What defines success in law school? Is it all about getting good grades? Being in the top 10% of the class? Becoming a member of law review? Or is it passing your finals and graduating? These are all indicators of a successful law school experience. But, as a career advisor I find myself focusing on one thing; how to help my students find the jobs they want after graduation.
How does one go about getting that all important first job out of law school? What do students have to do in law school to make sure they are the most attractive candidate to an employer who has plenty of law grads to choose from? To help me answer this question I interviewed a group of students from the class of 2015 who were all in the enviable position of having a job before graduation. High performance coach and motivational speaker, Tony Robbins says, success leaves clues, and these successful students were no different. Through their stories, I was able to recognize a pattern that led them to stand out from the crowd and land their ideal jobs.
1. Use law school to figure out what you want
Some students come to law school knowing exactly what they want to do. Suzanne Donnelly ‘15 had worked in healthcare prior to law school and knew she wanted to explore health law as a career. She took relevant courses in health law and interned with the Massachusetts Health Appeals Board. While she is currently a judicial law clerk for the New York State Appellate Division, she plans to practice health care law when her one-year term is up.
Other students used a trial and error approach and once they found what they liked they stuck with it. Justin Banks ’15 thought he wanted to practice corporate law but on a recommendation from his mentor he did his first internship with the Massachusetts Probate & Family Court and loved it. This experience changed his focus and he decided to take more classes and internships in family law. Ultimately, Justin was recommended for his post grad job as an associate because of the work he did at a summer internship with another family law firm.
Rachel Tillison ‘15 thought she wanted to pursue a career in public interest but to her surprise she really enjoyed her 1L property and contract law classes. This led her to a summer internship in the in-house legal department of a railroad company where she worked on a variety of contract and labor law matters. This experience solidified her decision to stick with contract law and taught her that she preferred working in a corporate environment rather than in the public sector. "It ended up being the best choice I made because in the fall of my 3L year they offered me a full time staff attorney position once I graduated and completed the Bar exam."
All three students recommend using classes and speaking with practicing lawyers to figure out what area of law you want to practice or don’t want to practice as the case may be sometimes. By 2L year you should have a pretty good idea of what type of law you want to practice so that you can build your resume in that area of law.
2. Talk to a lot of people
Networking was a strong theme throughout these students' stories. Joyell Johnson '15 knew she wanted to practice public interest law. She used her time in law school to attend public interest conferences and networking events where she met other lawyers. Her connections led her to her current position as a Fellow with the Family League of Baltimore.
Samantha Rosen '15, who landed an in-house counsel position at Popmania, a small entertainment company in LA, credits networking as well. While in law school she attended as many events as possible such as speaker panels and bar association events. She also attended the Toronto Film Festival where she met attorneys who offered her an internship at their firm which later led to a job.
Through internships and clinics, Teniola Adeyemi '15 figured out that she liked criminal prosecution. Her next step was to reach out to anyone that she knew who could help her get more experience. After a summer internship with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office in Texas she spent her 3L year interning with the Norfolk County District Attorney's Office and the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office in Massachusettss. Her internship experience with the Suffolk County District Attorney's office landed her a post grad position there as an Assistant District Attorney.
All things being equal, people like to work with people they know. At the end of three years most law student resumes look pretty much the same to an employer. To overcome this challenge, these students did not solely rely on their resumes to get them their jobs. They took the time to build relationships with lawyers who got to see their personality and work ethic first hand. It is no wonder then that in a competitive job market these were the students who found themselves employed before many others.
3. Your job search starts in law school
From talking to these students, what I noticed most was that they all started their job search in law school. They didn’t neglect it or tell themselves they will get to it once they were done with law school. They didn’t only focus on classes and grades, but rather they incorporated it into their law school experience. They understood that class work, internships, and networking combined would lead them to their ideal job. They knew that focusing only one of these things would leave them at a huge disadvantage come graduation time.
While you are in law school think of it as an incubator for your budding legal career. It is a safe place where you can try new things and explore your options. Through your experience of learning what you like and don’t like you begin to build a portfolio that shows you have the right knowledge and experience for a particular area of law. And by the time you graduate you will hopefully have a host of job offers to choose from or at least a large network of lawyers that could help you land a job sooner rather than later.
Summer can fly by when you are a busy legal intern. Before you know it, it will be the end of August and you will be back in class. Here are seven ways that you can make the most of your summer internship and leave on a high note.
1. Don’t Hide
It is easy to hide behind all that legal research and writing that you have to do, but it is also important to get out from behind your desk and spend time with your co-workers. An easy way to get to know someone can start with a simple good morning greeting or invite someone out for an afternoon walk to grab an iced coffee. These seemingly small gestures and interactions are the ones that can lead to better relationships in the office. As the old saying goes, “people do business with people they like.” Try getting to know your co-workers and give them a chance to like you!
2. Keep Track of your Assignments
Throughout the summer, you will work on multiple assignments which may come from different supervisors and have different due dates. To help you keep track of everything that you are working on create an Excel sheet that lists the name of the person who assigned you the project, the name of the project or a description of what it is, when it is due, and any other relevant information. At the end of the summer this assignment tracker will be a great tool for you to review with your supervisor to update them on the status of your assignments, and to tie up any loose ends before you leave. In addition, it demonstrates how organized and detail-oriented you are which will impress any employer. Lastly, you can use it to update your resume at the end of the summer.
3. Get a Good Writing Sample
As a lawyer your writing skills are always on display whether it is a client letter, a research memo, a court pleading or an article. Employers routinely ask for writing samples to evaluate your qualifications in the hiring process. This summer think about which of your writing assignments would be writing sample worthy, and get permission from your employer to be able to use it in the future. You might have to redact any confidential or identifying information in the document in order to get the approval from your employer.
