By Paula M Jones • July 30, 2020•Writers in Residence, Careers, Other Career Issues, Law School, Choosing a Career and Landing a Job, Internships and Clerkships
“You are not given a dream unless you have the capacity to fulfill it” – Jack Canfield
Well, you did it. You made it to law school. Now, perhaps you are looking for a summer internship, so that upon graduation you can boast some measure of experience. Perhaps you are on the way to graduating and need to find something permanent. Maybe you are one of those non-traditional students, getting an education while continuing to work your day job. How do you make a switch from your present area of employment to a brand new field? In the words of my jobless stepson, mere weeks before his college graduation - during a global pandemic no less - “How does the real world… you know… work?!”
Finding a job is something most of us will have to do several times throughout our adult lives. Under the best of circumstances it can feel like a roller coaster ride of emotions. It will test whatever degree of confidence you have in yourself, your chosen field, your education, and even your family background. I promise you that once you get this system of finding a job down, you will use it again and again throughout your career. It’s actually kind of fun, even for those of us who identify as introverts and for whom socializing with others is a drain on our energy.
Let’s get you a job. Not just any job – let’s get you a job that you’ll love.
You may have heard by now that the vast majority of jobs are filled by networking, not by filling out an application or responding to a job post. That has been true since about forever, and it remains true to this day. I’m not saying you shouldn’t shine up your resume and apply online to anything that interests you – go ahead. But, don’t get discouraged if you get no response. It doesn’t mean the job market is bad or that you’ll never find one. It’s just means that jobs aren’t filled that way.
How do you get a job by networking, when you don’t have a network? It is no surprise that many people wind up in the same careers as their parents. This happens because kids can see a straight path to getting the kind of job their parents have, but have no idea what the career path is for other types of jobs. It is no accident that lawyers have kids who become lawyers. That may sound like a good thing, except if you were a kid in a family of lawyers who really wanted to become a baker.
Networking means building a path between you and the person who will ultimately offer you a job. If you want to become a lawyer, but no one where you come from is a lawyer and you’ve never met one before, you may feel building a network in this area is out of reach. However, you know someone, who knows someone, who knows someone else… who knows a lawyer. You see? You simply need to close the gap between you and that lawyer you don’t know – yet. It takes time and hard work, but the concept itself is quite simple. Let’s get started.
Step One. Identify Your Networks.
Think you don’t have networks now? Oh, you do. You have friends, family members and neighbors. You have a law school network, a college network, and a high school network, even if you’ve only stayed in touch with a couple of people since graduation. You may be part of a religious community. You might take a yoga class with a group of 12 other people. You are probably a member of social media groups, too. Each of these is a separate “Network”.
List each Network and give a title to each one. For example, you might have a “College Friends Network”, “College Professors Network”, “Childhood Friends”, “High School Classmates”, “Law Student Facebook Group”, “Relatives Network”, “Yoga Class Network” and “LinkedIn Network”.
You do not need to know people well in any of your Networks. When we get to the step where you reach out to your Networks, you can bond with someone solely on the fact that you both attended the same school or church, lived in the same neighborhood, are members of the same Facebook group or are from the same town. For example, I once collected school supplies online for a teacher in another state, who I did not know, but who was a member of a Facebook group for people concerned about the state of inner city public schools. I even coordinated the drop off of those supplies to her, all from my smartphone. See? All it took to connect was a shared interest in providing quality education in inner city public schools. Network.
Here’s another example. Twenty years after my high school graduation I met a much younger attorney at my firm who went to the same high school as I had – a rare occurrence. We didn’t even attend high school at the same time, but there was an immediate connection and I did whatever I could to advance her career. We connected over a shared high school. Network.
List your Networks. Do this part of the exercise quickly and don’t overthink it.
Step Two. Find Referral Sources From Your Networks.
Once you have your list of Networks, you are going to use them to – eventually - connect with lawyers in your area of interest. If you have no idea what kind of law you want to practice, connect with any lawyer in any area.
Reach out to each Network and ask for help in connecting you with lawyers. If you have individual contact information for members of the Network, send them each a separate e-mail. Try not to text, so you can have a record of every contact you’ve made. You may also reach an entire Network at once, such as by posting on a group’s Facebook page with a general message.
Your email or post is going to start out by orienting your Network to how you are connected with them. Your first couple of lines are going to look something like this:
Example #1. Good morning, Professor Yeadon, I graduated from ABC University in 2012 with a degree in Communications. I’m currently attending XYZ School of Law and am looking to connect with lawyers willing to give a law student some career advice.
Example #2. Hey, Meaghan, I can’t believe it’s been ten years since we graduated from high school! I hope you are doing well. I just graduated from XYZ School of Law and am looking to connect with lawyers willing to give a new graduate some career advice.
Example #3. Hello, fellow Law Students Facebook Group Members! I am moving into my third year at XYZ School of Law and am looking to connect with lawyers willing to give a law student some career advice.
Do you notice how you are not saying that you are looking for a job? It is very unlikely that your correspondence will reach someone who knows of a job opening at the exact moment they receive your email. This, coupled with the fact that people don’t like to feel as if they cannot help, will kill your chances of ever getting a response if you say you are looking for a job. However, most people love to talk about themselves, they love to give advice, they love to feel as if you view them as successful and they love to feel helpful. Ask for advice, rather than a job, and your response rate will be significantly higher.
The next couple of lines of your email or post will help the Network member identify those people who can help you. Remember, most people, even those people who have great careers, probably don’t know how to network. You are going to help them along by being very specific about your request, so all they have to do is think of some names and pass those names along to you. Don’t try to dump your project on someone else. People are busy. Make your requests polite, direct, concise and appreciative.
Example #1. I’m interested in pursuing a career as a litigator, but am not sure of the specific area of litigation quite yet. Can you think of any colleagues or former students who are lawyers willing to give a law student career advice? If so, I would really appreciate some suggestions on who I might contact.
Example #2. Do you know of any? I’m pretty open to any area of law and am looking to have a brief chat with as many lawyers as I can. I really appreciate it if you could think of a couple of people with whom I could connect.
Example #3. I’m interested in pursuing a career in nonprofit law but am willing to speak with any lawyers in similar fields. Can anyone recommend an attorney who would be willing to spend no more than 20 minutes on the phone with me? I would really appreciate it.
If you get a 50% response rate, that is a gargantuan success. Remember, people are busy and your career goals are nowhere on their list of priorities. However, the closer of a connection you are to your Network member, the greater chance of them taking the time to help you out.
Once you get names of people to contact, what do you do with them? Stay tuned for Part 2 next month!