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Career Advisor


Published in the October 4, 2011, AdvisorThe state of our economy will help shape the number and type of professional opportunities available to you as a student and a graduate. While some employers hire fewer lawyers during an economic downturn, the demand for some kinds of legal services soars during tough times. This article suggests some practical steps you can—and should—take as you hunt for a job in a tight market.Match the market. You can increase your chances of receiving an offer for summer or permanent legal employment by credibly showing an interest and experience in one of these relatively active practice areas:

  • Litigation/trial practice
  • Creditors’ rights/bankruptcy
  • Foreclosure
  • Employment and labor law
  • Regulatory law
  • Healthcare law

If you don’t already have a background in one of these areas, develop one now through coursework, an externship, or a clinic.

Enhance your skill set. Look for opportunities to improve your existing skills or to develop new ones. Skills courses, externships, and clinics are not the only avenues for this. Write papers about topics you enjoy, but that will also suggest to employers that you know something about the issues they work on. In addition, pro bono work can help you learn new skills. And attending bar association educational events can expose you to the hot topics in your future field while providing an opportunity to network.

Act now. Some of you have been engaged in a job search for months. For those who haven’t started yet, it’s not too late to begin. Watch for job notices, but don’t stop there; only a small percentage of employers post or advertise job openings. Many smaller employers make opportunistic hires when they meet candidates or receive their materials.

Keep at it. Academic performance matters to some employers, but other things are more important to many organizations; employers hire candidates who

  • show a genuine interest in the organization
  • are persistent and remind the employer periodically of their interest and availability
  • are available when an employer decides to hire, and
  • have the experience and skills necessary to complete the employer’s work.

Be open minded. Focus on the employers that interest you, but create your list with an open mind. Include more than one practice area and many geographic areas. Then make time to meet and talk with those employers before they post a job. The semester break presents a convenient opportunity to meet with employers near your home and to travel to other locations for informational interviews. Professional development is about networking and getting to know people.

Use your assets. Think about what you can offer employers based on your educational or personal background. For example, intellectual property firms and practice groups are hiring, but they are looking for candidates with a strong background in science or technology. If you qualify, apply early and broadly. Prepare for your conversations with those employers by reviewing your area of technical expertise; the lawyers may ask you about it during an interview.

What’s next? Complete the Career Planning Worksheet available in the Career Center and on MyLaw. If you need more guidance about how to proceed, make an appointment on Symplicity to meet with a career counselor or stop by during our drop-in hours.

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