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First year orientation: when it’s good, it’s very very good, and when it’s bad, it’s horrid
First year orientation planners.
First year orientation is planned by people who want you to have a good time and to learn a lot about being a law student and a little bit about being a lawyer. No one wants you to walk away from orientation either terrified or in tears. If you find yourself in either state, see your Dean of Students as soon as you can. Fear and terror are not part of the ABA-approved curriculum
First year orientation usually features:
- Lofty thoughts from judges, deans, and famous alumni (speeches; panels; networking events);
- Opportunities (not to be missed) to connect with other 1Ls;
- Mock classes conducted (usually) by very gifted teachers;
- Meetings with your new professors;
- Professionalism presentations (pay close attention to these);
- A quick word from Career Services (you will hear more from them in late October);
- Reminders to keep your law school application up to date (including the felonies that you forgot to list. Oh. Yes. This is serious.);
- Campus or city tours;
- A trip to the bookstore (bring money);
- Introduction to student groups and activities (Pick a group and connect. A disconnected student is often a desperately unhappy student. There is no reason to hide.);
- Really good food, if you’re lucky; and
- Opportunities to drink yourself silly with your new classmates (not a terrific idea)
A few things that are often NOT on the orientation agenda:
- they do, indeed, look alike,
- you haven’t been inside a library in a long time, or
- you haven’t held a book in your hand in five years and believe that everything you will ever need to know you can find on-line. (Oh, how wrong you are.)
When you sit down to brief your first case:
- You will have no idea what you are doing;
- You will then be astonished when someone in class nails the professor’s question about the case that you didn’t understand. (Fret not. That student has probably worked as a paralegal for the past five years.)
When you sit down in your first class:
- You will believe that everyone in the room is smarter than you. (It’s not true. Get over that as quickly as you can.)
- You will believe that the “right” answer is just out of reach. (Not true. If you have a truly gifted Socratic method teacher, you will never get the right answer, but you will enjoy the journey of trying to find it. If your professor is not so gifted, standing up to be grilled can be an alarming and painful experience.) All of this is in service of getting you to “think like a lawyer.” Have someone explain that to you, and keep asking until you get a satisfactory explanation.
- If you imagined that you could get by with a quick and not-so-thoughtful run through the reading without trying to understand what you read because that worked for you as an undergrad, you are delusional. (You will find this out soon enough.)
Where is the path?
Detours or Dead Ends
Jobs posted on multiple job boards and by multiple search firms will generate dozens or hundreds of candidates who can be sorted by GPA alone;
Impossible job descriptions gently described as “Purple Squirrels” because they seek impossible candidates such as a someone 10 years out of law school with seven years of corporate AND seven years of litigation, or a patent lawyer licensed in USA, Greece, Argentina, and Hong Kong from a Top 10 US law school who is fluent in English and French with an MBA as an additional preferred qualification; or
A realistic path
Make a plan
a. What kind of problem solver am I?
b. What kind of problem do I want to solve?
c. Who can pay me to solve the problem?
(2) Follow with common-sense market-based research: “Wishin’and hopin’ and thinkin’ and prayin’” was on the juke box in my junior high. It is not a research plan.
(3) Embark on a gut-suckingly realistic review of the credentials and behaviors needed to get hired. Ask people you respect for a frank and candid evaluation of you and your credentials. If you don’t have what you need and you have an opportunity to add to your credential pile, are you willing or able to acquire them? If you don’t have what you need and there is no path to acquiring those credentials, make a new plan.
(4) Understand your financial obligations. The miracles of universal payments “capped at 10% of income” and “forgiveness in 10 years” are good ideas that may or may not be funded in your lifetime.
Why make a plan?
That’s why you plan.
After Spring Break.
- Hunker down now. Up the ante on studying. Finish, tweak, and memorize outlines. Outline the note cases. Listen to recordings of every class for which there is a record. Take practice exams daily.
- Double down on job search until two weeks before finals. Then, proceed with #1.
Count your time.
Create a schedule: keep panic in check.
Spring Job Search Bonus Alert!
Interviewing during finals.
It happens. Be glad that you got the call. Employers may not be willing to wait to conduct your interview until after finals, however, they are usually willing to interview around your exam schedule.
Go to the interview. Knock it out of the ballpark. Get back to studying.
