"Anonymous Law Graduate" Seeking Career Advice:
In the comment thread to an earlier post on interview advice, an "anonymous law graduate" writes:
  I've always wanted to ask something . . . to you, Eugene, and the VC clan. Maybe this is the place to ask it, and you can decide whether it deserves a post of its own. This is a bit off the subject of interviews, but I expect that what I'm about to ask is far more prevalent among law school graduates than seeking a law professor position, since that is so competitive.
  So here goes: What do you suggest for someone who has graduated, who did well but not great, has a job for the time being, but doesn't yet know what he/she really wants to do? Law school is over, and it didn't lead into a specific direction. The job market is tough, and the chances to try different things are few. So I (and many law school colleagues) am in a job that pays the bills, but not one that is likely to become a career.
  What advice do you give people suffering the post-law school blues? I never thought that I would miss law school, but I do. And in looking back I can see the lost opportunities, but it's too late to change that. So...what should an aimless law grad in a dead-end job do to lay a foundation for a fulfilling legal career, when the options are few?
  Unfortunately I don't think I have any special expertise on this issue, as tremendously important as it is. But I do have two quick thoughts before turning this one over to our commenters, who I hope can add more helpful advice.

  My first thought is that a lot depends on what you enjoy. Different people find different things fulfilling, and I would think the first step is to identify the kinds of things you find fulfilling before knowing what options you may want to take. Okay, so this is probably pretty obvious, but I think it's worth being explicit about it.

  My second thought is to give serious consideration to a career in criminal law. That's easy for me to say, I guess: I teach criminal law and I love the stuff, so it's natural for me to want others to get into the area. But I do think that criminal law is a career that a lot of people would enjoy but that most law students and young lawyers don't consider seriously enough. In my experience, most young lawyers who feel pretty aimless followed the crowds and ended up at law firms; if they wanted to do litigation, they ended up with a civil practice that they find less-than-fulfilling.

  In contrast, folks who went into criminal law usually are excited and passionate about what they do. They deal directly with people and their lives; their strengths, their weaknesses, and the power of the state to step in to discover and punish harmful behavior (or the lack of that power). It's compelling stuff: There's a reason why all the TV shows are about criminal law and not civil procedure. It's not for everyone, I realize, but I think it's an unexplored option for a lot of lawyers who are out in the world and realize they need something more.

  Okay, I'll get off my soap box. Readers, what do you think? I'd be especially interested in hearing the views of the happy and fulfilled lawyers among the VC readership. What's your secret?
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
I don't have any sage advice except pay off your loans, find something you would like to do more, and do it.

But I would say this is a nice reminder that way too many people go to law school simply because the practice of law is a "safe" choice and not because they have any real desire to practice law. This is really the sort of conversation that one should have before taking the LSAT.
10.9.2007 10:51pm
I have a related problem, and I'm desperate enough to hope I can maybe get some helpful advice in the comments.

I'm a 3L at a top twenty. I'm an associate editor on the law review, and I'm on track to graduate with honors. As a 1L, I couldn't find any summer work. As a 2L, I took some low-paying part-time work at a small firm; it was all I could find. As a 3L, I'm... quite adrift. OCI isn't interested in 3Ls. My only connections are with those on law review, and I've already exhausted that path. I have absolutely no connections which have a lead for me. I don't have a clear means of developing any connections. The small firm I worked for isn't hiring.

Career services is, as their reputation suggests, completely useless. The only advice they have involves using connections I don't have to get jobs at firms that have already decided not to hire me.

What is a connectionless 3L who lacks job interviewing skills supposed to do? I don't have any geographic or practice restrictions, but I also don't have any geographic or practice connections.
10.9.2007 10:54pm
Gaius Marius:
Go clerk for a state trial court judge who handles a docket filled with both civil and criminal cases.
10.9.2007 11:04pm
Arvin (mail) (www):
3L: Have you tried talking to alumni of your law school? Can you go to social gatherings with lawyers, stuff like that, to develop connections? Long shot, I know, but better than no shot.

At UCLA, there was also a small-firms job fair. And then there's also just blindly writing to firms, promoting yourself, and then following up with phone calls. If you're as good as you say, someone's bound to be interested ere too long. Small and mid-sized firms are probably more likely, I'd guess, but I think those are better to work for anyway.

