When Your First Job (Ever) is a Legal Job

Here are suggestions for making the most of your first job.

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I recently had coffee with a rising 3L who went straight from undergrad to law school. After we talked for a few minutes about her career goals, she asked me, somewhat plaintively, “But how do you get a job?” “You mean a job as a lawyer?” I replied. “No,” she said, “any job. How do you go about finding an actual paid job? I’ve never had one. I have no idea where to begin.”

After being shocked for a minute, I realized she’s not alone.

Although most law students have interned and volunteered, it’s quite possible that many have never conducted a full-scale job hunt for a full-time, paying job. So, here are some suggestions for getting started.

  • Forget about finding the perfect job for now. Unless you’re at a very top law school, or at the top of your class at a lower-ranked school, you’re probably not going to secure your first job via on-campus interviewing. (OCI is when law firms come to campus to hire law students as summer associates. You can read more about the process here: The Basics of OCI.) It’s also relatively unlikely that your ideal job will pop up on your school’s internal job search board, or on Craigslist. Sure, it’s possible (and you want to look consistently), but you can’t count on it. Far more likely is that your first job will emerge from an internship or pro bono experience, or from within your network. In other words, as a word-of-mouth opportunity. Which leads to our next point…
  • Talk to everyone. Sure, you probably hate the idea of networking. Who doesn’t? But it’s time to get over that, right now. The legal job market is still quite bad in most of the country, so – if you want that first job – you’re going to have to hustle. This means joining your local bar association, if you haven’t already, and putting some relevant events on your calendar. You want to attend social events, naturally, but don’t over look lunchtime lectures and other continuing legal education seminars. Practicing attorneys have to do CLE every year, so they’re likely to show up when CLE credit is on offer! Be sure to arrive early and plan to hang out a bit afterwards, to chat with the other attendees. Conveniently, you already have a shared topic of conversation, “Wow, wasn’t that an interesting seminar? I’m excited to learn more about trademarks next year in the class I’ve signed up for.” And so on. Also ask friends for ideas on lawyers you should talk with, and follow up on any leads you’re offered for other people to speak with. Is this time consuming and potentially frustrating? Sure, unless you treat it as an opportunity to learn some things about the legal profession you don’t already know, and perhaps to meet some interesting people. Don’t go in with the expectation that this new contact will miraculously produce a job – just be open to the possibilities.
  • Be open to ideas. When you’re starting a job search with limited prior experience, odds are you don’t know exactly what you want to do. Maybe you have an inkling, from classes you liked in law school or from prior internships or externships, but your career preferences are unlikely to be set in stone at this point. That’s why it’s important to be open to ideas. I’d suggest keeping a list of suggestions people make, whether you agree with them or not. Then, when you’re feeling hopeless about the entire endeavor, take a look at the list. Does anything on it seem more appealing in retrospect that it seemed at the time? You don’t have to accept any ideas people offer, but at least think about them!
  • Seek out rejection. Inevitably, you’re going to have low points in your job search. It’s normal to get frustrated, but a more productive approach can be to actually seek out rejection. Sounds crazy, but it works! Rather than getting upset when you get rejection emails from a place you applied for, make it a game. See if you can get ten firm “No” responses every week. (Meaning you actually have to follow up if you haven’t heard back from someone, instead of just letting the connection wither.) Every “No” gets you one step closer to the one “Yes” you need. If you’re not hearing “No” regularly, you’re probably not putting enough job-search balls in play.

    Finding that first job after law school can be tough if you’ve never searched for a job before. But, with some perseverance, this can be your last ever “first job” search!

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