___Susan Gainen created a suite of training programs for law and other students (Alternative Careers, 2nd Career Law Students, I’am a 3L…What now?, Job Search Skills Outside of OCI, Job Search Skills = Business Development Skills, and Professionalism Has Attached). She is also an artist who has taken responsibility for the historic, pre-historic, and whimsical creatures of her hometown, Saint Paul, Minnesota. At her Small Friends‘ website, find Lost Cave Paintings, Wild Parrots of the Winter of 2013, Tiny Wild Hummingbirds, Pandas and Frogs from the Hidden Bamboo Forest of Saint Paul, and Saint Paul’s Backyard Rooster Haven.
Writing to a search firm is a crap shoot
Even if a search firm is working on a specific assignment, your application letter is a gamble. Getting a job through a search firm is like winning the lottery, it is not a comprehensive a career planning strategy. If you understand where search firms fit in the hierarchy of job search strategies, you can manage your expectations.
Casting a wide net
The tricky part for candidates is knowing what might make their experience exceptional. The tricky part for search firms can be extracting meaningful specific information that they can use to source the candidate with exceptional experience.
The subset of the wide net is the search for the Purple Squirrel which has impossible requirements.
Why can’t I write the best letter?
Consider the hierarchy of job search sources
- Connections that you have. These are people who you have enlisted in your Career Development Team. They are personal and professional connections, including the person who cuts your hair who can only tip you toward employment if you tell her what you want.
- Connections that you make, including direct contact made by search firms to you, personally. Headhunters don’t make random “let’s chat” calls. They call people whose credentials and experience match a specific client’s job order or those who they believe might be helpful in finding marketable candidates. In the very late 1980s I conducted a pre-internet search for a 4th year Big Law Corporate Associate who spoke Polish for the people who were trying to buy the Gdansk Shipyards. My strategy? I used the paper version of Martindale Hubbell (this link has a very nice photo of the hard-bound volumes) and called every lawyer in Chicago and Boston whose last name ended with “ski.” Using the telephone (that’s what we had in the Olden Days), it took six weeks to find the guy, and then the deal cratered. I was grateful to everyone who returned my calls.
- Referrals from #1 or #2 are not necessarily for jobs, but may be for connections to opportunities (barber’s brother-in-law is the mayor of Left Elbow,MN, see #4)
- Opportunities that you identify by staying current with local and business news (new start up incubator opening in Left Elbow, Minnesota? Jump on it!)
- Job postings (a) on professional organizations’ websites, twitter feeds, and LinkedIn posts, and (b) in general publications or on-line. Postings from actual employers are likely to have specific information about job openings. Armed with the name of the employer, you can conduct business/industry research which will help you write a good letter.
- Ads from search firms. Lacking the transparency of a posting from an identifiable employer, you are left to create documents that will seem unfocused and random. The remedy? Provide meaningful specific information about two or three best examples of your problem-solving experiences. Hope — yes hope — that your specific experience is what an employer is seeking.
Telepathy is not a practice management tool
Ten tips for moving a small practice can get you started. Use this guide to start your list and get to work.
Harness school connections
1. Contact your law school career office. Its staff may be familiar with alumni in your new area. They should be delighted to make introductions because they know that introductions may lead to new job connections for current students and other grads.
Harness personal and professional connections
4. Announce your move in every paper and electronic publication associated with any part of your personal and professional life. Don’t forget your high school classmates who you have found on Facebook. Unless you have been paying close attention, you won’t know that the person with whom you shared a frog-dissection experience lives in your new location.
Take action: choose volunteer activities wisely
Recreate referral sources
8. Because you are moving an existing practice (or traveling with an existing skill set), you know your target clients and referral sources, or at least you know where they hang out. For example, an elder law practice benefits from giving presentations in nursing homes, houses of worship, meetings with bankers, social workers, etc. You know your referral sources. Find them and connect.
Welcome people into your new space
9. Announce the opening of your office in the local newspapers (paper and electronic versions.) Host an open house.
Mid-February is the time when some 3Ls begin waffling about taking the July Bar. Waffle no more! Sign up for a bar exam.
Good excuses for skipping a July bar
Having a baby.
Not-so-good excuses for skipping a July bar
I don’t know where I will practice.
Push-back. “It’s a waste of time and money to take a bar exam for a place where I might not practice.”
Interview issue: 20 seconds or 20 minutes?
I am tired of studying/I need a break.
Out of 30 years of experience in boom and bust economies in a variety of volatile businesses, Susan Gainen has created a suite of programs for law and other students that can be scheduled by career professionals, admissions or alumni relations offices, or student groups. (Alternative Careers, 2nd Career Lawyers, Job Search Outside of OCI, Job Search Skills = Business Development Skills, Professionalism Has Attached, I’m A 3L/What Now?) In addition to lecturing, she provides individual career counseling, resume review, and business development training.
