5 tips on how to land a legal job

By Mark Newall and Colleen Torell

It is a new world for law professionals. In the past, a J.D. degree was a guaranteed job offer before the new law graduates donned their caps and gowns and law professionals did not need to network, in the traditional sense of the word, as they could usually find their next position while still at their current job – no LinkedIn necessary. But now, especially for recent law school graduates they need to utilize conventional job search techniques in order to land a job that utilizes their law degree. Implement these six proven methods to amplify and accelerate your job search.

1. Assessment: What Are Your Selling Points?

It is important to know and tout your strongest assets. If you cannot identify your strong points, how will potential employers know? Take stock of your experiences to date and inventory your accomplishments. Assess your technical skills, strengths, and interests so that you can tell your story and explain to prospective employers how you will bring value to the company. This does not mean one should brag, job seekers must accurately, albeit humbly, convey to the potential employer how you will benefit the company by providing concrete examples of past successes.

Develop a comfortable, confident way of describing your career and volunteer experience since law school. For example, if you have taken jobs that are departures from your planned track and want to get ‘back on track’, what are you doing to gain experience in those core areas?

It is a very difficult market, so you must be able to list why you are the best candidate for the position. What differentiates you from your competitors? Perhaps you speak multiple languages? Do you have legal or unique experiences to discuss? Are you willing to relocate? 

It is a hard truth, but a law degree is a tough thing to have nowadays. Overloaded with thousands of dollars in debt and only a few job prospects that require a law license, many law graduates are looking for ways to manage their careers. The legal profession has been in a decline since the 2008 recession, and the harsh job market has shown few signs of a robust recovery.  Only 40 percent of law graduates from 2010 are working in law firms, compared with 60 percent from the class a decade earlier. 

2. Developing Your Job Search (a.k.a. Marketing) Tools

All job seekers, including attorneys, must develop their job search (a.k.a. marketing) documents. One must develop a solid resume and LinkedIn profile that communicates accomplishments, strengths and interests. It’s rarely enough to separate yourself from the pack merely by providing a list of tasks you were assigned.  Think broadly:

 - What did you do to make a process more efficient? 

 - What novel idea did you bring to the table when working in groups? 

 - Where did you take on more than what was required by your job description? 

 - Can you point to a product, process or situation that was improved by your involvement? 

Do not underestimate the value that your non-law school and non-legal experiences represent. Assume you are competing with many other applicants with achievements like high academic performance, journal membership, and professional accomplishments just as impressive as yours. You need understand what will make you stand out. We’ve seen hiring decision-makers pitch passionately for applicants who worked part-time as bartenders, played competitive sports and found success in pre-law school, non-legal careers—experiences that hiring managers see as insights into a candidate’s drive, interpersonal and communication skills, performance under pressure, mindset and potential.

3. Networking – Some Whys and Hows

For many, conducting a typical job search starts and ends with reacting to job postings or working with a few recruiters, but a well-rounded job search requires much more action on your part. Data shows that 70-80% of jobs are found through networking. Developing a strong resume and LinkedIn profile are critical first steps to marketing yourself to potential employers. Once those materials are in place, you must do more than submit applications and cross your fingers.

Put yourself in a recruiter’s shoes. Recruiters typically receive 50 resumes within one week of posting a job description online and then they need to phone screen no more than five (fortunate) individuals. How do they define the short list?

Step one: compare the resumes to the job description. Step two: compare the remaining resumes against each other. How would your candidacy fare in paper-to-paper combat when their goal is to rule out more than they rule in?

Now consider that between steps one and two, a respected employee arrives in the recruiter’s office saying they just met you (a great potential candidate) for coffee and they think you, your style and your skills would be a perfect addition to the team. If you’re the one person who has been called out in a personal referral, you will have an advantage over your peers in the application competition. Don’t be just a piece of paper to prospective employers.

