For many law students, finding a post-graduation job is their #1 goal. But as anyone who has been through the legal hiring process can tell you, it’s not as easy as sending out applications and waiting for an offer. The standard hiring process for new lawyers is highly structured, and knowledge of this process is required to successfully land your dream job. Luckily, we at Quimbee are here to help. In this article, we’ll provide you with an overview of how you can find your ideal legal career. This process certainly isn’t one-size-fits-all; many lawyers will tell you they began their careers in a variety of ways. But if you’re looking to maximize your options, it helps to understand and follow the tried-and-truth path for legal hiring.
Finding a 1L Summer Job
Your first semester of law school should be spent focusing on earning the best grades you possibly can. Your grades will be the most vital component of every application you send over the next few years. When you start applying for jobs, your nonlawyer friends and family might tell you that nobody actually looks at your grades. While this may be a true statement in other career fields, it’s not true in the legal industry. Your grades matter very highly to law firms and other legal employers. Many law firms have strict—even if not publicly stated—requirements as to what grade point averages (GPAs) are acceptable to them.
Your first semester of law school is stressful enough. You’ll be learning an entirely new way of thinking. Don’t overburden yourself by also worrying about finding a job so early in the year. There will be plenty of time in the spring to seek out summer opportunities.
In previous years, the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) placed strict requirements on legal employers in regard to recruiting first-semester 1L students. Those requirements have been lifted, so employers may recruit at any time. This may make you feel like you need to begin your job search earlier, but again, remember that if you don’t have the grades to get hired, your job search will be in vain.
So how do you go about finding a job after your 1L year? Unlike your 2L year, there is no formal recruitment process to help you meet employers. Instead, your law school will likely host a number of more informal events throughout the year where you’ll be able to meet prospective employers. For those of you who may be more introverted, the idea of attending these events might fill you with dread. But they offer you a unique opportunity to meet and mingle with top professionals in your field, so if at all possible, convince yourself to attend. Bring a friend, or just go for the free food. Whatever gets you through that door.
Your 1L summer is also a time to explore—to work in a practice area or industry you might not have ever considered. While some law firms offer post-1L summer-associate jobs, most firms reserve their summer jobs for 2L students. So even if you plan on working in a law firm after you graduate, you’ll likely want to consider a different type of job for your 1L summer. Many 1Ls find work either in public interest or in in-house legal departments.
Whatever your interests may be, be sure to develop a relationship with your law school’s career-services office (CSO). Your career advisor will be able to help you navigate the hiring market, tell you which employers typically hire students at your school, and may be able to connect you with potential employers. You shouldn’t rely exclusively on your CSO—nobody will care about your job search as much as you—but the CSO is a vital tool in the process.
Most summer jobs are paid, but especially for your 1L summer, the pay is not likely to be substantial. No matter what job you take for this summer, remember that ultimately, your goal is to build a professional network. You’re playing a long-term game here. Even if it doesn’t seem likely right now, the connections that you make during your summer could prove beneficial throughout your career.
Finding a 2L Summer Job
Depending on the approach you take, the hiring process for 2Ls can be vastly more structured compared to 1L summer. If you haven’t already, you’ll quickly learn about the on-campus interview (OCI) process. OCI takes place at the very beginning of 2L year. Dozens of employers will come to campus to interview students for positions after their 2L year. The precise way OCI works can vary dramatically depending on your law school and on the individual employer. For some OCI opportunities, interviewees are chosen on a lottery system; for others, the employer will limit interviewees based on GPA. If you’re interested in participating in OCI, be sure to work closely with your CSO to ensure you’re taking the right approach to landing interviews.
For many law firms, OCI is the primary means of recruiting new attorneys. Many law students who are recruited through OCI end up working for that same employer after they graduate. Thus, OCI can feel like a high-stakes game. In some ways, it is. However, it’s important to keep in mind that while your law school will likely place a high emphasis on OCI, the ABA reports that about 90 percent of the nation’s law graduates do not get hired through OCI.
Clearly, then, many employers do not hire through OCI. How do you find a job if not through OCI? The same way you found a job during your 1L year—networking, networking, networking. With any luck, you have made some connections over the past year that can help you land a job this summer. Reach out to professors and previous employers, as well as your CSO. There are also a number of online job boards that post legal positions, though job-board applications often do not lead to interviews.
It’s always better, if possible, to use real-life connections when trying to find a job. Your resume certainly matters—especially, as we discussed earlier, your GPA—but to get your foot in the door, it often helps to know someone. This is part of what you’re paying for in law school—a built-in network of professionals who can help get your career off the ground. Make use of this network. Your school likely has an alumni association that will help connect current students with graduates who have job openings. Use this network.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the job search and to let the search consume you. As best you can, try to remain focused on your classes. Getting a bad grade because you were stressed out about employment opportunities will only exacerbate the situation. Develop a process and a schedule for your job hunt, and stick to it.
Finding a Full-time Career
Depending on your job status, the emotions you feel during your 3L year can cover a wide spectrum. For the lucky few who receive early job offers, 3L can feel like a victory lap—a year to take enjoyable classes and prepare for the future ahead. For the rest of us, 3L year is a stressful time. If you haven’t secured a full-time job before Christmas, don’t freak out. While it may seem like everyone around you has their futures figured out, this certainly isn’t true. Instead of looking around at your classmates, focus on yourself. What can you do to land a solid job upon graduation?
First, make sure your CSO knows that you’re still on the job search. If they haven’t heard from you in awhile, they might just assume that you’ve already found a job. Keep them posted on your search—let them know what cities, practice areas, and types of jobs you’re looking at.
If you’ve exhausted all the typical job-search channels, get creative with your search. More and more employers are seeing the value in having juris doctors (JDs) in non-attorney positions. The legal industry labels these “JD-advantage” jobs. Such jobs may not have been on your initial job-search list, but they can lead to long and fulfilling careers, minus tracking the billable hours that comes with being a practicing attorney. JD-advantage jobs include positions like contracts administrators, alternative-dispute resolution specialists, regulatory analysts, project managers, FBI agents, and accountants.
Additionally, new attorneys who are looking for long-term positions may take on temporary work as document-review attorneys. These are relatively low-paying positions that typically operate on a project basis, and they don’t require much advanced thinking. However, such a job may be what you need to help pay the bills while you look for a more stable role.
No matter what you do after law school, we hope Quimbee has helped prepare you for what is to come. For those of you who will be working at a law firm, check out Quimbee’s course, Succeeding as a Summer Associate, which is included in all Quimbee Siver and Quimbee Gold memberships. In that course, we walk you through every aspect of working as a summer associate and provide you tips on how you can land a full-time job offer. And when you do find your career, let us know! We always appreciate hearing from you.