Sunday, April 15, 2007

Finding A Non-Legal Job

For the past few weeks, Russ has posted some eye-opening stuff about job prospects after law school. And from what I have heard from friends and classmates, it's all pretty accurate. I wouldn't know personally, however, because I didn't even bother taking the bar, so finding actual legal employment was never on my list of things-to-do.

I was in the minority. When I decided not to take the bar and thus not practice law, my decision was met by classmates with a combination of disbelief and jealousy. Many couldn't believe I would spend three years in law school and not want to even take the bar. These people are obviously unfamiliar with the concept of a sunk cost. Others expressed admiration and envy of my decision, wishing that they too could make such a bold choice.

(Sidebar: Honestly, I don't know what makes it so bold. Is it unconventional? Sure. But that doesn't mean it's illogical. There is no law that says law school graduates must take the bar. I mean, I knew I didn't want to practice law. So why put myself through the hassle? I haven't once, in the nearly one year since I graduated, regretted my decision even one iota. So obviously, it wasn't a bad decision. If people are so envious of it, then why don't more follow my lead? I'll never understand people.)

Anyway, regardless of their reaction, I heard the same question over and over: "What are you going to do instead?" And I answered honestly: "I don't know."

I went into my job search blind. I figured that having a finance degree and a law degree would make me very desirable. I was wrong...sort of. I ended up with a great job that I use neither degree for. But I learned a lot along the way, so I thought I'd share some of what I learned with you. So without further ado, here is my loosely structured advice on how to get a non-legal job right out of law school.

First, a few things you must keep in mind...

Don't fool yourself, you are absolutely an entry-level candidate. You might think your law degree somehow sets you apart from the hoards of recent college graduates who have entered the job market. But unless you have some real work experience, aside from the legal work you did over the summers, you are wrong. A law degree does not qualify you to do anything except be a lawyer. Can it help in other jobs? Sure, but most companies don't go out looking for law graduates to fill non legal jobs, even if a law degree would slightly enhance the person's ability to do that job. So you need to go in with the mindset that your law degree doesn't make you special, doesn't mean you're more qualified, and doesn't entitle you to anything more than you were entitled to coming out of college. You might disagree, but read the next point.

Actually, having a law degree when looking for a non-law job does set you apart. People who aren't lawyers don't understand the practice of law at all. They think you're throwing away a winning lottery ticket by not practicing. I submitted a resume and cover letter to one company, and they called me back solely out of curiosity, to see the guy with a law degree who didn't want to practice law. They think something is wrong with you and label you as a flake, which is something you need to overcome. This can be done by coming up with a good answer as to why you're not practicing law, and incorporating that into both your cover letter and your interviews, because it will definitely be the first question they ask you. I experimented with a variety of answers, from the brutally honest to the completely fake. I found the completely fake works better. In order to avoid the flake label, you need to convince them that whatever job it is you are interviewing for is what you set your sights on to begin with, and you went to law school to give yourself a more well-rounded education. If you make it seem like you went to law school, didn't like it, and are now moving on to something better, you will only look flakier in their eyes. So you need to convince recruiters and interviewers that you never intended to practice law, you just wanted to round out your education, even if that's complete bullshit.

Start early. I decided, with 100% certainty, that I wasn't going to take the bar very early in my 3rd year. My mistake was not starting on my job search at that point. Because I was somewhat of an oddity on the job market, it took some time to get things rolling. I had interviews with places where I was overqualified, and places where I was underqualified, and it took me a long time to really get focused on what I wanted to do. If I could go back and do it again, I would have started during the school year by attending undergraduate career fairs on campus and getting a chance to talk to recruiters face to face, and I would have started sending out resumes and cover letters to different places before graduation, just to have gotten the ball rolling.