And if you don't have interview skills, develop them! Practice. Practice. And practice some more. If you have connections with any friendly lawyers (such as those you worked with this summer), take them to lunch and ask them to practice interviewing with you.

Good luck!
10.9.2007 11:07pm
Virginia prosecutor:
I'd like to concur heartily with what Orin said. I too was somewhat aimless and mid-ranked in law school. I did the journal thing and plenty of extracurriculars, but nothing ever grabbed my interest and I wasn't outstanding enough for jobs to come to me. While getting an entry level job at a law firm would have come with time and legwork, I decided to take the plunge and do some criminal work, thinking I'd do it for a few years, and I've never looked back. Even if in the future you decide to do something else, being a prosecutor in a busy state trial court gives you on-your-feet experience you'll take anywhere. And if you get any appellate work out of it, you can take better-honed writing skills to other jobs too. This all goes for doing criminal defense work too.
10.9.2007 11:24pm
JunkYardLawDog (mail):
These are tough questions:

1. Find something you are really passionate about and then figure out how to make money doing that. That is a lot easier said then done, but for those who pull it off they never mind getting up for work in the morning.

2. Read how to win friends and influence people by Dale Carnegie. Then make yourself put it to work in your life. It will change you more than you can imagine, unless you already have fantastic people skills to begin with.

3. Clerking for a state or federal judge might help you build your resume while you figure out what you want to do.

4. Do an LLM might be an option for some.

5. Get an MBA might be another.

6. Start your own law practice or start your own business of any kind that you are passionate about.

Good luck,

Says the "Dog"
10.9.2007 11:24pm
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
Don't do criminal law, trials anyway, but it does seem to have an advantage that you can start out with a prosecutor of PD, get experience and a steady paycheck, and after 5-10 years go into private practice.

But ... I suppose one might note that expecting to graduate and promptly find a job that is emotionally fulfilling, pays well, and doesn't require a lot of hunting around, sounds a bit unrealistic. When I started out, I worked with a small firm (which disintegrated), then part of a four-person firm which we founded (where we had a lot of fun, starved, and which eventually did the same), then a stint in Washington, then government work for a decade, and then back here in solo practice. Can't say as I ever expected someone else to cut the path for me, and thus was never disappointed.
10.9.2007 11:31pm
Gaius-- My understanding is that state trial courts always need clerks, and if I'm willing to relocate away from the popular part of the state, I'll have no troubles picking one up. It doesn't pay enough to live on and pay back my student loan debts, so I'd be pretty much coerced into going into credit card debt to not starve to death. If it comes to that, I'm not sure if it's better to take the clerkship or just do something non-legal that I can live on.

Arvin-- Good idea about contacting the lawyers at my summer firm. I think one or two might be helpful. I've been told blind letters have essentially a 0% success rate, but that wave is going to start in January if I'm still unemployed. Our CSO doesn't hold a lot of fairs or receptions, and our mentor directory is pretty useless, because it's not maintained and many of the email addresses are dead or of people no longer interested in being mentors. As is always the case with CSO, the 'services' provide are smoke and mirrors.
10.9.2007 11:33pm
John (mail):
During my career I had specialized in antitrust and securities work. Then my firm hired some guys to start our bankruptcy practice, and I offered to help out with their litigation needs, heading up what became our bankruptcy litigation group. This involved large corporate reorganizations, not personal chapter 7s, and it was terrific. As well as the stuff you would expect, having to do with creditors' rights, these proceedings involved every field of law that a corporation can be involved with, from labor law, to securities, to antitrust &trade reg, to tax law, to, well, you name it. Moreover, the trial work was always on a hugely compressed time schedule; we had one trial to replace the debtor in possession with a trustee in a multi-hundred million dollar case where the bankruptcy judge gave us a month for discovery, followed by a one-week trial, with us in court about 10-12 hours per day. But then it ended, and one could move on to the next thing, unlike the usual big case that drags on for years and then settles.

Anyway, if a job is available in a big-firm bankruptcy department, I'd take it in a minute. It was intellectually engaging, exciting work, with huge amounts at stake, and very satisfying.
10.9.2007 11:38pm
jim shelton:
This might seem a bit far out, but if you were a very popular person in high school, entertainment law might prove fulfilling.
10.9.2007 11:56pm
Read this. It's long, but well worth it.
10.10.2007 12:12am
Houston Lawyer:
I thought seriously about a career change after about 5 years of practice. About the only other options available that paid as well were in investment banking, and I didn't want to work that hard.

