Section Review

Finding Your Legal Career During a Recession

Finding a job is hard work. Finding a job you like is harder work still. And finding a job you like in the middle of the economic crisis in which we are now mired may be the hardest work of all, perhaps the hardest job anyone has had in a long time. This is equally true for those trying to find their first job, for those looking to transition jobs or careers or for those seeking their last job, before retirement. No industry has been left unaffected, as job slashing and salary cutting are superficially effective measures for combating losses in other sectors. Within the legal profession, finding a new job may seem nigh impossible, especially in Massachusetts. This past year, the commonwealth saw an 86.4 percent bar passage rate for the July test, the results of which indicate that there will be scads of attorneys joining the job hunt here at the dawn of 2009. But, the dawn brings with it enlightenment.

The fact of the matter is that, has always been that, finding a job is possible in almost any economic climate. And, finding a job becomes more and more likely, more probable, when the correct investment is made in the process. Regardless of the interruption, recession or depression, companies will always choose the candidates who make the best general impression following the application and interview(s). Opportunities may shrink, but that only means that your job seeking skills must be more finely sharpened, further refined, such that you might slip in through your limited windows of opportunity, when they become opened for you. You must be a lean and mean job searching machine.

Everything on Earth seems to be more sophisticated than it was but 10 years ago. And, the job application process has not been left unaffected, either. If everyone else is increasing their savvy, moxie and technical abilities, so should you, lest you be left behind, with your graying, antiquated skills. It is no longer enough to send the same resume, even if you have printed it upon the finest linen paper, to each job offering you run across. There is much, much more to today's job seeking. And, you don't have to have a job posting in front of you to begin. You can start as early as you want to, even if you want to start the day you walk into law school for the first time.

But, all of this requires rethinking the ways in which we approach searching for a job; most especially, it requires us to change our attitude toward the job searching process, so that we might remake ourselves over, from passive participants in our careers to proactive managers of our careers. Fortunately, the leap is assisted: there is an aid for study.

The fifth edition incarnation of the American Bar Association (hereinafter "the ABA") treatise on finding a legal job,

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At times, this book does read like a how-to written by the child of an unholy union between Friedrich Nietzsche and Vince Lombardi. But, once you grasp the overarching concepts that the authors seek to drive home, you may process to the nuts-and-bolts directory, remembering Plato as only a colorful modeling clay. And, there is plenty here to sink your teeth into.

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In addition to the headline topics generally covered by the

In any economic climate, those who get the jobs will separate themselves most effectively from their competitors during the job application and interview processes. In an economic recession, during which the job market reveals itself in fits and starts, and through concealed cracks and shafts of daylight, separation becomes more distinct and hierarchies of skills and attributes are more closely analyzed and tiered. It will still be that those who get the jobs will be those who separate themselves most effectively from their competitors; but, the margin for error will be reduced. Now you are the student attempting to get into an Ivy League college by proving to the administration that this is the year that they must provide a scholarship to the tuba playing high school javelin star with an interest in invertebrate biology, which figure is cut by you, and you alone. In the same way, you must convince your targeted legal employers that you are the only one who suits their needs.

