targeted. They went right back to the schools and were able to pick up their remaining needs. Firms looking to augment their summer associate class after the official OCI program will immediately contact career services offices, so make sure your school’s career services office knows you’re still looking!
Once you have reassessed your priorities you need to be aggressive, because many students will be searching right along with you. Dig deeper into your well of contacts. Did you give a noble effort at reaching alumni from your school? Sending an email to a graduate of your law school and never following up is not much of an effort. What about the friend of your uncle who is a partner at a big firm? Did you exhaust all leads or was your attempt a bit halfhearted? Now is not the time to be reticent. It is time to push yourself and get truly proactive.
Remember the right frame of mind and the attitude you put forth will directly affect your ability to turn things around. Your attitude surrounding every step you take as you forge ahead is more crucial to your success than you can imagine. If you just can't quite muster positivity, fake it. The mindset you present, be it positive or negative, is immensely powerful and can make a tremendous difference in whether or not you are successful in your quest for employment.
Even though you haven’t yet clinched a summer position, I promise you your situation can be turned around. I hired attorneys at all levels for many years and what I always looked for was somebody with the experience I needed, not someone with a fancy resume. What is truly important to your goal of starting off a terrific legal career is to always be prepared and always, always exude enthusiasm.
Law students interested in a personalized consultation can reach Kara Reidy at Kara.firstname.lastname@example.org. With 25 years of law firm recruiting experience at two Vault Law/AmLaw 100 firms, Ms. Reidy provides law students with practical and effective advice on the job search process. Ms. Reidy's insider's perspective on law firm hiring helps law students understand the law firm mindset. Her extensive knowledge is a product of assessing the aptitude and potential of tens of thousands of law school candidates throughout her career.
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