Work hard to become good at your job, whatever it is. It might not excite you, but it will pay the bills. If you are good, it may become a career despite your expectations. And as others have commented, keep your eyes open for opportunities to change the focus of your practice. Many good lawyers just wandered into their specialties by chance.

Like most people, I work because I have to. Some parts of my practice are interesting and some are not. However, I take pride in doing even mundane work well.

Life doesn't owe you an interesting job. Most things that lawyers do are at least mildly interesting, which is more than a lot of people can say about their jobs.
10.10.2007 12:28am

as someone who has most definitely been in your shoes I'd like to say:

(1) don't beat yourself up about "not realizing before law school what this would be like." The fact is that there is really no way you reasonably could have much idea what law practice was like unless maybe you worked in a law firm before law school, which I get the sense very few people do. And even then, you would have just worked on smaller pieces of the puzzle and not really understood how it is.

(2) think of people you are acquainted with who do something that sounds interesting. Make friends with the people you work with- you don't know when you will see them again. Work the connections you have; and most importantly, bust your butt to do the best job you can in the work you have in front of you, even if you don't like it. It DOES make a difference. Even if you're stuck doing document review, if you are a nice guy and the best document reviewer in the room, you have that much going for you.

(3) Keep applying for other legal jobs. Eventually you should find something; even if it is quite different, you know you dislike where you are, so you have little to lose if you seize a new opportunity.

(4) if you think you have any interest in being a litigator, Orin's advice of working your way into criminal law is spot-on. It is great training for juggling a large volume of work, your cases will generally be interesting, and going to court has an energetic vibe, especially for newer lawyers. Prosecutors and public defenders often have turnover and you would be a candidate for a job like that. If you do a stellar job for them, you can be an attractive candidate for other work within a few years, assuming criminal work is not your calling.

(5) lastly, don't get too down about your situation. You are not in prison; you do not work with heavy equipment or fat, stupid people who physically threaten you; you come home from work without scars or dirt on you. You have a job where you use your brain to work. The fact that you have more brains than opportunity to use them, is better than having the opposite problem. And remember that the high early returns for the profession's very top graduates masks a giant disconnect between them and everyone else. You are going to have to work hard and have some luck. But you can make something out of a legal career; you can eventually make a LOT of money and have a job you love.
10.10.2007 12:39am
Ilya Somin:
Dear 3L:

If you are at a top 20 law school and have a good academic record, but aren't getting good job offers, I suspect that your problem is with your interviewing skills and possibly with the formatting and organization of your resume.

The good news is: I had these same exact problems when I was a 2L. They can be fixed. For me, the key problem with interviewing was failure to show enthusiasm for the firms I was talking to. Just being aware of the issue was the key to solving it (I learned to study what the firms I interviewed with do; and to show interest in it during interviews; and to reassure people that I wasn't planning to become an academic ASAP (although actually I did do that, as it turned out:)). Other common interviewing problems are seeming obnoxious, failing to listen to what the interviewers are saying, and interrupting them. All of these problems and others like them can be addressed if you work on them. Trust me, I know!

As for resume formatting, have the OCI and/or a friend with good word processing formatting skills go over your resume. Follow their advice on organization and appearance. It worked for me. If you are nonvisual person like I am, it will help you too.
10.10.2007 12:43am
MLS Grad Student:
I would also point out that law librarianship, particularly at a reference desk for a law library, is an excellent outlet for good research skills and a love for the field. With only a JD, you should be able to work your way into a law firm library. If you enjoy the work and are able to pursue an MLS, you'll be qualified for a wide array of interesting positions. And while universities cannot compare to law firms in terms of pay, job satisfaction can count for quite a lot!
10.10.2007 12:52am
Redlands (mail):
Looking at it broadly, if you are curious about how "things" work (engines, pharmaceuticals, elevators, hydraulics, heart valves, you name it), think about civil practice. If you are a "people person" and intrigued about observing the human condition, go criminal law. If in addition you are competitive, like to think on your feet, enjoy talking to an audience, like being involved in your community, trial practice with the D.A. or Pub. Def's office. One thing is a given: Money is a poor substitute for satisfaction in your work. If you don't enjoy what you're doing you probably won't produce a good work product. Just because you beging in one area of law doesn't mean you can't change course. As someone suggested, find something you are passionate about (and accept the salary as a bonus). As a prosecutor with 25+ years experience I still love trying a case to a jury because not a one has been routine. The only endeavor that has surpassed it in "job satisfaction" has been helping two fantastic daughters get a good start in life.
10.10.2007 12:57am
Realist Liberal:
I would like to second what Prof. Kerr said. I have been interning at the same DA's office for a year now including my 2L summer. If you want to be in court you will definately get that. However, that is not the only option. We have a small but excellent Writs and Appeals Division with some excellent writers. Every DA I know loves their job. The hours are much better than firms and you get to feel like you are actually doing something productive which is helping a broader community. With crimes involving victims, their is also the satisfaction that working with them helps their healing process after being violated in some way.

