Saturday night rolls around and you find yourself where you usually are on weekend nights: buried under a veritable mountain of legal tomes, trying to scribble out a paper before your midnight deadline. You manage to pull a coherent piece with the help of several gallons of coffee and determination, but on your weary walk out of the library, you wonder – will your efforts be enough to land you a job after graduation?
Law school is no joke. Students are expected to maintain competitive grade point averages, snag impressive internships, participate in applicable extracurriculars – and sometimes, it’s all an exhausted student can do to stay awake during class. As a recent graduate of the Juris Doctor program at William Howard Taft University, I understand and sympathize with the concerns current and graduated law students face when they contemplate life after college. In the following post, I outline a few pieces of advice that kept me afloat in law school.
Keep your grades up
You might have three internships and a role as president of the mock trial club – but an employer will dismiss your resume out of hand if a low GPA accompanies your impressive extracurriculars. Stay focused on the goal at hand, and learn all you can before trying to impress potential employers with your pre-graduation accolades.
Don’t get too competitive
I’ll say it bluntly: a law school’s campus can sometimes seem like a shark tank. Competition is as much a defining characteristic as the heavy legal tomes in the library. However, there can only be one valedictorian on the graduation stage. Employers aren’t going to care so much whether you were #4 or #5 in your class, so don’t push yourself into a breakdown trying to one-up a classmate. Work hard and do well; future employers will appreciate your clear dedication and impressive GPA.
According to a survey facilitated by outplacement services and career coaching firm Right Management, roughly 41% of assessed job seekers landed positions with the help of a networking connection. Unfortunately, paging through job advertisements online simply won’t cut it for applicants seeking legal work; instead, law students need to build a professional network that can support them through their job search. Start a dialogue with your professors, friends, and previous employers! One of your contacts might know someone who can offer career-changing advice.
Don’t be too picky
Less than 20% of all lawyers work within Amlaw 500 firms. Like it or not, there is a significant chance that you won’t get the cushy Suits-esque job you hoped for when you first applied to law school. Approach your job search from unconventional angles by looking for positions that will develop your legal reading, writing, and policy literacy skills. These less glamorous positions will serve as sturdy stepping stones to better jobs in years to come.
Do contract or pro-bono work
A potential employer doesn’t want to hear a candidate admit that they spent the last year in their parent’s basement watching Netflix and applying for jobs. If you haven’t been able to land a full-time job in legal work, put yourself in the market as a contractor and pro bono worker! As Dennis Kennedy, an information technology lawyer and legal technology writer said in a panel interview for the American Bar, “ “Networking effectively is an essential first step, but a continuing effort to assemble a portfolio of projects, accomplishments and references will be what separates those who get jobs from those who do not.”
To state the obvious: Law school is hard. Students who pursue careers in law will write through long nights, push themselves to withstand their busy schedules – and unfortunately, likely spend months pounding the pavement in search of an entry-level position. With enough willpower and dedication, though, every hard-working law student can build a lucrative career.