In a legal job search, it’s important to stand out from the crowd. Whether you went to law school straight from college or came to the law as a second career, the best way to differentiate yourself is to stay curious and follow your curiosity. Below, we’ll offer several strategies for developing experiences that will help you stand out in your job search.
1. Make sure your life is about more than law school.
Let’s face it, law school is a lot. But it’ll be hard to stand out in a job search if all you can talk about are evidence hypos. Not to mention that maintaining interests, hobbies, and pursuits outside of school is an excellent way to keep an even keel during stressful times. Studying for a yoga certification? Trying to hike in every National Park? Learning a new language or musical instrument? Volunteering with a local organization? Keep at it and include it on your resume and LinkedIn profile.
These interests make you a whole person who can relate well to clients. They give you interesting stories to tell in interviews when, for example, you’re asked about what you enjoy doing or to describe a challenge you once faced. They might also offer a way to find a niche in the legal field. For example, a lawyer who loves music might find fulfillment in advising musician-clients on the intricacies of copyright law and licensing agreements.
2. Dig deeper on legal topics that interest you.
That said, you went to law school for a reason, so when a legal issue piques your interest in class, dig in. Talk to your professor after class about additional reading and research resources on the topic. Maybe the topic is also fascinating to your professor. Ask if your professor needs a research assistant.
Your professor and your school’s career services personnel can also tell you what kinds of lawyers might engage with this topic regularly in their practices. What professional organizations do these lawyers belong to? Do these organizations have a students’ section? Join it and include your membership on your resume and LinkedIn profile.
3. Research and write.
Attending professional-organization meetings as a student member is a great way to learn about hot topics on the minds of other practitioners. Some organizations have writing contests on emerging topics. Others might publish a journal. You might also take upper-level courses that focus on these topics. Take any and all of these opportunities to write deeply about the topics that interest you the most.
If you can get your writing published, that’s an outstanding feather in your cap that will stand out to potential employers. But even if you’re not published, the level of engagement you’ll gain with in-depth researching and writing is invaluable. It’ll enable you to speak knowledgably on a topic during interviews and in networking conversations with other practitioners. It’ll also show potential employers your curiosity and ability to dive deeply into a topic, both valued skills in the legal profession. And finally, it’ll give you a writing sample to provide to potential employers who require one.
4. Seek out mentors.
Professional organizations also provide opportunities to meet other lawyers who share your interests. Those lawyers can be wonderful mentors who can tell you how they found their jobs and fields of practice. Everyone’s story will be different, so don’t feel the need to follow someone else’s path lockstep. Rather, use those mentor conversations to get a sense for the possibilities. Those conversations might also provide insight about which search strategies worked and which didn’t.
By building strong mentor relationships, you’ll not only have access to information about career paths, but you’ll also have a pool of references and recommenders ready to support you. Your mentors might also hear about potential openings before you do, giving you a head start in the application process.
5. Hone your soft skills.
All the above-mentioned strategies also implicate soft skills, which are those nontechnical attributes that relate to how you work and how you interact with the people and world around you. Soft skills include:
- attention to detail,
- communication (writing, speaking, reading, listening),
- conflict resolution,
- creative and critical thinking,
- time management, and
- work ethic.
Employers value employees who have refined soft skills. Soft skills are so important that they’re often the reason employers hire, retain, and promote people. It’s great to have a smart lawyer. It’s even greater to have a lawyer who, even fresh out of law school, can move seamlessly from say, independent work to a collaborative project.
So, while you’re becoming well-rounded, researching, writing, and finding mentors, don’t forget to hone your soft skills and seek out opportunities to show them off. If you put these strategies to work in pursuing what already interests you, then they won’t seem like work at all. The result will be experiences, application materials, and a professional network that tell employers a unique, compelling story about who you are and what you’re capable of.