When you research target companies, it is vital to do your homework and find out if there is anyone you know who can serve as a bridge to those who are involved in hiring. Use LinkedIn as a tool to accelerate your research into how you might be connected to a target company or role. Many attorneys do not use LinkedIn to network or to search for jobs, but they should, and neglecting this tool is a major misstep. LinkedIn is the premier database built by and for its members who represent countless professions and industries, and hiring managers with open positions to fill will likely tap into their network before looking at their own applicant tracking systems.

Make sure that your LinkedIn profile is more than just a placeholder – as it represents you and your experience. Work to get all or most of these items completed:

1. A professional headshot

2. Recommendatios from previous employers and undergraduate and law school professors

3. Join an alumni or professional group that demnstrates your network involvement

4. Build up your LinkedIn connections into the hundreds

Also, an important step is to make the most your current relationships. Note: quality trumps quantity. Each connection should memorialize an acquaintance who you feel comfortable tapping into for help and offering assistance in return. There are occasional exceptions, especially as it may relate to connecting with a recruiter.

Identify and contact a mentor, perhaps from law school, a past employer or an internship, and garner networking, job search advice and potential contacts from them. Mentors can come from anywhere and need not have been formally assigned. Often, people from your past who you view as a mentor will be flattered that you see them this way, and may be willing to help you.

4. Interview Prep

“So, tell me about yourself.” Many interviews begin with this simple request. The goal of your answer is to leave the listener intrigued and interested in learning more about you. Do not merely summarize your life since college. Open your response by framing your current skills and expertise in themes relevant to the role you seek.

Answer in 90-120 seconds in the following format:

 1. A one sentence description of yourself: “I am an accomplished attorney who focuses on meeting and exceeding clients’ expectations by assuring them that all issues will be carefully examined and I will work tirelessly to . . . ."

 2. List your primary work experiences, organizations and roles - and be specific. Select the ones that are most relevant to this position, then perhaps add one or two others. Use some aspects and/or qualities from your resume summary.

3. Indicate your success at an organization. What was the before/after that you can outline to show the value that you brought to the role? When you look back on each responsibility think about how you improved, what you learned, and who you helped.

4. Express why this role is particularly interesting to you. Connect the dots for the interviewer. Tie together how your skills and experience are directly related to the company’s needs.

5. Create dialogue. Ask “Did I answer your question?” or “Would you like me to expand on anything?” to keep the conversation flowing.

Once you have this down, prepare to answer what are known as behavioral interview questions, those which seek responses based on concrete examples of how you have acted under particular circumstances in the past.

In addition to being skilled with behavioral interview questions, successful candidates should also think of ways where they can differentiate themselves from other candidates. While becoming an attorney is certainly a great accomplishment, one should consider how their undergraduate degree or how earlier jobs in business also provide them with an edge.

5. Utilize a Recruiter or a Career Management Consultant

Recruiters generally work with people who already have some level of experience in the types of roles in which they seek to be placed. Even if they don’t have positions available that fit your background, many recruiters will provide a helpful overview of the market, and this information may assist you in changing the direction and/or increase your marketing efforts to find greater success. 

Career management consultants will evaluate and provide advice on how to improve your resume and your job search from strategy to execution. A career consultant will help you put your best foot forward, create robust marketing documents (think resume, LinkedIn profile and a networking plan), present your story in terms of past, present and future, and learn best practices for networking, interviewing and negotiation. If it is not possible for you to partner with a private career consultant, start off by researching the resources that your law school and undergraduate alma maters offer to alumni.

The current job realm is extremely challenging and legal professionals need to step outside their traditional comfort zone by following these job search, professional marketing and networking protocols to expedite their next job offer.

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Mark Newall is Senior Vice President and Colleen Torell is J.D. Vice President, Keystone Associates Legal

Keystone Associates Legal offers in-depth and specialized career management solutions for attorneys and legal professionals at all levels. Keystone Associates Legal’s service offerings include outplacement, coaching, leadership development, retirement, and career reinvention. Each program is tailored to meet the unique needs of lawyers, legal professionals, corporate, non-profit, and government legal department professionals as they strive to achieve their career goals. www.keystoneassociateslegal.com