To paraphrase a line from Pulp Fiction: "When you are out there looking for a job, you may feel a slight sting. That's pride fucking with you. Fuck pride. Pride only hurts, it never helps." Lets be real. Law school is an elitist institution, where people look at prestige as a determination of your worth. If you decide not to pursue a career in the law, you need to get rid of all of that law school prestige bullshit and do what is best for you. You're probably going to end up with a job that you didn't need to go to law school to get. But that's okay, because you obviously are looking for a non-legal job for a reason. If you are in that situation, fuck pride. You don't deserve anything because you have a law degree. It'll make your search a lot easier.

What you can learn from my experience. Even though I put my pride aside, I still had standards. I knew that the job search was a lengthy process, and I prepared for that. Desperation is a bad thing. I started going on interviews in July, really ramped up the search in August, and finally got a job I wanted at the end of October. Along the way, I went on many bad interviews, rejected offers which I deemed unacceptable, and held out for something that I actually wanted. Is it my dream job? No, but for first jobs, I could do a hell of a lot worse. The lesson, I think, is to keep your options open, but don't overvalue yourself.

Final thoughts...Much like getting a legal job, getting a non-legal job is going to come down to you being able to sell yourself to employers. In a perfect world, you'll find a company that sees your JD as a positive, and they'll really want you to come work for them, and pay you handsomely. In reality, you'll get a job because you sold yourself to them, and in spite of your JD. Bottom line is, if you are looking for a non-legal job, it's either because you have no desire to be an attorney, or the legal job market put you in that situation. Regardless of why, it's up to you to go out and make it happen for yourself, because nobody is going to hand you anything.

One more thing...it wouldn't hurt to buy a lottery ticket every week.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Screaming Against The Darkness

For the past couple weeks I've been writing about the grim employment prospects for many law school graduates. Certainly, not everyone or even a majority of people are unemployable, but a sizable minority are and no one ever speaks about them. I'm glad some people were candid enough to share their experiences with the rest of you.

Anyways, for those of you who choose to see law school through even though you feel like you might be unemployable (or at least your professor's grading curves do), I want to give some final departing advice for the desperate.

1) Distinguish yourself! If you're not at the top of your class or on a journal find something else about you that will separate you from the pack. I first chaired two jury trials in law school which distinguishes me from the vast majority of law students (and even most lawyers). My current boss seemed impressed with that.

2) Get a job to get a job! Before law school, in law school, and out of law school get any kind of legal employment you can. Even if you're working in a mail room, you'll get exposure and connections. I worked as a paralegal for a few months for a law firm. This made interviews far less embarrassing when I could announce that I was "currently temping at a law firm".

3) Do anything you can to get some applicable experience! Join your law school's clinic, volunteer at legal aid, call up any and all government offices seeing if they need a free legal intern. If you've seen a divorce, bankruptcy, or lawsuit through from start to finish you'll be much more employable (and you'll sound like you know what you're talking about) than any other candidates.

Good luck guys. It's way tougher out there than anyone says but if you're truly active and strategic about your job search, things will work out.

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Monday, April 02, 2007

Conversation With A Friend

Russ: How's the job search?

Friend: Awful.

Russ: Write about it for my blog.

Friend: I would but it's too depressing to think about let alone write about.

Russ:
Don't others deserve to know?

Friend:
They'll just be as naive and optimistic as I was. I mean, I was average. I got average grades in law school, didn't do anything special during my summers, never took on any special projects. I thought an average law student would get a job. But here's the thing, I was average at a really good school. The average LSAT score for someone attending my school qualifies them for Mensa but apparently not for the lowliest mouth breathing entry-level legal job.

Warning Signs

I've received several emails from current law students who bemoan the fact that they can't find an internship, summer job, or job after graduation. I choose not to post them because they don't have the angry, frustrated quality that will actually jar a law student out of his stupor and follow the true Socratic method, leading an examined life.

But, something bizarre does occur to me when reading these emails: These kids can't get someone to let them work FOR FREE. They are being turned away by government agencies and charities. The demand for free labor should be infinite. Therefore, your average 2L's presence at a legal job site must provide a negative value to any possible employer. What does that say about your legal education.

So, guys, if no one is letting you work for free, read the writing on the wall. Even less people will be willing to pay you to work.