Of course, like Prof. Kerr, I'm incredibly biased. I've wanted to be a prosecutor since I was about 13. But that is something to seriously consider.
10.10.2007 1:10am
Dave N (mail):
For those interested in the public defender/prosecutor route and like criminal law, I have one other piece of advice: Don't be afraid to work in the rural part of your state. The DAs and public defenders are always looking for attorneys in those locales and the turnover is rather high.

On the plus side, you will handle a wider variety of cases than you ever would in a larger DA office. In my personal experience, I prosecuted a felony jury trial less than a year after graduation and handled the charging, motion practice, and criminal appeal in a capital case less than 3 years after graduating from law school.

This in turn led to my current job with my State Attorney General. It has certainly worked out well for me.
10.10.2007 1:19am
kiniyakki (mail):
My two cents ... go w/ the state trial court clerkship. That is what I did, and now couldn't be happier in a job as a prosecutor. It might not be prestigious, but it puts you in a position that (a) adds something to your resume, (b) pays money, (c) exposes you to a lot of areas of law, (d) has a wide variety fo expieriences, (e) makes connections that might be useful later (I also failed to make any connections in law school), and (f) might allow you to live in a place you would never otherwise live in for a year - which can add some excitement to life after the drudging parts of law school

Regarding the money crunch: Would you rather take another year of money crunch, then get things on track in a direction you want, or drift for several years, and be in the same position you are now? Also, lots of state court clerks pick up second jobs (which usually must be approved) at random places - waitress, stores employee, etc. Something like that might add some cash - even if it takes time away from your life. Finally, the pay is sometimes not that bad - even if it won't let you buy a solid gold crapper.
10.10.2007 2:26am
Brian G (mail) (www):
I wonder how old the 3L is. I had 32 interviews and 32 rejections before I got the job I have know. I kept all the letters. My firm hired me as a clerk after my second year and kept me on as an associate after I graduated. (In 2 1/2 years, I might add. Someone told me that the 3L year would be long and boring, so get it done early, and boy were they right).

I was at a bar function where there was heavy drinking going on. (I know, you are shocked that lawyers imbibe). I saw a guy I interviewed with, a guy I thought was going to hire me my interview went so well. Since he was halfway in teh tank, I bought him another Crown Royal and then asked him why they went with the other person. He told me that they decided I was too old for the. I was 34 at the time. I then ran into another guy I interviewed at a scheduling conference and on the way I out I asked him the same thing, and he gave me the same answer.

Also, in my experience, 90 percent of the firms have their mind made up before you walk in the door.
10.10.2007 2:50am
3L, my recommendation is to send out resumes and, like Ilya said, to practice interviewing.

I was a top 10% law reviewer at a top ten school. After OCI of roughly 20 interviews, I got precisely 1 callback. As a federal appellate clerk, I received four callbacks and two job offers. Even the best credentials will not ensure packs of employers at your door.

At the same time, if you have the credentials that you say you do, you are prefectly employable without any type of connections anywhere and, yes, even as a 3L. You just need some preserverence. I can vouch that plenty of firms I personally know will hire a honors graduate of a top 20 school (I mean a real top 20, like Texas or UCLA, not a school that weaves in and out of 20th spot every 5 years) even if they had no connections whatsoever.
10.10.2007 4:06am
Arvin (mail) (www):
3L: Why wait 'til January? If you've got nothing going on now, start now. Don't just send generic letters. Figure out why you'd be good for a small firm and tell them why you're interested in them. Yes, 99% will end up in the trash. But maybe you'll hit that one that's looking for someone and sees your resume and thinks why not, let's e-mail him back.

