With all the gloom and doom reporting out lately (only half of graduating law students can expect jobs! and so forth), I've been thinking about what someone who's graduating from law school in a couple of months without a job offer can do, right now, to improve their prospects.
I don't guarantee these suggestions are right for everyone, and I'm sure there's other stuff I haven't thought of, but let's at least start the conversation. If you've got other suggestions, jump in!
1) Accept that this may be scary and frustrating. Let's get this out of the way right upfront. It sucks that you spent three years of your life working hard in law school, and probably a ton of money, and you don't have a job offer at the end of it. You have a right to be upset and angry - it's not a great situation. However, you can't let your anger and frustration prevent you from moving forward. The harsh reality is that the world doesn't owe you anything. You've got to make your own luck, and the only way to do that is to take action. (Even if it's scary.)
2) Brainstorm ways to generate income. Let's assume for the moment that you're not going to find a job immediately. Deep breath. Finding a law job is not the only way to pay your bills. You have more skills than you think! Get out a piece of paper and start brainstorming all the ways you could make money, if you had to. What did you come up with? If your list is sparse, check out these articles on earning more money, and get started today. Don't say you're too busy. This law student earned $50K last year freelancing, AND had a baby.
3) Get a handle on your loan repayment options. If you've got loan debt, and no job, it's critical to figure out now what your options are. For one thing, it'll ensure you don't accidentally default (ruining your credit and perhaps some beneficial repayment options), and, more importantly, it'll make you feel better. Knowing the details of your debt can be frightening, but knowing what you're dealing with is liberating. Once you understand the options, you can at least evaluate them. Until then, it's just unfocused dread, which isn't helpful or productive.
4) Be sure you pass the bar exam. The single most important thing you can do to get a law job is to pass the bar exam. Do whatever you have to do to pass. Start studying now if you need to. (At this point, there's no reason you can't take 100 MBE practice questions every week, and track what you're getting wrong so you know what to study.) Do not assume you can passively attend BARBRI, or some other prep course, and magically pass the bar. You have to engage with the material and really learn it. Find out now where your weak areas are, and relentlessly focus on making them better. It's unpleasant, but you'll thank me later!
5) Get really clear on what you're looking for and tell everyone. If you don't know what you're looking for, it's very hard for anyone else to help you. "I'll take any job I can get" is not a job hunt. It's a wild goose chase. Would you take a job making $1/hour, working for the most sadistic boss you've ever met, and doing nothing but your least favorite task in the world? No. So clearly you've got preferences. Get really clear on what these are, and write them down. (Here's a great resource for doing that.) Maybe you think you have to take anything that comes along, but that's self-defeating. Ask for what you want, and you're a lot more likely to get it.
6) Get help with your résumé. Once you're clear on what you're looking for, get help with your résumé. One approach is to assemble a group of friends and work on all of your résumés collectively. Look at it from the standpoint of the person hiring. If they looked at your résumé for 10 seconds (or 5 seconds), what jumps off the page? That's all the time you're going to get, so make it count! And remember - it's not about you. If I'm in a position to hire someone, I want to know one thing: Can this person solve my problems and make my life easier? If not, I'm not going to interview you. If you can figure out what my pain points are, and explain how you can improve things for me, I'll want to talk to you. If not, no way. Make sure your résumé explains what problems you're equipped to solve, at a glance.
7) Do some strategic informational interviewing. If you want to find a job in this market, you need to be pounding the pavement. The odds of finding a job by submitting random online applications to organizations that know nothing about you is low. Time to meet people who might be able to help you. Note that last part - "who might be able to help you." Informational interviewing is time-consuming, so it makes sense to focus your efforts. Think strategically. What can get you closer to your ultimate goal? If you're clear on your goal (see above), it should be relatively simple to work backwards a few steps to see who you can talk to that puts you closer to that goal. And don't put all your eggs in one basket. Aim to schedule two new informational interviews a week for the rest of the school year (come on, it's only a month or so!), and you'll find that your network is a lot larger, in a short amount of time.
8) Take people you've worked with out for coffee and ask for their help. Along the same lines, but slightly differently targeted: Take attorneys you've worked with recently out for coffee and ask for help. Did you intern your 1L or 2L summers? Hopefully you've kept in touch with some of the people you worked with, but, even if you haven't, invite them out for coffee to catch up. These meetings are a little more general than the strategic informational interviews we talked about above, but it's useful to have people looking out for jobs for you. Did you work in a clinic with outside lawyers, judges, etc.? Shoot them an email to say "Hello," and offer to meet up or chat on the phone soon. As you do this, it's critical that you not seem too desperate. It's fine to say "Yes, the economy is tough these days. If you hear of anything in my area of interest, I'd really appreciate it if you could let me know." It's not okay to spend an hour complaining about how much your life, and your school, and the legal economy suck. No one wants to help a whiner.
9) Talk to professors who seem to like you. One often-overlooked source of job leads is your professors. As long as you're in school, you may as well take advantage of their proximity. With the caveat that a lot of professors have little contact with practicing lawyers, who knows, they might have interesting ideas that you haven't thought of. Given that it's a minimal amount of effort to swing by office hours for a few of your favorite professors, why not do it?
10) Attend events at the bar association. If you're sufficiently close to the area you'd like to practice in, become a regular at relevant bar association events. Why? Because this is where actual practicing lawyers spend time doing CLE course, attending functions, etc. If you want a job in the community, you need to be a part of the legal community. Go armed with a stack of business cards, be humble, and just see what comes of it. You're not aiming to get a job at any of these events, just trying to plant some seeds. In a few months, people will start to think "Oh, I saw this person last month at a related event. I wonder who she is, and what she's interested in." And, if you meet anyone who seems interesting and wiling to help you - FOLLOW UP! Having a stack of business cards does no good. You have to create relationships. People are generally more willing to help than you think, so let them help you.
11) Pick up a new pro bono project, but be sure you'll get a mentor. One of the easiest ways to get an official mentor is to do pro bono work. The best place to get started is generally your local bar association. Ideally, the type of case would be at least roughly related to the area you want to practice in, but this isn't absolutely critical. The critical part is to ensure you get assigned a mentor, or several. (For one project I did, you got an entire booklet of "potential mentors." How useful would this have been for someone who wanted to practice in the area?!?) As an added bonus, you get great experience, a good line item for the résumé, and something to talk about in job interviews. Seriously, why aren't you signing up right now?
12) Get strategic. This is really the overarching message: Get strategic about your job search. You can't tell in advance what's going to pay off, so it makes sense to have a bunch of irons in the fire. That being said, you can't do 500 things at once. Pick a few options from the list above, and try them out. Track how things go. (Did certain techniques generate more leads? Did one version of your résumé generate more interest? You'll make faster progress if you can answer these questions.) If you've got an overarching strategy for your search, and you take lots of different steps to execute on that strategy, chances are very good one of the things you try will work out. Give yourself the chance to be "lucky" by trying different approaches! The least likely one might pay off.
What did I miss? I know it's tough out there, but keep the faith!
If all else fails, just remember that you've got more skills than you think. Maybe it's not an immediate "job" but someone's willing to pay you for something!
Alison Monahan is the founder of The Girl's Guide to Law School and a co-founder of the Law School Toolbox. A 2006 graduate of Columbia Law School, she was a member of the Columbia Law Review, a Civ Pro Teaching Assistant, a Kent Scholar, and a Stone Scholar. After law school, she clerked in the District of Massachusetts and was a BigLaw patent litigator for two years. Now she helps other aspiring lawyers get into law school, get through, and stay true to themselves in the process.