The Legal Career Guide: From Law Student to Lawyer, is ostensibly a chronological recording of steps to be taken by law students in order that they might one day find the legal career that they have always dreamed of. And, if you take up the text, and read from cover to cover, that is exactly what you will find. Such a review could result in looks of disdain covering the features of law school graduates, and practicing attorneys, who might feel as though they have missed the boat, and are now left without a life preserver, by virtue of the mere chance that they did not start law school in 2008. The authors of the text (ABA stalwarts Gary A. Munneke and Ellen Wayne), though, warn against such a limited reading. They insist that readers should pick out sections of the book as they need them, such that those who inquire of the text in this way will begin to hold in their hands not a stuffy legal text, but a field guide for the job search, to be accessed at any point in the job search, and by any law student or attorney seeking a new position. Viewed in this light, the advice is generic enough to the legal profession that it may be applied to various life circumstances, from those prevailing upon the student to those prevailing upon the old salt, to those prevailing upon everyone in between.Guide's greatest strength resides in its three-pronged lesson, consisting of the following trident points: be yourself; prepare yourself; work hard. It is a humanist application of the ideal of the Trappist monastery. Before you may reach to the specific lessons for job searching robustly covered in the Guide, you must find the wisdom left for you at the very top of the mountain. The points are simple, but rest on solid bedrock. How are you to know what job you want unless you know what your own values are? How are you to sell yourself as a unique person unless you know what skills you, and only you, possess? Know Thyself. And, Introduce Thyself to Others, sayeth the Guide. How can you know whether you wish to work at a company unless you have researched it thoroughly beforehand? How can you expect to know what to say in an interview for a judicial clerkship if you have not reviewed that specific form of interviewing, and have done no research on the proclivities of the particular judge and court? Preparation is Nine-Tenths of the Law. Why Wouldn't You Treat an Interview Like an Important Case? Measure Nine Times, Cut Once, thunders the voice of Gary Munneke, from the mountain. You thought law school was hard, involving intense study and grueling hours, and yet you think that somehow the legal job search will be different? Your work as an attorney involves intense concentration and grueling hours, and yet you think finding a new job will somehow be different? Finding a Legal Job Is a Full-Time Job Unto Itself. Best to Ora et Labora. Then Labora Some More. Thus spake Ellen Wayne.Guide will show you how to make the best analysis, from the point in time at which you stand, as to what the appropriate direction of your career should be. The answer will be determined by your own values, your interpretation of your skills and your assessment of the job market. The Guide will show you how to look for jobs, and how to decide which one to take, by showing you how to draft a resume, research employers, create a network and interview effectively. Along the way, you will pick up helpful hints about the hiring process for law firms and other entities, you will find out where to look for aid should your search falter or waiver and you will learn how to manage the setbacks that inevitably occur during the job searching process. You will be reminded that a setback is not a termination. You will be buoyed, once more, to start anew, with renewed determination to find a career, and not just a temporary paycheck, despite how tempting it might give in to immediacy, with responsibilities and debt bringing their crush bearing down upon you. The Guide will also provide you with a thorough review of where the legal marketplace stands, and where it is going, such that you may yoke your knowledge of the present legal scheme with an expert's peek into the future of the legal world, in order to determine what your next career choice will be, and how it will lead you to where you will end up, further on down the road.Guide, there are simply-presented nuggets of practical advice that are recognized as golden upon the closer inspection of a determined alchemist. As a non-exhaustive sampling list: the authors promote this ideal that attorneys are unique individuals, with special skills to sell in the marketplace - this explodes the notion that law school strips away identity, and leaves the remaining humans as lawyer-drones, who are replaceable, interchangeable parts; the authors insist that the earlier and more effectively lawyers and law students can access their unique, job-transferable skills, the more options they can create for themselves in a changing marketplaces - this seemingly goes without saying, and is undeniably true, yet this dramatic tool for success is ill-used, if used at all; young lawyers should understand that their first assignments may determine the course of their legal career - so they should take care in deciding what initial work they should accept; attorneys should always be mindful of the business aspect weighing upon all practices - the law is not an entirely theoretical exercise in the real world; the authors refer to the interviewing of employers, and not the other way around - this is a hammer in the toolbox of the enterprising attorney, who wishes to reduce his nervousness, or, further, to reverse the power structure inherent in the traditional interview. Beyond these strings of pearls stretching across the pages of the Guide (making careful reading a must, for you know now what you will miss when you divert your attention), readers should take care not to dismiss the Appendices. The Appendices alone are worth the price of admission. Appendix A provides a clearinghouse of online and paper resources that will assist in every aspect of the job search. This listing of vetted sources is essential for building your career planning information base. Appendix D is instructive for its lists of "real-life" duties attendant upon specific attorney positions, so that you may find out just what your employer may not tell you: exactly what you are getting into. Appendix D also implicitly underscores another theme running through the Guide: that the future of the legal profession (and where the money is at, incidentally) lies in specialization. The growing complexities of the modern world must be discreetly argued by someone: that someone is the lawyer.The Legal Career Guide: From Law Student to Lawyer will help you to make that argument a winning one.

©2014 Massachusetts Bar Association