Second, don't just rely on mentor directories. Use google (or martindale, if such functionality is built in). Search for lawyers that went to your school. Maybe find someone who used to be on law review, so you'll have that connection. Then e-mail or call them. I've had people call me who went to my UNDERGRAD, looking for jobs. I know lawyers who say that when they get a call from someone from their alma mater, they at least try to pay a little more attention. Again, are you going to strike out 99% of the time? Yes. But you're looking for the 1%. And try, if possible, to disguise the desperate, I just need a job, vibe. At least in a small firm, you're probably less likely to get a response if they sense it.
10.10.2007 4:20am
Public_Defender (mail):
1) My most important piece of advice: Live on a lot less money than you make. It gives you the flexibility to help you pay off loans, build savings, and avoid the golden (or silver) handcuffs of a higher paying job.

2) If you are thinking about criminal law, take some time and hangout in the courthouse. Talk to the criminal lawyers on both sides. Watch what they do both in the courtroom and in the hallway. Join the local or state criminal defense lawyers association and go to meetings or CLE.

If you show up at bars around the courthouse, you'll likely find a bunch of the same lawyers.

3) If you want to dabble in criminal law, consider taking a few appointed cases. They won't pay much, but they'll give you an idea of the economics. If you've followed my advice in point 2, you'll likely have found a bunch of lawyers willing to give you a ton a free advice on the practicalities.

4) If your dabbling makes you happy, consider putting up a shingle. Lots of lawyers do it, but you have to love (or at least be able to tolerate) the business side of law practice. Again, you'll probably find lots of local lawyers willing to give you time and advice on how to do it.

5) If you find that you enjoy criminal law, consider applying to the prosecutor's or public defender's office. But don't do that if you are just looking for a job. The paycheck isn't enough of a reward. You have to love it. I see too many transcripts of defense attorneys who are just going through the motions. And my client almost always benefits when my opposing counsel is a prosecutor who just does it for the paycheck.
10.10.2007 6:59am
anon law grad (mail):
I was the "anon law grad" who posted the comment on another thread that led to this one. I just wanted to thank Orin for creating this new thread, and thank all the commenters.
If I could follow-up on the advice offered by Orin and others here. I have thought about seeking a criminal prosecution job. But my resume doesn't have much (other than some crim classes with good grades) that stands out in that direction.
Some commenters here have mentioned the importance of practicing your interviewing skills. So I'd like to ask, what are the particular skills and attributes one should display in an interview for a prosecutor's position? Other than the normal skills that apply to all legal job interviews, are there other things that should be emphasized?
A few prosecutors have commented here, and I'd be interested in them saying more. If you were the interviewer, what would you look for in a prosecutor? (I'm not asking this so that I can come up with contrived responses. I am genuinely interesting in criminal prosecution, but that door didn't open before I got my current job, and I'm not sure how to make the transition. My current job is miles away from criminal prosecution.)
Thanks again to Orin and the VC commenters.
10.10.2007 7:03am
Ben P (mail):
I suppose I'm about the same spot, or will be.

I'm a 2L at a big state law school that's closer to weaving in and out of the top 100 than the top 20. I'm in the the top 15% of my class and on law review, and I've done 18 On campus job interviews and sent out 10 or so more resumes, with a few more still coming.

All I'm working on so far is a nice stack of rejection letters, some of which I got literally days after the interview.
10.10.2007 10:09am
Anon law grad,

Don't worry that you didn't take classes in criminal law. As someone who pretty much fell into a DA job, I'll tell you that it's not necessary to have done all the classes and workshops. Most of my classes were in international corporate law! But DA and PD offices are usually fairly high in turnover and thus always on the look-out for fresh blood. I went in pretty honest that I was interested in getting trial experience and trying new things, and I walked out with the job. Much to my surprise, I fell completely in love with it and can't imagine doing anything else now!

As another poster pointed out, DA/PDs aren't all about trial, too. I work in appeals, so I spend most of my time researching and writing. Having those skills can be valuable. In smaller offices, you don't have separate appellate sections and have to be prepared to do all your own appeals, so being able to go between trial and appellate work is a definite bonus.
10.10.2007 10:34am
3L, like Ilya, I had a similar problem to yours: in the middle of my 2L year, I didn't have a summer job offer. I wasn't a very good interviewer, I think because I generally conveyed that I was "too cool for school."

