When attending an out-of-state law school, the stress of job searching can make you wish you had the ability to click your heels three times to return home like Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz.” As a recent law school graduate and licensed North Carolina attorney, I can say that there are options and ways to ease the stress of job searching from an out state law school. After leaving North Carolina to attend law school in Virginia, I knew that I would need to be intentional with my job search if I wanted to return to North Carolina.
Job Search Options at an Out-of-State Law School
There are four major sources that can be utilized to help ease the stress of job searching from out of state.
Career Services Offices. OK, you got me. This is the easy answer. Yet, I was surprised at how many of my fellow classmates failed to utilize the Career Services office. I had several students tell me that they never set foot in the Career Services Office other than for required events. Do not waste a convenient valuable resource that is included in the price of tuition. Become familiar with your Career Services office and utilize their job bank. I applied to a large number of North Carolina state court clerkships through my Career Services office. Additionally, I found a large number of jobs posted by small firms looking for new attorneys in North Carolina. On a related note, most Careers Services offices have reciprocity agreements with other Career Services offices around the country. If you are not sure that your Career Services office has a reciprocity agreement with a law school in your home state, go ask. You can only improve your chances of getting a job by asking.
Social Media. For Millennials, social networking is the new norm. Gone are the days of attending Rotary Club and rubbing elbows with the local barons of industry. In its place, we have targeted job ads on LinkedIn and Facebook. People even post legal jobs on Craigslist. Social media can be a great way to find a job and to be introduced to potential employers through people you already know. As a word to the wise, be sure that you have a professional looking photo on your profile. Additionally, be sure to spruce up your LinkedIn profile so that potential employers get a holistic view of who you are. Add volunteer experiences, other languages you may know, your community involvement, any projects you may have worked on and, of course, your job history.
Networking. You know people who know people. While Millennials are the kings of social media, hiring managers tend to belong to Generation Y or even the Baby Boomer generation. You need to brush up on your etiquette and make connections the old-fashioned way: face-to-face. As with social media, utilize your unseen network. Think about how many people each of your friends and family members know. You have potential connections in many places. The job I accepted at a small firm came about in exactly this manner, but I will elaborate on that later. While it may be difficult to attend bar events in your home state, you should attempt to network with local attorneys when you are home during summer and holiday breaks.
State Bar Websites. Have you visited the North Carolina Bar Association’s (“NCBA”) website? If you answered in the negative, you are missing out on this underutilized job searching resource. NCBA membership is free for law students. Among other resources posted on the NCBA website is a job bank. As a member, you will receive information on law school related events, bar association events, and other great opportunities such as assisting with pro bono legal events. Try to find events that you can attend when you are home on break.
Job Searching Targeted at Small Firms
Job searching is hard enough as it is, but the issue is compounded when you start searching for jobs at small firms. The tips below are the four main tips I utilized to secure a job with a small firm.
Networking. I briefly covered this topic above, but I’m going to flesh it out a bit more. I secured my first internship after 1L year through my wife’s grandfather. He operates a non-profit organization and he introduced me to the organization’s attorney who owned a small firm. I was then able to take that unpaid internship and turn it into a paid part-time job with another firm. After 2L year, I secured an internship with an attorney who is on my dad’s masters swim team. Not only was it paid, but it led directly to my current job. The moral of the story is to use your greatest resource: your network of family and friends.
Introduce yourself. One of the best ways to make connections is to visit local law firms in the area you want to work and to set up informational interviews/meetings with an attorney at that firm. This is something I did even when I was on vacation. Talk with an attorney who has practiced in that locale to find out about the local bar and other pertinent information related to practicing in the area. Most law schools have an alumni locator that will allow you to find attorneys across the country.
Career Services. As noted above, Career Services can be a great resource for law students and attorneys alike. I was able to utilize the job bank to find internships and jobs to apply for with many small firms. In fact, the paid part-time job I had as a 2L was one that I found on the Career Services job bank. It was posted by an alum who owned her own firm. This is an easy method of advertising for alumni and they utilize it frequently. Be proactive and look for those jobs.
Take internships with small firms. Small firms do not have the ability or resources to recruit. This means that you need to get your resume and your face in front of the partners at a small firm. The last time my firm placed an ad for an attorney position, we received over 200 resumes. This is a likely scenario for most law firms. You can improve your chances of getting hired if the firm already knows you and likes the quality of your work product. The best way to do that is to intern with a small firm. Your goal should be to work hard and impress the attorneys in hopes that it will lead to a job. I was able to parlay my summer internship following 2L year with a small firm into a full-time job. When my internship ended, the firm did not have any available positions. However, a position opened up at the firm before I graduated and I had a job offer shortly thereafter. You never know what might happen, especially at a small firm. Finally, be willing to work for a nominal amount or even just for school credit, if your school offers it. The important part is to get your foot in the door and to create good work product.
Miscellaneous Job Searching Tips
Leverage your summer internships into a job. Work for organizations or firms where you actually have a chance of getting hired. I’m not saying that you should avoid working for special interest groups or large organizations, but most of them aren’t going to hire many, if any, of their interns after graduation. Be intentional with where you spend your summer internships. That is your best chance at impressing a potential employer and landing a full-time job after graduation.
Take relevant classes. An advanced legal writing course will serve you better than almost any other course. You can always research an area of the law, but if you don’t focus on your writing, you won’t be a good writer. Law firms hire good writers. You should also take advanced procedure courses or state specific procedure courses. Procedure courses are the most important courses you will ever take because they are the framework within which you must practice. Contrary to “My Cousin Vinny,” you cannot learn procedure as you go along.
In closing, be diligent in your job search. There is no one right way to go about securing a job or internship. You should leave no stone unturned as you search for a position. Take advantage of your existing resources and be sure you branch out. Go out there and own your career.
Aaron Lindquist is a 2015 graduate of the Regent University School of Law in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He practices with Fletcher, Toll & Ray, LLP, in Wilmington, North Carolina.