If you’re a 3L and don’t have a job lined up for after bar exam results come in, you need to develop a strategy to help you land your first job out of law school. Here are five things to keep in mind when making a plan to find your first job with a J.D.
1. Make Your Job Search Your Top Priority
During law school, it can be hard to know how exactly how to prioritize your time. Between attending classes, completing reading and writing assignments, outlining and preparing for final exams, and participating in any extracurricular activities you’ve signed up for, you might feel like you have no time to allocate to searching for a job.
Once you reach your 3L year, your job search should be your top priority. Many entry-level positions like judicial clerkships, post-graduate fellowships, and “bridge to practice” positions (the types of jobs you can take while waiting for bar results) have strict application deadlines. If you’re not being proactive and organized in your approach to your job search, these deadlines will pass you by and you’ll miss out on career opportunities.
During the summer after graduation, you’ll be focused on bar prep and far too busy to apply for jobs. Most legal employers are aware of this and don’t actively recruit recent law school graduates during the months of June and July. And while your law school grades are important, spending your valuable time in your last year of school trying to bump up your GPA by a few tenths of a point isn’t going to help much if you’re unemployed when your student loans come due.
Don’t procrastinate on your job search! Finding gainful employment with room for growth is the reason you went to professional school in the first place. Shift your priorities so that you have ample time to search for jobs and submit thoughtful, quality applications that you’ve tailored to each position.
2. Ask for Advice
Don’t be ashamed to ask for help. Seek out advice on finding a job from anyone who’s willing to give it to you. Make regular appointments with your school’s career services office, reach out to lawyers who practice in the field(s) you’re interested in, talk to your mentors, consult recent graduates from your school, and speak with your adjunct professors who are practicing lawyers.
This type of networking is critical to your success in landing your first paid position after law school. If you think you don’t have time for this, you’re wrong! Set up as many informational interviews, coffee dates, and lunch meetings as you can. This is a great way to let people know that you’re on the market for a job, and they’ll be much more likely to forward you relevant opportunities and connect you to other lawyers who can help you.
3. Make a Written Plan
Spend some time writing down how you plan to search for jobs. How many hours a week will you devote to your job search? Which websites will you check regularly? What types of positions are you looking for? Which geographic markets appeal to you?
You’re in the infancy of your legal career, but it’s still important to acknowledge your goals and what you’re looking for in the future. Write down where you see yourself in two years, five years, and ten years. Although these things will likely change over time, it’s helpful to have your plans for your future written down and to reflect on them from time to time.
You should also make note of any factors that will influence your decision about whether or not to accept a job offer. Do you have a spouse, partner, and/or children who tie you to a specific geographic area? What’s your financial situation like? Are you willing to take a position in a less desirable market for a few years that will help you move back to your favorite city sometime down the road? Having these types of considerations in writing can help you when deciding on what types of positions for which you want to apply.
4. Be Flexible and Open-Minded
Very few people land their perfect job right after law school. What should matter to you most is getting real-world, hands-on legal experience that will help pay the bills. If you spend too much time focusing on your ideal job, you may pass up great opportunities that will prepare you to pivot into your dream job in the matter of a few years. Time goes by quickly after law school — remember that you’re not committing to your first legal job for the rest of your life.
5. Focus on Getting as Much Practical Experience as You Can
If you’re having a hard time landing a permanent position, try to develop practical skills through temporary work opportunities. Talk to your career office about small firms and non-profit organizations that might be willing to take on a post-grad law clerk to work under the supervision of a licensed attorney while you wait for bar results. You may also be able to find a post-graduate internship. Some of your professors will be looking for a research assistant to help with a forthcoming publication. If you’re financially able to take on volunteer work, reach out to local legal services organizations and see how you can put your law degree to good use.
These types of opportunities will help keep your resume current while you submit applications for permanent positions and line up job interviews.
Make Your Job Search Strategy Work for You
Once you have a 3L job search strategy in place, you should treat your job search like a part-time job. If you’re taking your job search seriously but feel like you’re still having trouble lining up a position, Law School Toolbox can help. Visit our Career Dicta page to learn more about our strategies and resources for your legal career.
Looking for some help to do your best in law school? Find out about our law school tutoring options.