I know it’s the time of the year when the only thing law students are talking about is where they will be (or want to be) working next year; so, I thought I would write about how to land the legal job you want despite today’s competitive job market.
First and foremost, grades are not everything. This goes for everyone, no matter if you are currently in the top 10 or in the bottom half of your class. If you are ranked high in your class, my advice to you is do not act entitled or above others. Your classmates will be your future co-workers and colleagues. Also, interviewers will be less impressed with the accomplishments you’ve worked so hard for if they see or sense arrogance. On the other end of the spectrum, if you are in the bottom of your class, be happy for those who have found early success in their legal career because again, they will be your future co-workers and colleagues. Further, do not be discouraged from applying for any job you are interested in, even if there is a stated prerequisite such as being in the top 20%. Any good employer will consider much more than your law school GPA, especially if you have only completed your first year.
Law firms will look at where you completed your undergraduate work and how well you did, if you have any work experience (legal or non-legal, including unpaid internships), if you volunteer (firms can tell the difference between “real” and “resume builder” volunteer work), if you are on any committees and if you have leadership experience. This list is not comprehensive, but I have seen all of these factors used on a consistent basis. Therefore, if your grades are not the best but you have some of these other tangible factors, make sure to adequately illustrate them in both your resume and cover letter. Remember that you are your biggest advocate, so if you don’t share your experiences a potential employer will not be able to consider them as part of your candidacy.
In my opinion the cover letter is the most underrated part of an employment candidacy package. A good letter stands out to the reader, and it will most likely get your resume a second look. I do not think law students (or most people in general) understand that the cover letter is a mini-writing sample that is actually read by potential employers. The cover letter also gives you the chance to explain and elaborate on your resume and your experiences. Moreover, a bad cover letter will probably get your package thrown in the “NO” pile before the reviewer even looks at your resume. Remember to tailor your cover letter to the potential employer and make sure to triple check the firm name and contact information. I think it goes without saying that if you send a cover letter to “ABC Law” that is addressed to “XYZ Law”, you won’t be getting an interview.
I cannot adequately stress how important it is to network. Networking is how you get a job in today’s legal job market. In short, it can give you an additional advocate who can truly speak about your personality, abilities, and could potentially add legitimacy to your resume and your experiences. In addition, a recommendation from an attorney at a company you are applying to will typically get your candidacy package at least a second look.
In my opinion, face-to-face networking is the most important way to network. To properly network, you need to get involved in areas you are interested and then take an active role on committees by continuously volunteering. This is guaranteed to introduce you to people who can mentor and advocate for you in the future. Attending legal socials and functions is another great way to meet attorneys with whom you can network. Marquette has a program called Marquette WORKS that helps alumni, not just from the Law School, meet and socialize with other Marquette alumni. This is a program that you should get involved with while in school and then continue to be involved with after graduation. As any successful attorney or business person will tell you, networking does not stop after graduation. With that being said, in today’s digital age, online networking can be just as important as face-to-face networking. Therefore, have a LinkedIn account and keep it updated because attorneys and potential employers look at these online venues.
When you are networking, do not seek out attorneys who you think are “decision makers” or who are the head of a practice group. Alternatively, seek out attorneys with whom you have a common interest, because the more organic the relationship is the more it adds to your candidacy. Then the attorney can actually speak on your behalf as opposed to simply stating “I met this person.”
PREPARING FOR AN INTERVIEW
Interviewing is an art and a skill that takes a lot of practice. An interview is not simply about walking into a room and regurgitating your resume. The interviewer can read; they do not need you to read and summarize your resume for them. I suggest starting with Marquette Law School’s Career Services. They have myriad tools for you that range from learning how to interview to targeting specific law firms (they have tools and guides for resume and cover letter writing as well). In preparing for an interview you will need to do your research. I suggest an hour of research for each interview. This should consist of research on the firm as well as the interviewers themselves.
SAY THANK YOU!
After a good cover letter, I think thank you letters are the second most overlooked part of the interview process. Some may consider a thank you letter too tedious, but taking that extra time sends a very strong message to the attorney you met with. Not only does it show the attorney’s time was important to you and that you are appreciative, but it shows that you are the type of person who makes the extra effort and is a go-getter (not a “gunner”, there is a difference).
CHOOSING THE RIGHT FIRM
All I want to say about choosing the right firm or company to work for is that you need to truly know yourself and what is important to you first. Money, work-life balance, giving back to the community, etc. are factors that have differing levels of importance to each of us. As such, you need to understand what is important to you before you research a potential employer. When choosing a company you should make sure that the factors you consider to be important match with the company. Lastly, when considering a position during one of your law school summers, take a look at how much time you will spend at recruiting functions (i.e., baseball games) versus how much real world and practical experience you will receive. Don’t get me wrong, the recruiting functions are a blast (attorneys may look forward to them even more than law students), and you want to enjoy your summer, but you also want to walk away with a better understanding of the “real” legal profession and what your future career may look like.