I recently was asked by a Law Career Blog reader if I have any job hunting advice for 3Ls and recent law grads. Here's the specific request I received:
I am a 3L . . . and I am in the unenviable (but not perhaps uncommon) position of being unemployed - still. As graduation and the bar approach, my stress level is rising to meteoric heights. . . . Is there any chance you could post something for 3Ls who are still looking for work? You know - something comforting, but realistic at the same time.
That's a very good topic to talk about. I have no easy answers. Here are some of my thoughts:
Keep your chin up. Law school does a number on a lot of students, who come in bright, eager and confident, and leave believing they are not as smart or as talented as they thought. Few things in academic life beat you down like continuously getting ranked against your peers in a pressure cooker atmosphere. And then you don't have a job at the end of it. You must be stupid, right?
Of course that's not right. The point is that you are just as smart--and a lot more educated--than you were when you got into law school. It's just a tough job market.
Be proactive. Keep working on the job hunt. Track down all possible leads. Use all possible connections. I know this is obvious, but it is surprising how many people do not do it. It's too much work; they're busy; perhaps they are a bit in denial; they don't want to appear desperate. Don't be ashamed of not having a job, but also don't be too proud to not do what it takes to rectify the situation.
Build your list of contacts. The job hunt is a great way to meet people who might help you in the future, even if they cannot now. Keep a contacts list. Send thank you notes. Go to functions where you might see them. If you convey the impression that you are professional and a potentially good hire, these contacts may lead you, directly or indirectly, to a job.
Remember that the worst that can happen if you seek a job is to be told "No." Which means you are no worse off than if you did not try. I don't mean you should be a pest, but I do mean that you should never let the fear of rejection keep you from applying for a job.
Be less picky. Are you only willing to work at a large firm with a well-established corporate or litigation practice? Think again. There is no shame in taking a job because you need a job. Now, there are some things you may simply be unwilling to do, and that's fine. Admirable. But if your concern is, "What will other people think?" or "Will it hurt my chances at future jobs?", then try the following exercise. First, pretend you are at an interview for your next job after the one you are trying to get right now. And the future employer asks you about your current job, and why you are leaving. What would you say? Think about it. If part of your answer is, "It was a good place to start," or "It was really great experience, but not what I want to do long term," what on earth is wrong with that? Any lawyer out there is going to understand that. We all have bills to pay, and we all know it is a tight job market.
On that same note, consider contract attorney positions. Contract attorneys are in essence temp lawyers who are hired by law firms for temporary demand. They typically are hired through a job placement service, and they get paid less than associates. But they get paid. And they get experience. And sometimes, if they do good work, they get hired as full-time attorneys by the firms where they are working. I have seen it happen, even at big firms. Also, if you are moving to an entirely new area of the country and have no contacts or job prospects, this is an option to consider.
Be more creative in your search. Law firms are not the only place you can practice law. Think about inhouse positions, although the good ones can be hard to find. Think about public interest law--there are public interest fellowships available through organizations such as Equal Justice Works that allow you to gain some experience, even if public interest work is not your long term goal. I submit that the experience will make you a more well-rounded and empathetic lawyer. And what about non-legal positions? If you are thinking about business law, and there is a company who needs a non-legal position filled, why not look into it? You may not qualify, but then again, you might. And it might be very good experience, too.
Keep trying for judicial clerkships and internships. There are many, many judicial clerkships out there--not just for federal judges and state supreme court justices. State appellate judge and circuit judge clerkships can be excellent opportunities to gain experience, pay the bills, and add a strong reference to your resume. And they give you more time to get inserted into the legal market and keep making new connections and looking for that post-clerkship job.
Consider an LL.M. or MBA. It's a bit late in the game to think about this now, at the end of your law school career, but perhaps you can work for a year, and then go back. If you want to go into business law, or into business management, a JD-MBA combination is superb. And an LL.M. from a school more highly ranked than the law school from which you received your JD is a good way to make yourself more marketable too, especially if you are wanting to practice in a particular specialty. An LL.M. in tax is very valuable, and an LL.M. in intellectual property law, environmental law, or international trade/international business can be very useful too. (Link to my previous posts on LL.M.s here, here and here.) Such an LL.M. might even help you relocate to another, more lucrative job market. I know people who have done that quite successfully.
Remember that your first job does not = your career. In an article for the March 2007 National Jurist ("Don't be Scared by Unemployment"), Tony Waller, who is the University of Illinois College of Law's dean of career planning and professional development, advises that "your career is like a line, and not a dot." (Note: quote is of the article, not of Waller.) That's an apt analogy.
And finally . . . I want to end with the same advice I started with: Keep your chin up. You will have a hard time making a positive impression on the job market if you have a hangdog demeanor and attitude.
Good luck, and happy hunting!