Like most incoming law students, I discovered the marketplace for law school advice well before classes began. I read far too many blogs, articles and books explaining, for the most part, how to read books. A large percentage of these sources also focused on the deteriorated state of the legal job market. Phrases like “structural change” and “worst in decades” seemed ubiquitous in even the most optimistic writings. Despite the dire forecasts, I sent my seat deposit to W&L and hoped my past successes could be repeated in the law school environment.
Upon arrival at 1L orientation, I was once again exposed to the same downward-sloping graphs and shrinking charts that gave me pause the previous spring and summer. That message, however, was conditioned with a description of the myriad services available to help W&L students navigate the tough job market. Unfortunately, the Association for Legal Career Professionals prohibits the use of those services by 1Ls until November 1st. Thus, rather than our key job search resource, the admissions team gave us a few networking tips and a directive to focus on classes for the first few months. That is exactly what I did.
When I pulled my head out of the books in mid-October, the admission and career planning teams were ready with a different message. The no contact phase had almost concluded and new graphs were on display, graphs with a clear upward trajectory. I saw long lists of employers willing to speak with me and an expanding map of alumni connections. My optimism grew along with the number of job notice emails in my inbox. Although I was not yet permitted to communicate with the Office of Career Planning (OCP), I decided to apply for a few positions in the field that most interested me, economic regulation and commercial law.
With no access to the OCP, I prepared my application with those resources that were available. I modeled my legal resume after templates listed on the OCP website. I talked to my Burks Scholar about cover letter strategy. Perhaps most importantly of all, I sought advice from two 3L students that were previously employed by the same governmental organization I was applying to. One student was working on his 3L externship out of state, but was accessible by email. He promptly replied to my message and gave me his impression of the program and some interview talking points. I found the second student studying in his carrel. He cheerfully described the program to me for 30 minutes and helped to tailor my cover letter to the employer’s program goals. Based on the support I received from those students, I felt confident to submit my application.
When I was offered several interviews, those students who aided my application once again gave me advice on what to expect. Well over a dozen 2Ls and 3Ls gave me tips and helped shape my expectations for the interview. It is tempting to think the attention I received was an anecdotal reaction to my charming nature, but I know many other students who have had a similar experience. My roommate, through the exact same preparation process, knew his future employer’s growth plans and the name of his interviewer’s dog well before he was granted an interview. Both my roommate and I had successful application and interview experiences because of the support we received from other students.
I accepted my first job, a funded position with a state attorney general, before I was even allowed to have my application reviewed by OCP and long before semester grades were decided. The job is in the exact legal field and geographic region I wanted. I was not forced to make any concessions in my job search.
Since grades were released and the no contact period ended, I have applied and interviewed with several other potential employers. Through the same peer-supported application preparation, I was able to accept a split-summer offer with the Department of Justice in Washington, DC in early February.
Of all the articles I read before I came to law school, not one made me believe that the job market was uncompetitive. You could spend hundreds of dollars on books that claim to have a system or secret to navigate the job search process. I never spent that money and I never read those books. I came to law school with the same lingering employment doubts that you likely have. Those doubts were allayed by the support of older W&L students who advised me through the job search process. This article is my attempt to do the same for you.