Give Yourself a Leg Up In The Legal Job Market

“Getting a leg up” is an old expression from the world of foot-race running. This idiom means that an individual has gained a head start advantage — whether for a 100-year dash or in the competition for a legal job. With this in mind, what tactics could give you a “leg up”? Listed below are a handful of approaches that have proved effective for others.

1) Cultivate your connections.

If you have not yet done an “audit” of your contacts and connections, now is the time. Why? Because former classmates, law school staff, former workmates and social acquaintances all are potential sources of job leads. So why not help them help you? Begin by brainstorming anyone who might be a worthwhile connection and capture them all in a unified spreadsheet or contact management application. Then prioritize this list and make a disciplined plan (with milestones and deadlines) for contacting them. People are more likely to help you when you ask for that help — and tell them specifically what you want and need.

2) Become a summer associate.

If you’re still in school, securing a high-quality summer associate (or internship) position has to be on your “short list” of priorities. Begin by determining which organizations (firms, companies, government agencies, etc.) are your top targets. Create a file folder for each target — collecting information on their leaders, current initiatives, and any contacts who might be part of your extended network. Then distinguish yourself by reaching out to these targets far in advance of their stated deadlines. Your initiative and knowledge will serve you well.

3) Provide pro bono counsel to a nonprofit organization.

Unlike a summer position — which is typically a full-time gig — a pro bono engagement usually offers considerable scheduling flexibility. (So you can do this when it is convenient for you — during evening hours, weekends, or school breaks.) By volunteering your services you will get first-hand exposure to current issues, and you’ll make contacts who share your interest in the nonprofit’s mission. In addition, you’ll reap the personal rewards of supporting a worthy organization.

4) Pursue purposeful informational interviews.

Requests for “informational” interviews are a routine occurrence for many legal professionals. What is far less common, however, is when one of these interviewers (job seekers) demonstrates that s/he is truly prepared for a productive conversation. That means doing some serious research — about the industry niche, the firm, and the individual with whom you are meeting. Armed with this timely information you can conduct a professional-level conversation that doesn’t waste anyone’s time — neither yours nor that of the busy executive you’re meeting. (Want to make a good impression? Do your homework!)

5) Work with a recruiter.

A good legal recruiter understands the industry, the market, and the opportunities best suited to your interests and skills. With an individual like this in your corner, you’ll have an invaluable sounding board for your “elevator pitch” and an educated eye to review your resume and cover letters. (You may even get access to positions that aren’t posted to job boards — definitely a “leg up” in the competition for top jobs.)

If all this preparation feels like a lot of work, that’s because it is. Yes, you could try to cut corners by using the same cut-and-paste applications for every potential employer. You also could use the same, generic, “Miss America” questions for each interview. (For example, “What’s a typical day in the life of a real estate attorney?”). But you can do better than that — and if you truly want a “leg up” on your competition, you’ll make these extra efforts. Good luck!

Have you already started your first Associate position? Check out our latest blog for tips on how to survive your first job out of law school.

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