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The Career Path Less Traveled, Part III

By Traci Ray (UO Law ’07), Director of Marketing, Client Services & Events, Barran Liebman
Reprinted with permission from the April 2012 Multnomah Lawyer

Over the past few months, young lawyers have shared their trials and tribulations in seeking employment. First, Jim and Mackenzie unveiled their successes using staffing agencies. Last month, Yumi and Sean focused on starting out in non-attorney roles. This month, in my third and final column, Jonathan French, a partner with Immix Law group, and Duke Tufty, an associate at Davis Wright Tremaine, explain how making meaningful connections and engaging in informational interviews helped them each seal the employment deal.

Jon, a partner at Immix Law group, decided to move to Portland in late 2008 following six years of active duty as a navy JAG. Before making the move from Norfolk, Virginia, Jon made two trips to Portland. “I set up a whole bunch of informational interviews for both of my visits to Portland,” Jon recalls. “I thought it was best to create a critical mass with informational interviews, so that I could keep my energy and momentum up, and so that the people I was interviewing with could talk to each other about me. It had a cross-pollination effect of sorts that benefited my search.” And benefit, it did. Jon’s efforts were rewarded with a job offer three days after he arrived in Portland.

Jon continued to expand his network even after landing his first Portland job and it has paid incredible dividends in terms of career and deep relationships, Jon explains. Jon is now a big proponent of being involved, inside and outside of work. “New lawyers should look to engage outside of work, in business groups, nonprofits and other community organizations to get to know this place we live and work in and the people who make it move. A lawyer needs to be a part of a firm that supports those efforts, too,” Jon advises.

Jon describes networking like this: “I believe in relationship-building, which is ‘us-focused’ (as opposed to regular networking which is ‘me-focused’) and is highly rewarding in the long term, beyond just a job search. Whatever organizations you choose to belong to (and they should be things you’re passionate enough about to really invest yourself into) you should always seek genuine relationships with real people, not shallow contacts with ‘influential’ people. It means meeting people without an agenda in hand and without seeking anything from them. I’ve found that people in the Portland community, and particularly the business community, are really open to sharing their wisdom and guidance and sharing their connections with you if you approach them first from a place of genuine interest in relationship.” Well said, Jon.

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Duke, an associate with Davis Wright Tremaine and the president-elect of the MBA YLS, graduated from law school without a job. “Unfortunately, the company I did my summer clerkships with was not hiring, but they were very helpful in making introductions and providing good recommendations,” Duke shares. Luckily, one of those introductions led to two informational interviews and ultimately a job for him. “The first informational interview was helpful, but not necessarily encouraging. The interviewer (my future employer) repeatedly indicated that they wanted someone with 5-7 years of experience. I did not let this dampen my enthusiasm. I focused on why I would be able to fulfill many of the job functions she described with little or no training. For duties that some training would be required, I emphasized my demonstrated history of being a self-starter, my ability to deliver quality work product with little or no supervision and some creative ways to get the training with little cost or effort on her part. She called me back about six weeks later, offered me an interview, and then hired me. I was thrilled and really enjoyed my time there. If it were not for my current job at DWT, I would likely still be happily working there,” Duke explains.

Duke’s positive experiences with informational interviews did not stop with his first job. “During law school, I heard about Jim Neill, a partner at DWT, who focused on alcohol regulatory and restaurant law. I was intrigued and excited about the possibility of building a practice in this area. I arranged an informational interview with him through one of my friends at law school. Nothing came of this interview for about 18 months. However, I stayed in touch with friends who were associates at DWT and let them know that I continued to be interested in working there.

Almost a year and a half after first meeting Jim, I received a call and later a series of interviews that led to an offer that I eagerly accepted,” Duke fondly remembers. “Years later, Jim recounted to me what about our interview stayed with him and, in part, why they contacted me later. I supported myself through college and additional education by bartending and managing bars. During the interview, he asked me what my favorite drink was to make as a bartender. A softball question if there ever was one. Rather than give a pat answer, I went into a history of the Manhattan. I detailed the many variants of the drink, how I preferred to make and drink one, and what distinguished a good one from a great one. In addition, I took this as an opportunity to describe how to anticipate the needs of a guest, how to quickly build rapport with them and ultimately how to develop regulars by exceeding their expectations and delivering a memorable experience.

Then, I drew the connection between my extensive service experience and delivering a similar level of service to clients of the firm. This really made an impression on Jim and seemed to be the difference between just another informational interview and a job opportunity. Jim passed away not so long ago and I always think of him when ordering a Manhattan. He was a fantastic attorney, friend and mentor.”

Overall, Duke had the following advice to job seekers: “The best approach to finding a legal job is through meeting people and making connections. Informational interviews represent one of many ways of doing this. It is important to build your resume, develop useful skills and be strategic at the same time so you have something to offer when meeting people. You never know when and where opportunities may arise. Whether it leads to finding a job, building a referral network or just meeting some great people, it’s worth it. The sooner you start, the more organized you are, and the more persistent you are, the better your chances of finding the perfect job. Build your credentials, develop your skills and reputation, and meet as many people as possible. And try to have fun doing it.”

I would like to extend a hearty thank you to all six interviewees who participated in my three columns. And to everyone who made it through all three columns, thanks for reading. If I have not met you already, I look forward to meeting you soon – maybe at the next MBA YLS social, which just happens to be the YLS Judges Social & CourtCare Fundraiser on April 19 at Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt, and is the perfect place to expand your network and meet some of the attorneys profiled. I hope to see you there!

Traci Ray is the Director of Marketing, Client Services & Events at Barran Liebman, an employment, labor & benefits law firm. She is the chair of the OSB’s Pro Bono Committee, and a board member for the MBA’s Young Lawyers Division. Traci can be reached at email.

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Oregon Law » » Career Center » April 17, 2012 » The Career Path Less Traveled, Part III