I believe you underestimate the benefits of blind letters. A success rate of 1% or even half a percent rate is all you need. In my case, I sent letters to every "going rate" firm in New York City. (My father was a lawyer: his personal connections weren't of any use, but his secretary's word processor certainly was. But now, anyone can do that.) And I got a summer job, although the hiring season was officially over, which led to permanent job offer, etc.

If you are at a real top 20 law school and have the credentials you say, I would choose the nearest big city or cities and send blind letters to every biglaw or "going rate" firm. Like some of the other commentators, I would do it now. The more time passes, the more firms decide that they have all they need. Also like some of the other commentators, I would identify alumni of your law school (don't rely on Career Placement, use Martindale and the firms' websites) and write directly to them. Make sure your cover letter says what you said here: "honors graduate" and "law review."

Also echoing some other commentators, don't act desperate. Remember, it's not lying when you are in a job interview, it's just "puffing." Try to imply that you have an offer from the firm where you worked, but that you're not sure it's right for you. Maybe suggest that you thought a small firm was what you wanted, but now you've changed your mind. (If you are interviewing with a small firm, explain that that's what you really want. If you're interviewing with a small office of a big national firm, explain how perfect that is. Etc.) Also mention that you have been interviewing with the other biglaw firms in the city (which will be true after you have blanketed them with resumes). Don't seem desperate, but definitely don't act like I used to, that you're really too cool to care about a job.
10.10.2007 10:39am
JW in Fla.:
I recently graduated from a law school ranked around 90 in USN&WR. While I was able to get a great job out of school, a lot of my classmates are still struggling. They seem to suffer from the same issues as the original commentor.

The biggest difference between my classmates who are employed and those who aren't has to be that the employed ones made some decisions.

The original commentor (and a lot of recent grads) wants someone to tell them what to do. Like someone told them to go to college, then told them to go to law school. If you make some decisions (like where you'd like to live, what areas you'd like to practice in, or even how much money you need to make) you'd find that your job search becomes a whole lot more manageable.

Stop waiting for other people to tell you what to do. You've got a J.D., you're at least 25 years old, and you really ought to starting making decisions on your own.
10.10.2007 10:40am
Another Cornellian (mail):
Two pieces of advice for 3Ls struggling in the job hunt.

If you think that cold calling places with form letters and resumes yields a 0% success rate, I think you're letting laziness trump effort. Sure you may get one bite in a hundred (literally), but the one bite is more than nothing at all. I'm an ok student (3L) at a mid-level state school. This August I sent out about 150 letters to firms in a broad geographic area. I used various web resources to find firms who did what I want to do and drafted a letter that was 90% form, 10% unique. It took me hours upon hours to put it all together. In the end I got 4 callbacks out of it. Through OCI I got exactly 1 interview and no callbacks.

Another strategy that I know has been successful for my classmates is to use martindale to find alumni in an geographic area you want to practice. Email them and say you go to their school, are looking for a job, and would love to talk about how to break into the XYZ market as a first year. You know lawyers love to talk about themselves and this is a shameless opportunity to let them do it. Take them to lunch, learn from them, impress them, and you'd be surprised how many will ask for your resume and set you up with an interview.
10.10.2007 11:10am
Prosecutorial Indiscretion:
I love my job. I knew for awhile that I wanted to be a prosecutor for awhile, but I never expected it would affect me so thoroughly and make me so happy. My mentor explains it like this: It's not what you do, it's who you are.

That said, there are way too many people who go to law school because it seems like a better idea than a job at the time (and they're not very good at science and math). Prelaw folks on the board should take note of the cautionary tale. Law school is great if you want to be a lawyer. It's not such a good idea if you just want something to do after graduation. My impression is that most people who stumble into the law, as opposed to embracing it wholeheartedly, are pretty miserable, at least for the years it takes them to sort their lives out and flee Biglaw.
10.10.2007 11:25am
JosephSlater (mail):
One question is how geographically flexible the student in question is. Washington, DC, for example, has all sorts of non-traditional law jobs (all sorts of government agencies, a huge range of non-profits); some other areas are like that, but in many parts of the country, there are fewer types of options.

