The Career Path Less Traveled
By Traci Ray (UO Law ’07), Director of Marketing, Client Services & Events, Barran Liebman
Reprinted with permission from the February 2012 Multnomah Lawyer
As much as we’d all like the fairy tale job story to be our reality, the truth is, the fairy tale is rarely the common experience. Getting creative in finding work can be daunting, but very rewarding. In this first article of a series on job hunting, Jim Miner, General Counsel for Western Construction, and Mackenzie Hogan, an associate with Harris & Bowker, share their unique career paths using temporary staffing agencies.
Jim is a father of three who moved to Oregon from California in 2007 to take the Oregon bar. Jim did not know anyone in Oregon, let alone in the legal community. During those three frightful months between taking the bar and getting his results, Jim found that not only law firms, but workplaces in general, were not hiring. “I felt desperate. I wasn’t a lawyer yet, so law firms were not interested and I was overqualified for other jobs.” So, Jim went to a staffing agency to try and find something, anything, to help support his family. He was led to believe that he would not get a call back from the staffing agency, but miraculously, he got a call from a local construction company that needed help with paperwork for a few weeks. Although not his dream job, Jim took the opportunity. “I ended up passing the bar while on my two-week job, and the president [of the company] approached me with a new offer to work on streamlining the contracts that all the managers were using on the jobs.” Jim took the job, and soon became the company’s official legal counsel. He worked his way up, proving that he was competent and cost-saving, taking on 90% of the legal work that was previously going to outside counsel. Jim doesn’t consider himself lucky to have found Western Construction. “Luck isn’t enough,” says Jim. “It’s about what you do with a lucky opportunity that matters.” Jim has been Western Construction’s General Counsel for over four years now, and he describes his job as “completely satisfying.” His advice to young lawyers is simple: “Think outside the box and put yourself out there. Be patient, develop relationships, and bring value to any opportunity presented. You have to put any ego aside, perhaps take less money to get in the door, but all you need is one chance.”
Mackenzie Hogan, and his lawyer wife, Emily Hogan, both graduated from U of O School of Law. “I graduated law school just as the bottom fell out of the legal job market in Portland. I had applied for a few things the spring before graduation and the summer while studying for the bar and had no luck landing anything. Usually I didn’t even hear back on my applications,” notes Mackenzie. As this cycle continued, he began to realize that he needed to consider other options for the immediate future. “After scouring craigslist, the U of O and Lewis & Clark Career Center Web sites, the OSB and MBA Web sites, monster.com and Oregonlive, I decided that a change in tactics was needed.”
Mackenzie had heard about other people using temporary staffing agencies, so he tested the waters. He applied to various agencies and was soon set up with an interview at Harris & Bowker. They needed help catching up on some corporate matters, client correspondence and filing. “It just so happened that the day I interviewed
with the firm, the secretary quit. So, instead of starting the following Monday, I got a call later that day asking me to start the next day and to fill in for the secretary until they hired a replacement. Eventually we hired a replacement for the secretary and I was hired on full-time as a paralegal for the firm and eventually became an associate.”
A happy ending? Yes. Storybook? No. “At the end of the day I learned that while gaining employment through a temp agency might not appear to be the most glamorous way to land a job, once you get your foot in the door good things can happen.” Coming out of law school, Mackenzie was looking for something permanent involving transactional work. He took a job as a secretary that led him to an associate position. “It just so happens that I landed at a firm where I get to practice law with great people and really enjoy my job. It’s cliché – not everyone can wake up in the morning and look forward to going to work, but I can.” Mackenzie’s advice to young lawyers, “You never know if a temporary opportunity is going to lead to something bigger and better, which is why you cannot underestimate the value of doing a good job. Working hard as a temporary employee is how I got where I am and looking back now, I am happy with the path my career has taken.”
Traci Ray is the Director of Marketing, Client Services & Events at Barran Liebman, an employment, labor & benefits law firm. She is a member of the OSB, and a board member for the MBA Young Lawyers Section. Traci can be reached at email.