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The Wrong Way To Apply For A Job

Every now and then, I receive letters or emails from people who have recently graduated from law school and are looking for legal jobs.  No question, it’s tough out there for new law school graduates.  The Great Recession and the tepid recovery has taken a toll on the availability of entry level legal positions.  Even when there are open positions law firms, large and small, tend to hire experienced lawyers because there are experienced lawyers out there to hire.  The market for newly admitted lawyers is so bad, in fact, that people who know what they’re talking about have advocated that people should stop going to law school altogether (unless you can go to a Top 50 law school without taking on debt)

So, the market for new lawyers is terrible and, if you have not graduated in the top 25% of your class from a Tier 1 law school, you’re probably going to have to hunt for a job.  But the worst possible job hunting strategy is to blindly send form letters/emails to hundreds of attorneys asking them to hire you.  That never works.  If anything, it’s probably counter-productive.

To illustrate why this strategy never works, here is a (paraphrased) excerpt of a letter I  received from a recent law school graduate:

I would like to apply for the open position in your law firm.  I have always been interested in corporate law and litigation and think I would be an asset to your firm.  In law school, I took these classes [lists classes] and participated in these activities [lists activities].  Please let me know when you would have time to schedule a call to discuss this further.

We don’t have, and have never advertised for, an “open position.”  We don’t practice “corporate law.”  And if you can get through an entire letter to us without once mentioning “employment law,” you would not be the right fit for any open position that we did have.

My goal is not to be overly-critical of a new lawyer who needs a job and probably sent out these letters based on some bad advice from a career counseling person somewhere.  I simply want to highlight a strategy that does not work and call attention to some strategies people might try instead.

The first thing a new law grad might try is blogging about the area of law and market they’re interested in.  For example, if you’re interested in working as an employment lawyer in Charlotte, start a blog summarizing and commenting on all of the new 4th Circuit and Supreme Court employment law decisions.  I would read that blog, and I bet a lot of my colleagues would as well. That puts you on the right radar.

Second, you might offer legal research/writing or document review services on a project by project or per diem basis.  When they get busy, solos and small firms are sometimes willing to pay to have someone do a few hours of research on a topic and/or take a first cut at drafting something.  It’s a good way to start getting paid and get lawyers in the community familiar with you and your work.

Third, target underserved markets and practices.  Your ultimate goal might be to practice in x market in y practice area.  And that’s fine.  But your first legal job is the toughest to get.  You may need to be flexible to get some experience and start making contacts.

Finally, network, network, network.  Go to CLEs, bar events, anywhere that you’ll have a chance to talk face-to-face with lawyers in your market.  It’s nearly impossible to make an impression in an email or a letter.  But if you’re personable and get someone engaged in a conversation, they might remember you down the road.

No strategy is fool proof and there is no precise formula for finding a job.  But the shotgun approach of blindly sending out form letters definitely does not work.