It’s no secret that the job market for recent law graduates is dismal. Despite a decrease in the number of law school applications, recent statistics from the American Bar Association show that the percentage of new J.D.s that successfully obtained long-term, full-time law firm employment is less than 60%.
Yes, there are certain market realities to consider – fierce competition for legal work, an oversupply of lawyer talent, inexpensive legal outsourcing options, tort reform and damage caps, etc. And yes, there is also the reality that most newly minted lawyers simply don’t have the practical skills to hit the ground running.
But there is also the perception that a new lawyer is a significant cost center to a law firm, with estimates indicating that that he or she won’t be profitable for at least three years.
So if you’ve just passed the bar and want to improve your job prospects, you need to persuade employers that the time they have to wait for you to break even, cover your costs, and generate real money for the firm is shorter than other candidates.
Be a Junior Varsity Rainmaker!
There are certain business development and marketing fundamentals with which every lawyer should be familiar. For the new lawyer, demonstrating understanding and early application of these skills may be the golden ticket to a new job:
- Contacts: Who you know now may turn into who you represent later, so take an inventory of friends, family, past employers, co-workers, and others who could be prospective clients and referral sources. Be sure to have them in your address book and connect with them on LinkedIn, then make your extensive network a point of conversation during interviews.
- Self-Promotion: Lawyers not only get hired for who they know, but what they do. Articles, white papers, and blogs are ways to convey subject matter expertise, as are speaking engagements and even social media activity. Show employers you’re ready to roll with examples of your writing and speaking talents, as well as how you can use LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+ and Twitter for professional purposes.
- Organizational Involvement: The ability to join a group, get to know the people, and take on leadership roles is a valuable skill. Participation in law review, moot court, and other academic organizations is good, but involvement in industry or professional groups in a prior career, service on a committee or board of a non-profit, or active membership in a business network is better. A hiring law firm may want to become more active with certain organizations, and if they see that you can quickly and easily step in, you will distinguish yourself from other job candidates.
- Opportunity Spotting: Lawyers solve problems, but rainmakers often identify needs – legal or otherwise – even before their clients see them. Train yourself to be an astute cross-marketer by recognizing where practice areas overlap, such as how general corporate representation for a business could lead to estate planning for its owners and how to position yourself and the firm for the work. And know that being helpful in areas outside the law, such as referring a vendor, making an introduction, or sharing information pave the road to becoming a trusted advisor.
- Curiosity: If there’s one attribute that defines a rainmaker, it’s curiosity. Rather than succumbing to the urge to be an expert or have all the answers, successful rainmakers place the spotlight on others, making them feel like experts and gaining a useful education in the process. You don’t learn if you don’t ask, and by getting people to talk about their favorite subject – themselves – you not only elicit useful information, but you also build valuable rapport and trust. Exercising curiosity during the interview process shows how you will utilize that talent in your practice.
Whether you’re searching for your first law firm job or are looking to write the next chapter of your career, leverage these skills and talents to differentiate yourself from the rest of the candidate pool!