If you’ve been working with an employer for a summer or two and no one has brought up the subject of postgraduate employment, you may want to initiate that discussion as the summer is winding down. If you’re interested in working there, be sure your employer knows it. Although you might be feeling good about your prospects, it would be awful to assume that everyone is on the same page and that an offer will be forthcoming only to find out at some point during your 3L year that everyone was not on the same page, an offer is not forthcoming, and you’ve missed out on a lot of other opportunities.
Some people choose to set up a meeting with their direct supervisor to raise the subject. Others might submit a formal application. How you choose to proceed really depends on your specific situation, including your level of familiarity with your colleagues and company culture, as well as what you feel most comfortable doing. By crafting a letter and submitting a formal resume, the employer will know you are serious and it will allow you to market all of your accomplishments, some of which they may not be aware of. It also allows your materials to be shared among all those who will have a say in the decision making.
It’s likely that you will receive some variation of one of the three answers that appear below, and I’ve provided some tips on how you might respond in each hypothetical situation.
1. “We really like you and the quality of your work product, but we just won’t have enough work/space/money to take on another attorney next year.”
It’s perfectly natural to feel disappointed if this is somewhere that you were really hoping to begin your career, and it’s fine to express that, but I would also thank them for their candor and the valuable experience you’ve gained through working with them. You certainly don’t want to do anything that will jeopardize your chances of getting hired there if circumstances were to change.
There are two things that I would bring up during this conversation/exchange:
- Given that you’re going to need to start applying for postgraduate employment, speak with your supervisor or whomever you’ve worked closely with there about serving as a reference or providing you with a letter of recommendation.
- Find out whether they are open to you continuing to clerk with them until you have lined up alternative postgraduate work. If they’re cool with it, there’s really no downside for you. It’s obviously better to be employed and seeking than unemployed and seeking, and, as noted above, you never know if circumstances might change. Someone might quit unexpectedly, and you’ll be there waiting in the wings.
2. “We really like you and the quality of your work product, but we just don’t know yet whether we will be in a position to hire another attorney.
This is always a tough one for students to navigate. I would start by asking for more information. “When do you think you will know?” There’s a big difference in waiting a few months versus waiting until next July, but it’s possible that neither will feel like a viable option for you. If that’s the case, tell them: “A lot of hiring will take place this fall, and although I would love to work here, I don’t feel I’m in a position to wait until [x] before I start looking.” I think most employers are understanding, but it also might prompt them to reconsider whether they can extend an offer now. I’ve seen the latter happen in both law firms and nonprofits. The same two tips from above regarding references and continuing to work there until you have something else in place apply here.
I know an attorney who, as a 3L, found himself in this type of situation. The law firm that had employed him as a law clerk couldn’t guarantee a postgraduate position, so he began to apply for other opportunities. When word got around the firm that he was going to be interviewing with another employer, his firm realized that they didn’t want to risk losing him and made the decision to extend him an offer. I don’t mean to suggest that this will always be the outcome if you tell your employer you’re going to start looking around, but things do sometimes work out that way. Finally, if you receive an offer elsewhere but your current employer would still be your first choice, make sure you talk with them before accepting it.
3. “We spoke about you at our last partner’s meeting and we are all in agreement that we would like to hire you next year. We’ll need to talk more about details, but I am confident that we can work something out that’s agreeable for both of us.”
Thank them and breathe a sigh of relief.
Obviously, there are some things you’ll want to think about and you may need to negotiate the job offer when it’s formalized. Your Career Services Office should have salary statistics and advice to help you navigate that process.
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