“Employment of lawyers is expected to grow 10% from 2010 to 2020, about as fast as the average of all occupations.”
As anyone who has tried it knows, becoming a lawyer is a long arduous process. After excelling in high school, getting into a quality undergraduate program, working to get to the top of your university class, loading your schedule with extracurriculars, agonising over the LSAT, struggling through the difficult years of law school, and eventually passing the bar exam, you are finally ready to apply for your first legitimate job at a legal firm. (I mention ‘legitimate,’ of course, because by now you’ve already spent a few summers interning or working as a paralegal for absurdly low wages—if you were lucky enough to be paid at all—in a hometown firm)
Anyway, you know by now that a career in law requires dedication, persistence, and considerable patience. It also means battling through years of unglamorous, stressful, tedious work and intense competition in the hope of landing a good job at a top firm. And even if you’ve made it this far, you’ve still got a long way to go. The earlier you start, the better. So to reach the next critical plateau in the legal world, where you’ll finally start putting your hard-earned skills to work, here’s how to get your first job at a legal firm:
Know Where You Stand
The fact of the matter is that top firms only accept applicants from the top 5 or top 10 universities in the nation. So consider your school’s reputation when considering which firms to apply to. Have realistic aims.
The Right Firm
The next major consideration is whether to choose a big firm or a small one. The heavyweights pay extremely well, but demand inordinately long hours. Big firms are also slow to assign responsibility to new hires, often making them wait several years before getting the chance to argue a case in court. Small firms, on the other hand, pay much less, but have far better hours, and typically give new hires more opportunities to gain hands-on experience.
Qualifications and Expectations
It is recommended to look up the various job descriptions on the job boards since it gives you a good overview of qualifications and expectations for the legal job you are interested in. Some general expectations are:
- For a junior to mid-level associate position you might be expected to draft demand letters, complaints, and discovery requests. Meet, negotiate, and interact with opposing counsel. Write, research, and argue motions, take and defend depositions and prepare for arbitration and trial.
- Paralegals and legal assistants do a variety of tasks to support lawyers, including maintaining and organizing files, conducting legal research, and drafting documents.
- For an administrative job duties include file management, scanning, data entry.
- For an attorneys job you might be required to present substantial experience negotiating and drafting commercial lending transactions, which of course, you might not have if this is the first job you are applying for in a legal firm. It will be to your benefit to go through the points below to assess well before you take the leap.
Do Your Homework
Yes, more homework. Before applying anywhere, spend time researching the firm’s members, case history, practice specialties, and current cases. Mine the Internet for info, speak to your professors, and reach out to lawyers in the firm to learn all you can. And do this with every firm you are interested in so you can quickly compare and justify your top preference. Have the perfect answer on the tip of your tongue when they ask, ‘Why do you want to work here?’
This profession is notoriously critical, analytic, and detail-oriented. It demands well-polished professionals, and is unforgiving of errors. So don’t give prospective employers the opportunity to criticize. Have a well-groomed resume, dress sharp, make eye contact, project confidence, and demonstrate quick thinking. Practice and prepare for the interview almost as much as you did for the LSAT, and be sure to follow up with a thank you note. Ensure every t is crossed and i dotted.
Networking is essential, so start early. Attend alumni events, connect on social media, follow blogs of practicing lawyers and reach out to them, and open a dialogue with anyone in the industry you can possibly find. Comment regularly on their blog posts, and the blogs they are likely to be reading (stalk them on twitter to find them). Bartend at legal events, caddy for local judges or attorneys – just do whatever you can to get your foot in the door.
Landing that first job at a legal firm requires all the same qualities necessary for landing a competitive job in any industry. The difference, however, is that careers in law are substantially more cutthroat and credential-based than nearly anywhere else in the job market. Of course, there is a vast range of specialisms within the legal sector, many of which don’t demand charismatic and silky tongued pros on their way to arguing in a courtroom. But this job sector is nonetheless something of an Old Boys Club. Anyone without the proper credentials and contacts will have a tough time getting their foot in the door. So remember, it is never too early to start networking, and great jobs in this industry require great persistence.
Tip: You might not have all qualifications and experience to begin your first job at a legal firm but if you have excellent communications skills, you can be a self-starter and have some good examples of work at your college or law school, use these examples to present a strong case to win your next job. After all, you are applying at a law firm and if you can present your case well, you’re a winner already in this career!
About the guest post author:
George is a London-based careers adviser from Legalweekjobs.com – often helping newly qualified applicants get experience in paralegal and junior roles.
What has been your experience during job search in a legal career? Share your thoughts in comments below. Thanks!
An infographic via Telassistant.com: