Monday, January 26, 2009

No Job - now what

Well, GP wasn't a huge hit the first time out.  Remember, GP's viewpoint is just another viewpoint.  You and I may not agree (for instance, I use Lexis all the time and don't mind others using it), but keep in mind that GP is a partner at a top firm and these are GP's views.  Right or wrong, some people think this way. That is why it is good to hear different viewpoints so you will know that each person you report to or may reach out to will have a different approach.  GP wanted to provide some further guidance, so GP has taken another stab, below. Hopefully it will cut and paste cleanly.  Not to worry, HP just got very busy - but HP will be posting own stuff as well.   

Here's GP's post:

With all the associate lay offs, what is the upcoming law graduate or current law clerk with no law firm employment prospects to do?

Let's first caveat this by say, GP is assuming a lawyer in this position wants to get into a law firm and not be educated on the alternative uses of a JD or the joys of working in a law school alumni office.  Thus, the issue here is what is your best springboard to that prestigious law firm job?

First, it does not make sense to wait for that interview you were promised or a response to that letter you sent out.  You have got to get a job, any job, out of law school!  I have seen smart associates from good law schools think they can delay things until after they take the bar. Wrong.  A three or four (or more) month gap from law school graduation to passing the bar will raise questions.  "Studying for the bar" won't cut it as a reply to "what have you been doing since you graduated from law school?" [HP editorial note - in current economy, hiring people won't be shocked, but you should show you are doing something in furtherance of career, even an internship].

Second, consider small firms that don't pay as much, contract agencies that can place you in a temporary position or family friends or law school alumni wiling to do favors (trust me, if you think hard enough you will identify at least a handful) and make calls.  These are all good options that should be aggressively pursued.  [HP note: no stalking!].  (Warning, be prepared for a serious salary cut, but consider it a great investment in your future).  

Clerkships are also alternatives to small firms and temporary contract work, but refrain from multiple clerkships (unless extremely prestigious).  Law clerk experience is valuable but you don't want to paint yourself as not ready or prepared for firm life and right or wrong, a two to three year stint as a law clerk will do just that.  (By the way, if that is what you want, you could also wait.  I know an associate who took a two year leave of absence recently to take a clerkship at a federal court of appeals.  He is now back and getting plugged right back into life at firm).

Bottom line, you need experience and you need to be able to document that you stayed in the market and did not give up.  It is not necessarily common, but I have personally hired at least one attorney who came in as a contract attorney and demonstrated to me her ability to make an outstanding associate.  (Some firms, however, do have a policy prohibiting hiring contract attorneys as associates).  Working as a contract attorney on a longer term basis can also help you obtain a referral for future employment at a firm.

Ok, I didn't say pursue a government job.  First, it is not so easy to quickly obtain employment in the government.  The application process itself can take months, and you can't afford months.  Second a government job is not an easy springboard to a big firm in most instances.  A United States Attorneys Office is one thing, but a GS-11 position at FEMA, DOL or the EEOC, probably not.  (Government work is sometimes easier to explore once you are at a firm.  I know of at least four associates who left the firm to explore opportunities at the Dept. of Justice, primarily to obtain trial experience.  It is not easy to return, and not all former associates want to return.  I know one who tried and was welcomed back and is now Counsel.

To sum up:

-- pursue small firm work, temporary contract work, available clerkships

-- contact alumni and friends in the field who can make some calls or introductions

-- review firm web sites - who do you know?  who is an alum of your law school or college?

-- be careful of career limiting opportunities like multiple clerkships, certain government jobs.  


Anonymous said...

Bravo GP (and HP), this is valuable, practical, and useful information. Thanks! Now, to follow up - we've all heard stories about the contract attorney or temp who gets stuck for years doing just that, and never getting invited to the real party. Is there a point where you contract / temp for too long that you get pigeon-holed? In other words, is there a point of no return?

If the pigeon-holing problem does exist, what would you recommend to those who do contract / temp work to avoid that, and to differentiate themselves before it's too late? I get the impression that permanent attorneys look down upon temps / contract folks, and are not always willing to give them a chance to shine and advance.

Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

Much better GP. Thank you for the candid advice.

Hiring Partner said...

See, folks, GP really did care and wanted to do a good job. Remember, HP has been doing this since the summer (and thus is experienced?) and GP never did this before. It takes a little while to get the right cadence, tone, etc. Sometimes for me I really need to know what topic I want to address and to take a little time thinking about it. Glad it was helpful.

Funny aside, HP once interviewed GP! HP was just one of the people on GP's interview list but GP did get job and HP and GP have stayed in touch though have gone different places. Remember what I told you about maintaining networks. Don't be an out of sight, out of mind person. Take some time at least every other day to reach out to someone.

Anonymous said...

Good advice GP. I would add that CLE events are a great way to both expand your network and get to know people in your practice area.

Government service may be a better idea for people in the Washington, DC area than those in the rest of the nation. While I would agree it is not always a ticket to BIGLAW, it is common for people to start at the USPTO, FCC, or DOJ and then rotate to a relevant boutique after a few years.

Hiring Partner said...

It's GP. In response to the first comment, let me recognize that it's unfortunately true, contract attorneys may very well get looked down upon by others. There may be a point of no return, but let's stay positive!GP's advice is to try and capture the attention of a busy up and coming partner. Easier said than done, I know. But your instincts will tell you who this partner is. Do your best work for this partner, encourage a mentoring relationship with this partner, and seek to have that partner invest in you. Most of all, let this partner know of your interest in joining the firm as an associate - please don't assume that is obvious. It's not! Partners have this weird idea that some lawyers choose to be contract attorneys instead of associates - more flexibility, blah, blah. Hopefully, when that partner is ready to grow his or her team, your name will be on the top of her recruitment list - and if it's not, GP knows you will ensure it gets there.

Anonymous said...

GP - thanks for the comment response immediately above. It gives some of us hope that if we find ourselves in that situation (contract or temp), we're not necessarily doomed to stay there for the rest of our careers.

Much appreciated!

Min said...

I'm a little surprised that you said "studying for the bar won't cut it." I am one of the lucky few graduating w/ a job lined up already. But, most law students (including myself) take bar/bri to pass the bar. The classes are Monday- Friday 9-1 or 9-2. You can't really work in the legal field w/ that kind of schedule. You might get a night job but probably not doing something "to further your legal career."

My firm doesn't have me starting until September - thus I will be doing bar/bri and maybe waitressing or something. Do you recommend people don't take bar/bri? I doubt many would find an internship that lets them come in at 3 pm.

Hiring Partner said...

In GP's mind, nothing is more important than taking bar/bri, or a similar bar preparation course. You absolutely must take it - if the cost is an issue, find a way, it is critical you take the class to improve your chances of passing the bar. Let's assume graduation is end of May, and the bar exam is in August, no one will question what you did in the months from May to August and if you can afford to not work at all during those months, all the better. But once the bar exam has been completed, the clock starts ticking. The time spent waiting to hear whether you passed the bar - in this case September to November - will not be a credible excuse to a potential HP.

Anonymous said...

To follow up on this good post, do the rules change considering our current economy? A year ago there were several contract jobs out there and several firm jobs available. Back then it would seem like the contract attorney WANTED to do contract work because there were permanent positions available. TODAY, there are very few permanent positions avaiable and even the contract jobs are getting harder to get.

I was hoping that a HP would consider today's hiring climate when his/her firm would start hiring attorneys again and wouldn't fault a new graduate for trying to survive. But to me it sounds like the Guest HP is saying that unless you were lucky or smart enough to obtain a law firm position after graduation, you are SOL even after the economy picks up.

For example, a had a job lined up at a decent mid-sized law firm in my city, but my offer was revoked while I was studying for the bar. The only thing I could find since taking the bar is a contract job. Even though I am doing the networking events and applying to law firms left and right, I can only continue working as a contract employee at my current law firm. According to Guest HP, if I don't find something permanent soon, my career as a lawyer at a law firm is over before it even started!

Hiring Partner said...

OMG! No, that is not at all what GP is saying. Don't despair. Let's start again, a contract attorney job is a great way to get into BIGLAW assuming that is what you want. Once you are in the doors, distinguish yourself, find a partner who wants to mentor you and who you believe is likely to have a need in the near future for someone just like you and all the while let that partner know of your interest in the firm!

Anonymous said...

this was a very useful post, GP, thanks. Glad you were not turned off by the tough crowd.

Min said...

GP - thanks so much for clarifying on the bar/bri question.

Anonymous at 7:58 - I can't believe your offer was revoked!
GP/HP - does this happen often? I accepted a position and have since obviously passed up all other interviews. I will be moving for my job and my new firm is going to reimburse some of my moving expenses. Do firms revoke offers and leave their new hire SOL? My husband is quitting his job and we are selling our house to do this. Should I be worried?