3 Steps for 3Ls: Get up and go!
1. APPLICATION IN PROGRESS: ANSWER THESE QUESTIONS BEFORE THE INTERVIEW
2. STILL UNFOCUSED? Don’t be embarrassed if you are still unfocused about what you want to do. It’s ok that you don’t know your path, but it’s not ok to KEEP not knowing your path.
3. TELEPATHY IS NOT A JOB SEARCH TOOL.
She also has a life as a painter, and has taken responsibility for the prehistoric and whimsical wildlife of her hometown, Saint Paul Minnesota. (The Lost Cave Paintings of Saint Paul, The Pandas of the Hidden Bamboo Forest of Saint Paul, The Wild Parrots of Saint Paul, and the Tiny Wild Hummingbirds of Saint Paul).
3L spring semester job search strategies range from very smart to completely delusional.
Ideal: Organized, structured, systematic and not frantic combination of:
Not so good #1: Ramen Noodles.
“I want a job, any job” inspires activity as fruitless as throwing noodles against the wall to test for done-ness by seeing what sticks.
Frantic application for every possible job posting looks deceptively like forward motion, but it is so time-consuming that it supplants thoughtful assessment, careful research into options (substantive law, the nut-and-bolts reality of specific jobs, geographic locations, etc.), and all other activities known to produce results. (See Ideal, above)
Not-so-good #2: Magical Thinking.
Classic example: Consider the student who applied only to the Cook County Public Defender for the three years that he was in law school, which coincided neatly with the office’s three-year hiring freeze. Sadly for the career professionals who have to document and answer for the employment results of each student, there is no category for “delusional.”
Oh So Sad. Hiding under the bed and communing with dust bunnies, who are not hiring.
There are some students for whom part of this strategy is correct:
Search on hold? A waste of time
Don’t know what you want to do?
Don’t know where you want to practice?
Don’t know where you want to take the bar, so you’ll take it in February?
Opting for the February bar because you are tired of studying is a frequent cry of retreat from students who for a variety of reasons can’t focus on next week, much less next fall. Get a grip because:
1. Many jobs require that you have taken and passed a bar exam before you can be considered as a candidate. Assuming that you pass, you can’t begin a search until at least year after graduation.
2. You will never care more about Torts and Contracts than you will just after graduation.
3. Studying with your pals (either in your law school’s location or in a bar study site where you might have just a few classmates) is a comfort. When students around you are wailing about material that is new to them, you and your well-instructed pals can nod knowingly and silently thank your first year professors.
4. Because the February bar is out of pattern, you will have to explain yourself for taking it. Your risk? “I donated a kidney” will make you a hero. “I just didn’t get around to it/I was tired of studying/I just needed a break” can brand you a slacker.
Know that you want to travel after taking the bar?
Help is available.
Every single law student in American has access to a career office staffed with professionals who are there to guide you through the easy stuff (resumes) and the really hard stuff (decided what you want to do, and devising strategies to help you achieve your goals).
One 20-minute visit is not enough.
If you believe that your career office is understaffed, take your concerns to the Dean who is uniquely situated to remedy the situation. Talk about student-to-professional ratios. Do the math. If you have 600 students and two professional staff, how many minutes can each student spend with a career adviser in one year?
Don’t forget that every minute of every day isn’t available for students, because the career professionals must reach out to prospective and current employers, alumni, bar association and other professionals. They also organize and plan the programming that you should be attending, and they also work hard to stay current with the market for lawyers and for opportunities for alternative career paths.
Out of 30 years of experience in boom and bust economies in a variety of volatile businesses, Susan Gainen has created a suite of programs for law and other students that can be scheduled by career professionals, admissions or alumni relations offices, or student groups. (Alternative Careers, 2nd Career Lawyers, Job Search Outside of OCI, Job Search Skills = Business Development Skills, I’m A 3L/What Now?) In addition to lecturing, she provides individual career counseling, resume review, and business development training.
She also has a life as a painter, and has taken responsibility for the prehistoric and whimsical wildlife of her hometown Saint Paul Minnesota. (The Lost Cave Paintings of Saint Paul, The Pandas of the Hidden Bamboo Forest of Saint Paul, The Wild Parrots of Saint Paul, and the Tiny Wild Hummingbirds of Saint Paul).