Without knowing where this student wants to work, or what his/her interests are, all I'll add to the posts written above is that the first job is (typically) the hardest to get, but you (probably) won't be doing that job the rest of your life. When I took my first job out of law schook I thought, "gee, if I don't quit and they don't fire me, I'll be doing this for the rest of my life. How weird." But of course, many-most lawyers change jobs.

So even if the first job isn't ideal, remember, you can (and probably will) move on later to something you like more. And after getting the first job, you'll have a better sense of what you like, and you'll probably be more attractive to other employers than a complete rookie would be.
10.10.2007 11:43am
Daniel San:
Keep in mind that a J.D. can be a valuable asset outside of the practice of law. That can give you an advantage. But you need to know what you want to do before you can pursue it.

Ever think about private practice? You need to save your pennies first. In the first year, you will be doing well to pay your expenses (even if you run a bare-bones operation). But there is a lot of satisfaction in it.

Are you ties to the notion of living in a major urban area? There are many small towns (<10,000) that would welcome a new lawyer and work would be immediately available. If you aren't so great at interviewing or working a crowd, a smaller setting might appeal to your strengths.

I agree that criminal law is a lot of fun. In a rural area, you quickly get to know all the players (including the frequent defendants). If you serve your clients well, it doesn't take long to start to build a reputation.
10.10.2007 12:20pm
Hattio (mail):
I have to second not underestimating blind submissions. I went to law school in Chicago, but wanted to move back to Alaska where I was from. Over Christmas break I printed off 150 or so resumes, got the Lawyer's phone book, and dropped one off (personally) at every law firm in Anchorage and Fairbanks (the two major cities). I only got three interviews and one job offer, but it was enough to get me started.

I also have to second trying small town law. You will typically do a little bit of everything. Finally, if you're worried about money, and want to stick at your same job, you can always do pro bono work. Take on one criminal case, then a divorce, etc. (assuming your firm lets you).
10.10.2007 1:07pm
Xanthippas (mail) (www):

I was at a bar function where there was heavy drinking going on. (I know, you are shocked that lawyers imbibe). I saw a guy I interviewed with, a guy I thought was going to hire me my interview went so well. Since he was halfway in teh tank, I bought him another Crown Royal and then asked him why they went with the other person. He told me that they decided I was too old for the. I was 34 at the time. I then ran into another guy I interviewed at a scheduling conference and on the way I out I asked him the same thing, and he gave me the same answer.

Oh great. I'm 33, have one kid and another on the way, and need a job to make ends meet.
10.10.2007 1:17pm
Benjamin Davis (mail):
1. If you have a job and were rejected by another firm/job that you really really liked, stay in touch with those people and mention to them how much you liked them. Decisions of yes and no at the margins are so close that you might get hired by the firm you preferred a year later. I interviewed on campus with a firm with a Paris office and went far without an offer. Two years later, in Paris, I interviewed with them and got an offer (I think the gumption to get myself set up in Paris convinced them I was not just another American who wanted to hang out in Paris but really wanted to make my way there).

2. If you wake up and do not like your job, change to something that seems closer to what you like (my contracts professor's advice which has stood me in very good stead all these years later). The reason is that all you have to sell post-law school is the skill at doing something that you seem to hate doing. That is not a good spot. Look at all the tasks you have had and try to identify the things you like or do not like in doing those tasks. Then try to identify jobs in which there are much more of the things that you like then where you are now.

3. Ask advice like this. Find people in the field and explain to them what you are interested in and what advice might they give on how to get there. Do not ask them for a job - have to let them relax. If they have a job they'll tell you.

4. Do not let the bills dictate your life or else your life will be spent paying bills instead of living.

5. Stay strong.


10.10.2007 1:27pm
Susan Cartier Liebel (mail) (www):
3L (and all those in a similar situation)...there are many law students who are not singularly focused upon graduation or not top tier who still have to search for and create their future upon graduation. I teach many of them in my course at Quinnipiac University School of Law.

So many new grads change their minds upon graduation or are following another's idea of professional success or are hit by a 2 x 4 regarding the job market and their place in it. More than half the countries private practice attorneys are solos and I don't think most expected to go that route..but life has a funny way of thrusting things upon us, opportunities in the disguise of dissatisfaction or disappointment. It's not about finding your passion so much as figuring out what you want to be in all areas of life. If professional and personal are out of sync, no job, no choice will feel right. There will still be tensions.

