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How to find a job in seven (not always easy) steps

The American Bar Association made news last week when its president, William Robinson, said in an interview:

When I was going to law school . . . I sold my Corvair to make first-semester tuition and books for $330.

Back in the 1960s, a brand-new Corvair sold for between $2,000 to $2,800. Robinson graduated from law school in 1971.

Above the Law picked this up and ripped Robinson apart. They assumed Robinson’s message was the struggling law student might have to “sell your luxury automobile to pay for law school.” Clearly, Robinson leans a little closer to the 1 percent. (Above the Law’s picture of Robinson, decked out in his three-piece suit and cufflinks, doesn’t help his image in this regard.)

If that wasn’t enough, Robinson also said:

It’s inconceivable to me that someone with a college education, or a graduate-level education, would not know before deciding to go to law school that the economy has declined over the last several years and that the job market out there is not as opportune as it might have been five, six, seven, eight years ago.

This is a big image problem for the ABA. The media basically blame the ABA for failure to regulate the law schools and blame law schools because they have (allegedly) padded their employment statistics in an effort to convince prospective law students the law is a good career move. The impression from news reports of the ABA is it simply doesn’t care.

If Robinson is wrong, and the continuing influx of law students and lawyers is partially the fault of the law schools and the ABA, then it is not just the recent law students and law grads who suffer.

If law schools are acting dishonestly, and if that dishonesty convinces higher numbers of people to attempt to attend law school, then the job market becomes more saturated, which hurts existing lawyers who need new employment. So, a lawyer looking to make a lateral move, a lawyer whose firm has let him go because of the economy and a lawyer wh0 just can’t stand his current area of practice all will have a harder time finding that next job.

Maybe Robinson’s statements were on the callous side. But there is at least a kernel of truth in them. Regarding the Corvair, the take-home message is not that he was well-to-do from the beginning and had the luxury of selling his “luxury” car. The take-home message is that, if becoming a lawyer is important, you do what you have to do to make it work. Some people sell things they love. Some people work part-time or full-time during law school. (I’m a Safeway produce-slinger from way back). If you want to be a lawyer, you might have to sacrifice.

As for the statement about job opportunities, law students do bear some responsibility, even if the ABA and law schools are jointly at fault. As a lawyer, it has been clear to me for many years that the legal economy is not as good as it once was.

Now, many law students don’t know any lawyers before signing up for law school (I didn’t). But the information is out there. If you are relying on the seller of a product or service for accurate statistics about how good that product or service is, well, caveat emptor.

Bickering about Robinson aside, here is what you, graduating law school student, need to do to get a job:

  1. If you still have time, make sure to take practical courses that teach you about the practice of law. Theory is great, but a good trial advocacy course or a clinic can go a long way to giving you some skills.
  2. Meet people. Every person you meet represents an opportunity. 86 percent of all jobs are secured through personal contacts. (OK, I made that number up. But you get my point.) In particular, meet other lawyers, take advantage of law school networking functions and join your local and national bar associations as a student member. Many of these bar associations have resources to help law students find jobs. Make sure your regular member application is sent in the instant you pass the bar — many associations have listservs that are terrific resources for finding jobs.
  3. While in law school, if you can, intern or work for an actual law firm. This will help you to accomplish Nos. 1 and 2.
  4. Don’t neglect your fellow law students. If you need to, you can go solo or team up with a friend right out of law school. It’s scary, but if you have the drive, it can be done. Just be sure to find yourself a mentor to help you along the way.
  5. Take CLE courses now while their cheap — many CLE providers offer discounts to law students. (If they don’t publish discounts, just ask. Most will probably help you out.)
  6. Take advantage of pro bono opportunities. Many pro bono opportunities come with complementary training in related areas of the law.
  7. Supplement your income with other jobs. If you have to take a less-than-ideal job, or if you end up going solo, don’t be afraid to do other work. You can temp with law firms for document review (mind-numbingly boring at times, but it can pay the bills), which you can find on your own or by contracting with a legal services provider like Special Counsel or Robert Half. And don’t neglect non-legal jobs. (Remember my stint as a produce-slinger?  I did that to supplement my income for eight years after graduation.)

It is a tough market out there. Maybe that’s the ABA’s fault, maybe not. But the important thing for law students and law school graduates is to press forward. If I can help, let me know.

3 comments

  1. I sold my space shuttle to pay for law school.

  2. When the ABA president was going to law school, the ABA did not sanction the outsourcing of legal work to lawyers in foreign countries who have not attended law school in the United States or passed a Bar exam in the United States.

  3. Some of the decision to attend law school is based on greed and wanting a fabulous lifestyle. Some if its also based on low self esteem and wanting to enhance their personal image. Those who truly want a career helping others, generally don’t go to law school.