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Swimming Lessons for Baby Sharks: Practical Advice for New Lawyers

Q: I am planning to relocate to a new city after I graduate from law school. I have had limited success making connections. Any advice?

A: Yes. You first need to convince potential contacts that you are certain to relocate.

Making connections in a new city can be challenging, but moving after graduation can be the ideal time to head to a new locale. After school you have the luxury – and the challenge – of being able to build your ideal career from scratch. Where you live is a key factor in building the career (and life) that will suit you best. And you are right to focus first on location. It is usually easier to change employers than cities.

Here are some tips to help make the transition easier:

  1. Nail your “geographic reasons.” You must be able to convince contacts and potential employers that you will not get cold feet. That is the primary concern you will face. No employer wants to spend time evaluating and interviewing a candidate only to learn that the candidate decided to stay put. The same is true of people who might help you make connections in a new city. If you don’t actually move, their time was wasted. Make sure you have a succinct, compelling story about the reasons you want to move. Lead with those reasons in your communications. And repeat them (but not robotically) in subsequent interactions. Also, be prepared for a skeptical response. Many employers have been “burned” by candidates who changed their minds and stayed in the cities where they attended school. Be prepared to explain how you will be able to relocate – even if you have not landed a job.
  1. Visit. Use your breaks to visit. Your geographic reasons will be more credible if you are willing to pay money to hop on a plane and meet people in person in your new city.
  1. Remember that your goal is to build trust. People risk their own reputations when they refer you to their own connections. Your contacts are implicitly telling their closest contacts that those people should invest in your success. Thus, you must build trust with your contacts. Meeting people in person helps here too. You are much more than your written credentials. In-person meetings give your contacts a chance to evaluate your demeanor, enthusiasm, and other intangibles that can make them more comfortable vouching for you.
  1. Get your documents in order. Your written information won’t be sufficient to land a job in a new city, but can preclude it. You have heard this many times, but your emails, résumé, and other written materials must be pristine. Everything needs to demonstrate to potential contacts that investing in your career is “low risk.” A single typo has the power to close many doors. Letters of reference from professors or prominent lawyers in your community will also help you build credibility in a new city.
  1. Start with people who “owe” you. Reach out first to people who already have a reason to help you. Usually that means alumni from your school, but it could also mean friends of friends or others with whom you have some existing connection. Being a member of an affinity bar association, including young lawyers’ groups, in your new city gives members a reason to help you. You should ask contacts in your new city about ways to expand your network.
  1. Use available resources. This may seem obvious, but students often do not take full advantage of available resources. Make an appointment with your career services office to develop a networking plan. You should also read Sheila Nielsen’s Job Quest for Lawyers. If you are focused on small firms, read Donna Gerson’s Choosing Smart, Choosing Small. And Janet Wallace, a Ms. JD board member, has an excellent series of blog posts about her job search – which started with a decision to live at the beach. She now has a successful practice at a small firm – and she lives at the beach.

Good luck!

Grover E. Cleveland is a Seattle lawyer, speaker and author of Swimming Lessons for Baby Sharks: The Essential Guide to Thriving as a New Lawyer (West 2010). Grover specializes in programs to help millennial lawyers successfully transition from law school to practice, helping them provide more value and avoid common mistakes. He is a former partner at Foster Pepper PLLC, one of the Northwest’s larger firms. His clients included the Seattle Seahawks and other entities owned by Microsoft co-founder, Paul Allen. Grover is a frequent presenter on lawyer career success for millennial lawyers at leading law firms and schools nationwide. Some of the questions in this column come from those programs. Readers may submit questions here or follow him on Twitter @Babysharklaw. He is not related to the 22nd and 24th President of the United States.

A second edition of Swimming Lessons for Baby Sharks will be published this fall. Submit anecdotes to be considered for inclusion here.

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