Economy (2L) said...

I have a general question...

After going through OCI this past fall I came away with two realizations. First, the unstable, plummeting economy saw BigLaw firms cut back on the total number of offers extended (read: 2009 summer classes will be smaller than previous years). Second, firms will be far more selective with giving full-time offers at the end of summer (read: the number of 2010 graduates being employed as 1st-year BigLaw associates will be smaller than previous years).

Smaller hiring classes will allow firms to brace for the financial disaster that has begun and will continue to worsen (already reflected by the salary freezes, decreased bonuses, layoffs). This likely reflects the standard operating procedure for recessions. There is a general consensus that the economy will bottom in about 6-9 months. But, some economists predict the recovery (when it occurs) has the possibility to occur quite rapidly (cross the fingers).

Looking further into the future, Fall 2010 may actually see significant growth (and growth in the future).

So back to the brunt of my question for HP and GP - how does the firm prepare for recovery? My understanding is that breaking into BigLaw is harder if you don't do it out of law school. Will this change if the need for bodies is significantly greater than expected in the coming years? Or, does the firm just re-load its numbers through subsequent classes (meaning, class of 2011, 2012 get the windfall)?

I get the feeling class of 2010 might be unlucky. But, I suppose if you did get a summer gig this summer and are lucky enough to get an offer, this might make you very marketable when the upswing occurs. Thoughts?

Anonymous said...

one of those who thought the prior post was awful. this one is as good as the other is bad.

but i too take issue with the gov't job closing doors. i'm sure some might, but many open doors. some only take a couple of years while others may take more, but many such jobs can lead not only to a big law job, but an offer to be a partner at some very prestigious law firms. agencies i think of where this is the case include DOJ, SEC, FTC, parts of Treasury (like IRS) to name a few.

Hiring Partner said...

A couple thoughts. (Unlike HP, I have no idea how to post a response directly beneath the comment to which it responds, so please excuse me for responding to all three of the above posts.) Revoking a previously extended offer was unheard of prior to last year. In 20 years of practicing I have never heard of such a thing, and for good reason, the reputational disaster to the firm for starters. In this market, certain firms don't have a choice, and maybe they don't get tagged with bad PR because of the market conditions. Will it happen to you? It depends on the firm you are heading off to join of course. It also depends on when you are set to start. I am not sure anyone can give you the comfort you need outside of the firm itself, and I don't think you want to be asking that question. The reports on the stability of the firm you are set to join will be one indicator of how likely a revocation is or isn't. My gut tells me, we are not going to see much more of this in the future.

On a related note, and in response to another post, I do believe that a 2011 or 2012 class may see a windfall. That is precisely what happened the last time a fall out in the associate market occurred. My best advice for 2008, 2009 and 2010 graduates is to get ahead of the curve in anticiapting that windfall and obtain the experience you can now so that if and when firms return to hiring, you can interest them with something 3Ls don't have - firm or governemnt or clerkship experience.

On the government job issue, I said that if you don't have a job after law school, the government may not be for you because the application process is too long. I also said that it may be hard to make the jump from government to private sector, but that is not my main concern. I certainly agree that certain government jobs can lead to future positions in BIGLAW if that is what you want. If it were me, I would focus on getting into the firm first, and pursue government work later. My point here in short is that it is always easier to jump to a firm after you have already been there, so focus on getting there first if you can.

Anonymous said...

Not trying to stir up paranoia since only a few firms have been confirmed to do this - but even if the offer is not revoked, one can still be laid off as a first year associate.

So all the previous advice -- networking, keeping your head down, etc. apply. And don't go splurging on stuff you don't absolutely need when you get your paycheck. Time to save $$ as best you can.

Amicus Curiae said...


After law school I joined a municipal prosecutor's office to get trial experience. My goal is to land at biglaw, but I'm concerned about your cautionary notes re: government work. How well can one transition from prosecution to biglaw?

Anonymous said...

What do you think about going in-house at a company owned by a relative? Would that be better than, say, a prolonged law clerk position? On the plus side, I would get real transactional experience and could get references from people other than my relative, but on the downside, only a little research would reveal the relationship (I may even feel obliged to be upfront about it...).

Very interested to hear your thoughts, as I thought this post was full of useful advice.