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Current economic situation
Q: I graduated from law school in the spring of 2008. Because of the current economic situation, I could not find a permanent position in the practice of law, notwithstanding all the honors, accomplishments in law school and a very impressive resume. During this post-graduation period, I completed an internship with the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law, and now I am doing a temporary legal job. I find myself in a very strange category of job seekers - I have graduated almost a year ago, and, although I obtained a unique and very valuable legal experience at UNCITRAL, I still do not have any practicing experience.
Ask the Experts
Q:I am sure that my question is not new or uncommon these days. I graduated from law school in the spring of 2008. Because of the current economic situation, I could not find a permanent position in the practice of law, notwithstanding all the honors, accomplishments in law school and a very impressive resume. During this post-graduation period, I completed an internship with the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law, and now I am doing a temporary legal job. I find myself in a very strange category of job seekers - I have graduated almost a year ago, and, although I obtained a unique and very valuable legal experience at UNCITRAL, I still do not have any practicing experience. I would greatly appreciate any suggestions you may have as to what I can do to maintain my marketability?
A: This is certainly a frustrating time to be seeking legal employment and you are correct that you are not alone. In your question you do not say anything about the kind of legal work you are seeking and what you have done to try to find work, so we will have to make some assumptions and offer some general advice about how you can stay marketable and position yourself for a legal job.
First, if you have not already done so define what you are looking for- what area of practice, what type of organization, what type of experience. The fact that you don't mention what you are looking for suggests that you may be falling into the common trap of saying "I will take anything." While this can seem like a good idea, taking a position because it is available or, as in the case of the U.N. position, interesting, can distract you from your goals. Though defining goals can feel like you are limiting your options you will have ample opportunity to expand your search if you need. When you consider your goals take both a long and short term view -- think of what you want to do eventually but also think of what you can do now, what experience will move you toward the goal.
Second, be sure you are using all the resources at your disposal and employing effective strategies to reach your goals. A good starting point is your law school career office. Most law schools allow alumni to return to use services. If you are not currently located near your school, you can generally ask your school to request "reciprocity" with a school in your area. Also, both your law school and undergraduate school likely have alumni networks that will enable you to look up graduates in your area to seek advice and broaden your range of professional connections. The New York City Bar is also an excellent resource. There are a range of programs and services that can be a help. In addition to programs focused on job search or career development skills (such as networking, entering the profession, or managing your professional development) consider attending programs or joining a committee related to your career interests.
Third, make every effort to demonstrate your interest and commitment to the area you are hoping to enter and think of creative ways to gain skills that will position you well for the turnaround in the employment market. Seek out low cost CLE options. Join groups related to your area of interest. Most such groups offer programs or newsletters that will help you keep current. Keep up on your professional reading; you do not want to find yourself unaware of major developments in a field when you do land a job interview.
Finally, even in your current temporary position look for opportunities to gain transferable skills. Acknowledging that legal temp work will offer limited opportunities, think creatively about the possibilities available to you. For example if you have an interest in real estate, see if there are temporary opportunities related to that area. Granted, document review for a commercial property case is not a substitute for assisting with a commercial closing, but you will at least have the chance to become familiar with the terminology and documents used. If you have time between temporary assignments see if you can find opportunities that relate to your desired area. This will generally involve volunteering. One tip: it can be hard to find an internship or volunteer opportunity when you cannot make a time commitment, so be creative. Perhaps you can volunteer to assist someone with a specific project, say writing an article or planning a program. One young attorney we know volunteered to help organize a major CLE program in the area he was interested in. It gave him the opportunity to meet people working in the area and to review the program materials. He made several important contacts and showed off his organizational skills.
It takes a lot of energy to commit to this kind of career planning but it is worth the effort. Best of luck with your job search.