If you have any interest in creating your own practice, check out my blog strictly for information on solos who have done it, faced similar challenges and upsets post-graduation, some myth busting, how law school wasn't really your friend once you graduated, as well as handling student loans while you digest the disappointments of the job market and much more. This is not a solicitation in any way shape or form. There are just a lot of ideas and inspirations to make you feel not so alone as well as great links to articles and other bloggers who discuss important post-graduation issues who also have valuable advice. Hope this helps.

Susan Cartier Liebel

"You were born an original; don't die a copy." John Mason

Build A Solo Practice, LLC
Newly Minted or Well Seasoned,
Teaching You How to Create and Grow Your Legal Practice
10.10.2007 1:48pm
About to spread my wings:
Because of age discrimination, (yes, I was on law review, etc., and interviewers from the State Attorney's Office and the public defender's office explicitly asked me how old I am...I'm in my mid-40s), I wasn't hired to be a prosecutor or public defender and wound up being a commercial litigator. Oh well, I'm planning opening up my own firm,figuring it'll at least be more fun to do things my way. On to the mad scramble for clients!
10.10.2007 1:51pm
southerngal (mail):
I would advise jobless 2Ls and 3Ls to apply in their home town or home state. I was a jobless 3L and got a clerkship with my state supreme court, which convinced firms that I did want to be in my state and that I had some valuable experience and insight. It paid very little and I racked up the CC debt. But, now I'm in a firm in my home town and I'm paying it off slowly. If you apply in random places, no one thinks you are serious. Have an actual good, concrete reason why you are applying where you are and put it in your cover letter.
10.10.2007 2:04pm
Change Professions:
Anyone who is a jobless 2L - it is not too late to quit.

Just look at these articles:

(1) Out-sourcing law jobs

(2) Debt and lack of job prospects for all but a few top law school graduates.

(3) "Salaries" at the top ID dumps in NYC - a fair number of these "firms" are asking for Law Review students.

(4) As for a prosecutorial job - well traditionally DA offices are very regional and require some ties to the area. SO if you go to a middling school in a large market - you will be shut out because of a large number of qualified candidates from higher ranked schools. And you won't be able to transition to a smaller market, because you probably have no ties to that area. But if your school is in a smaller market around a local DA's office - well then you might have a shot, but good luck paying off 150K of debt!
10.10.2007 4:49pm
Anon. VA Atty:
I would second those who say try state court clerkships, especially if you don't know what you want to do, since it will give you exposure to many types of law. As a clerk you likely will get to observe more motions and jury trials than many Big Law partners have ever participated in. The pay isn't great, but it's only for a year and you can probably structure your loans on the graduated income repayment plan and make it work. You will also get exposure to a lot of local attorneys who may know of jobs in the city you want to relocate to.
10.10.2007 6:38pm
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
Also look into federal agency work. The website is or maybe Keyword search for "attorney." Lots of jobs there (and tons of them if you have background in labor law, which every agency needs).
10.11.2007 1:37am
Public_Defender (mail):
The idea of a state court clerkship is really smart. A lot of trial judges would love to have someone with firm experience. And you will get exposure to the entire range of litigation that lawyers do.

As to prosecutors offices, we all missed one important point. Many prosecutors are elected. Some hire professionals, others hire party hacks. My sense is that most hire a mix of both.

If you are the same party as the elected prosecutor, that could help you get in the door, but if you play that card, your job will be at greater risk when the office gets a new elected prosecutor (and it will eventually get a new elected prosecutor).

Finally, I repeat my most important advice to someone unhappy in a firm job--live on a lot less than your income. Having that flexibility is always a good idea, but you really need it if you are looking to change.
10.11.2007 5:42am
NickM (mail) (www):
Don't forget about insurance defense firms. The pay is better than government work, and many of them have very high turnover. If you're able to clerk part-time during school, that is a huge plus for many of them.

10.11.2007 11:07pm
ChrisPer (mail):
Three things:
1) Volunteer work is a way to start working, even if it isn't paid. You will get respect, contacts and some very valuable experience if you choose a suitable organisation and put in good work. The references are potentially as good as work references.
2) join Toastmasters, if you still need to develop in confident public speaking and thinking on your feet.
2) Read Robert Kelley's How to be a Star at Work for a great insight on what really works in work. It isn't about job hunting, but making a real contribution, and it has some startling good news for mature-age and minority students.
10.14.2007 3:10am