In this challenging economy, law students and recent law school graduates would be well advised never to underestimate the importance of networking. The days of “blind” resume submissions are largely over; hotly contested job slots today are going to well-qualified candidates that have maximized their personal networks. Maximizing personal networks means having personal meetings or personal calls made on your behalf to the interviewer by people the interviewer will listen to and respect.
After retiring from the Illinois Appellate Court and entering a new phase of my life as John Marshall’s Director of Professionalism & Engagement, it soon became clear that students were most interested in professionalism as it could relate to securing gainful employment after graduation. With this in mind, and after seeing a few success stories, I’ve compiled a few steps to assist those in the job market.
Step 1: Assess and Develop Your Network During Law School
Your network is bigger than you probably realize. Talk to everyone during your job hunt—at parties, at bar association events; even in line at the grocery store. Make a list of people who are working even generally in the area of your interest. Then, ask them if they have a half hour to talk to you about the work they do. Come prepared to the meeting with a few concrete ideas for jobs you’d like to have; follow-up with any contacts you are given, and—perhaps most importantly—keep the initial contact updated as your job hunt unfolds. “You’d be surprised how few job seekers stay in touch after an informational interview or a networking coffee,” notes Judge Gilbert Grossi, recently retired from the Cook County Circuit Court. “Of course, I expect an immediate ‘thank-you’ email after I spend time with a student or recent graduate, but I’d also like to hear if that candidate has met with success elsewhere over the coming weeks. Also, I may have heard of another opening that wasn’t open during the first meeting!”
Step 2: Promote Yourself Effectively
Potential employers, whether their offices are located within judicial chambers, governmental agencies or private firms, want to know that you are assertive and interested in the work they do. They also want to ensure that they can see themselves working with you on a day-to-day basis. “In addition to solid legal skills, personality of the prospective candidate is key,” said Anthony Longo, partner with Cassidy Shade “If candidates have not done their homework ahead of time to determine how we work at the firm, or if I don’t feel engagement or a connection from a candidate during an interview in that respect, then I am less likely to recommend that candidate be hired.”
Step 3: Be Prepared to Extern or Intern Simply for the Experience; Visualize Your Pipeline
Paying jobs during law school are fantastic, but if your financial situation allows, don’t turn down non-paying positions—particularly with governmental agencies and court systems—that may offer a richer level of experience than their paid counterparts. This is particularly true if the unpaid position is more in line with your ultimate career goals. For instance, if your goal after law school is to land a judicial externship, you may be wasting your time if you work for a year clerking at a law firm for $15 per hour that takes personal injury cases, despite the short term financial benefit that position offers. All experience is good experience, but as the days before graduation get shorter, taking an unpaid position in your field that may “pipeline” you into a full-time position is well worth your time. An example from the judicial branch comes from Justice James Epstein of the Illinois Appellate Court who notes: “When it comes time to hire clerks, the first thing I look for is experience with the judiciary. Judicial externships often provide not only solid work experience but the additional benefit of writing samples generated while on the job.”
Step 4: After Graduation, Treat Your Job Search Like a Full-Time Job
Until you’ve landed a position, your job is, quite simply put, to find a job. Create a regular schedule for yourself. If possible, this should involve a daily change of scenery from your apartment or home. Create an “office” in your law school library or local coffee shop where you can set up a lap top and make phone calls. Dress as you would if you were working. Continue to arrange networking lunches and coffees, both with past employers and with organizations that you’d like to learn more about. Everyone you know should be aware of your career goals, so keep your friends and family posted, as well. And, when the time comes to interview for a word-of-mouth position, you should be ready to walk yourself and your resume over immediately. Time lost can mean a lost job!