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Fear and Fearlessness
Important Career Planning Tips for New Attorneys and Law Students
It's Not Just Who You Know....
attorney career advice
career guidance for new lawyers
career planning for law students
career planning for lawyers
Exploring Career Options
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work life balance
11-04-2008 | 01:44 PM
I ended last month having shot myself in the foot after killing a job offer from my 2L summer firm with my counteroffer. As we all know, dead offers can’t be revived and the no-counteroffer rule proved to be very much alive. I was out of a job and I was bummed. Things were not working out as planned. So, late in the fall semester of my 3L year, in the low season of 3L hiring, I was faced with a job hunt again.
The conventional wisdom is that after hiring summer associates in the fall for post-graduation positions, firms cut way back on hiring. After getting beaten down by my summer firm, I was all too ready to accept the conventional wisdom. I didn’t believe I could get a job in the off season, so I didn’t try to get a job per se.
My 2L summer job came to me through networking in a law school student association, so I believed that networking offered me the best chance of getting a job. By scheduling “coffee interviews” with as many attorneys as possible, I hoped to build a network that would help me learn when new hiring decisions would be made again after the bar exam.
You start networking with what you have. One of my first and best contacts was a 2002 alumnus of my law school who I knew through the previously noted student organization. She introduced me to about seven or eight attorneys from her class over the course of a few months. She had stayed well connected with her own class and suggested I do likewise. I have!
My “coffee interview” method was simple: I called up or e-mailed Attorney *** (not his real name) and told him that Attorney Jane had put me in touch with him. I explained that I was a 3L and I wanted to take him out for coffee to ask his advice about the labor market and his practice area. The referral from Attorney Jane was helpful and I had no trouble scheduling interviews. All I had to do was listen because the attorneys were more than willing to talk. My first goal was to appear likable, attentive and
not desperate for a job
My second goal was to get a referral to other attorneys to continue expanding my network. At the end of each interview, I would confidently ask the attorney for the names of two or three other attorneys who might be willing to meet with me. The key to getting the referrals was to have an area of law in which I was interested, so they could refer me accurately to other attorneys who shared my interests. Pure likeability would not cut it—I had to offer some substance.
I had worked for an ERISA disability plaintiffs’ firm while in school, which led me to write an article about an aspect of ERISA disability law. I decided to position myself as an ERISA candidate.
At first I worried about appearing pushy in my networking, but I didn’t need to worry. Only one of the twenty-five or so attorneys I called refused to meet with me. Unless I planned to spend the rest of my career doing other associates’ or other partners’ work, I knew I would have to develop strong networking skills. I was making contacts that would serve me once I got a job when I would count on these same attorneys for referrals. Meeting people is an essential part of the law business—people who can be your clients or people who can refer clients to you.
Almost all the attorneys with whom I met could empathize with what I was doing. They would like to network more, know they should, but the staggering work load they are under prevents them. Now, as an entry-level lawyer under a similar work load, I can appreciate the time it took to network, and I appreciate even more the time these attorneys took to talk to me.
My diligence in scheduling one to two coffee interviews per week paid off and, after a couple months, I could see the network forming. I’d be having a coffee interview with Attorney Susan, referred to me by Attorney Joe, and she mentioned Attorney Jane, and I could tell Attorney Susan that I had already met with Attorney Jane. This impressed Attorney Susan, that I had already met one of her colleagues. To close the circle I made sure to get back to Attorney Jane with a phone call or an e-mail to chat her up and mention that I’d met with Attorney Susan the other day, who, by the way, says hello.
From the time I reentered the labor market in November through January of my 3L year, I met with about twenty-five attorneys. I met with just about anyone I could, including one of the attorneys at the summer firm that withdrew my offer. He referred me to six or seven attorneys.
Here is the line of contacts that finally paid off. I asked a 2L Friend if she knew any attorneys from the firm in which she had been a paralegal. She invited me to the firm’s annual party for other attorneys who had referred work to them. She introduced me to Attorney Marty, and I told him I was interested in ERISA work. He said, "ERISA? You want to talk to Attorney Rich." So I called up Attorney Rich, a major ERISA attorney in town, and asked if I could have coffee with him. During this meeting he pushed a printed copy of an e-mail across the table to me. It had been forwarded to him by a friend and had been sent originally by Professor Chip at my school to his Business Entities class. He was telling his students that an old classmate of his, Attorney Tom, was looking for students interested in employee benefits and would be holding screening interviews next week at school. I was not in Professor Chip’s Business Entities class this term, so
I would never have seen the e-mail without meeting Attorney Rich.
That's how networking works—2L Friend > Attorney Marty > Attorney Rich > Professor Chip > Attorney Tom. Had I not been networking with attorneys, I simply would have missed this opportunity that led to an offer from a well-regarded labor and employment boutique firm at a higher salary than the one offered to me by my summer clerkship firm.
My advice is to make as many opportunities for yourself as possible. Talk to as many people as you can—for jobs, to get clients, to get members for other associations of which you’re a part, or just to establish and maintain contact. Coffee interviews are a great way to meet with people and to continue networking as a way of life. And remember … always close the loops on your interviews.
Pete Meyers practices law in Portland, Oregon. He also owns a freelance commercial writing business, Willamette Valley Writing Co. You can reach him at
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