LL.M.s: When effort is not enough

By Desiree Jaeger-Fine


Sometimes doing your best is not good enough. Sometimes you must do what is required.

― Winston S. Churchill

We grew up with the mantra that all that matters is that we give our best, that trying hard above all else will be richly rewarded. But that is not always true.

Churchill said: “Sometimes doing our best is not enough, sometimes we must do what is required.” And when it comes to pursuing a career in the U.S. as an LL.M. graduate this quote should be written on every student’s bathroom mirror. We are living in an environment where an LL.M. student’s pure effort is not enough. Trying hard and giving our best is admirable and important but not the whole success equation.

What else is there to do if you have already given your best? We must reach deep within ourselves and do the thing we did not think we could do – we must do what is required. One example that shows this particularly well is the necessity for LL.M. students to network.

LL.M. students are told from the very first day at law school that networking will be the differentiator between success and failure. Most LL.M. students either ignore this advice or think that they are one of the few who will show the school otherwise. The most common reply by an LL.M. student when confronted with the advice to network is: “I am just not comfortable doing this. At home, we don’t do it like that. I am sure I can find a job my way.”

You can give your absolute best, but if you don’t do what is required, you won’t succeed. Effort only really matters if it is combined with actual learning about what works and what doesn’t. If you want to run a marathon, it doesn’t matter that you work hard at lifting weights at the gym every day. It will not help you run a marathon. The same is true for your LL.M. study. It doesn’t matter that you have good grades and send 300 job applications. If you don’t do what is required – networking – you most likely won’t succeed.

Now I know from experience that this advice usually initiates a response such as “but a friend of mine had a friend who found a job by applying for a job posted on Symplicity.” That is wonderful for the friend of the friend but does an exception really invalidate a rule? We must decide for ourselves what it is we want to do: Do what is required or hope to be the lucky exception?

Desiree Jaeger-Fine is principal of Jaeger-Fine Consulting, LLC, a career management firm for international attorneys in New York, and author of "A Short & Happy Guide to Networking" (West Academic Publishing) and "A Short & Happy Guide to Being Hired" (West Academic Publishing).