4. Ask for Feedback
When you are having a great summer internship you know it. When things aren’t going so great you usually know it too. Your internship is an important learning experience as a student and as a professional. You only have a few chances in law school to intern. A bad internship can be detrimental to your learning and progress. A simple way to avoid having a bad experience is to be proactive. Ask for feedback on your work and your overall performance. If you sense things aren’t going well, you should adopt a proactive strategy, and schedule a time to speak with your boss. Address your concerns and ask how you can improve your performance. By opening up a dialogue before things get worse, you can save your summer internship and come out feeling good about your experience.
5. Go to Lunch with Your Boss
This builds on tip #1 above and reinforces the point that “people do business with people they like” and takes it a step further. Going to lunch with your boss and getting to interact with them outside the office gives you both the chance to get to know each other on a personal level. You are no longer limited to talking about legal research findings and client cases but can learn about each other’s career paths and personal background. As you build your legal career it is important to have mentors and close connections with senior attorneys who can not only provide great career advice, but also serve as recommendations.
6. Have an Exit Interview
In case your internship doesn’t have a formal exit interview process, you should set up your own informal version with your boss. Get on your boss’ calendar for a 30-minute meeting during the last week of your internship to discuss your overall experience and performance and to get their feedback. This way you will end on a strong note. It also sends a message to your boss that you are a professional, who is eager to learn and grow.
7. Send a Thank You Card
Once the internship is over and you are back at school a great way to close out your summer experience is to send your boss and anyone else that you had a meaningful, professional connection with a thank you card to show your appreciation and gratitude for the opportunity to work there and learn from them. Sending a thank you card in the mail is a rare thing these days and by sending one you will show your boss that you are someone who is thoughtful and goes the extra mile to show your appreciation.
Your summer internship experience is an incredibly important stepping stone in your legal career. You want to make sure that you make the most of this experience in order to keep your career moving in the right direction. By following these seven tips you can be sure that you took control of the experience and gave it your best effort.
Wouldn’t it be great to know exactly what law firms are looking for when they make their summer associate hiring decisions? Earlier this month the CSO held its annual Summer Associate Hiring Information Program and invited recruiters and hiring partners from the Boston offices of three medium to large size firms to discuss everything from what they look for in a strong application, to how to pass the interview process, to how to eventually land an offer at the end of the summer.
The application due date varies slightly from year to year; most recently in 2014, applications were due in August. While we know the Summer Associate position is highly sought after and therefore is highly competitive, we learned that these firms receive approximately 750-1000 applications for only 2-10 spots in their programs. In order to cull the large number of applications down to a more manageable group, law firms set an objective cut off point based on a student’s GPA and Class Rank to serve as their first level filter, only selecting students in the top 10% to 30% of the class. From there they take into account participation in law journal, moot court, as well as previous work experience.
Students who are selected for an On Campus Interview (OCI) will be notified within 2-3 weeks of submitting their application. Students should not make any travel plans for the months of August and September so that they can be in Boston for the interviews. In this first round interview a representative from the firm, usually the recruiting manager from the HR department or an associate; will come to the law school to interview the selected students. These interviews are approximately 20 minutes in length and the interviewer will have several scheduled for that day in order to interview all the students. Students should arrive dressed in professional business attire with a copy of their resume and application materials and notepad to take down notes during the interview. As this is an opportunity for the firm to learn more about the student, students should be prepared to do most of the talking and come with a list of questions they have about the firm, the interviewer, and the Summer Associate Program. Common questions students should be prepared to answer are, “Why do you want to work for this firm?”, “What area of law are you interested in?” and “Tell me about yourself.” At the end of the interview the student should thank the interviewer, make it clear they would like to join the firm, and make sure to ask for the interviewer’s business card so that the student can send a thank you note and follow-up email regarding next steps in the process.
Call-back interviews are scheduled within 2 weeks of the On-Campus Interview. In the call-back interview, students are invited to visit the firm where they will meet and interview with several associates and partners. These interviews can range from a one on one meeting to meeting with 2-4 attorneys at a time, and sometimes will include a lunch interview where the student will be taken out to lunch by two recently hired associates.
Prior to the call-back interview students will be given a list of the attorneys that they will be meeting with so that they can prepare questions and do their interview research. At this stage of the process, students have passed the first hurdle of meeting the firm’s academic criteria and the firm is now looking for how well students fit in with the firm culture. Students should prepare for a long day of answering the same questions from the different attorneys that they meet and should be prepared with their own set of questions to ask each attorney as well. Students may find themselves asking the same questions over and over again which is acceptable because the student is learning about each attorney’s experience at the firm. Firms wrap up their interviewing of all students by the end of September and hiring decisions are sent out by the end of November at the latest.
The Summer Associate programs run from 9-11 weeks during which time the Summer Associate will experience a modified schedule of what it is like to work at that particular firm. Summer Associates are given a reasonable workload and are expected to take part in the scheduled social events outside of the office as a way to connect with associates and partners on a more collegial level. Firms pay just as much attention to the Summer Associate’s work product as they do to their social, communication, and relationship building skills as these skills have become even more relevant in this competitive economic climate.
Summer Associates are paired up with an associate mentor and have access to the human resources department to help navigate their time at the firm. Successful Summer Associates are able to manage both the work and social obligations and should not hesitate to ask for help or guidance if they feel overwhelmed or unclear about their assignments.
The Summer Associate Program is essentially one long interview process where should the student perform well the student can expect to receive an offer from the firm. The firm selects their Summer Associate class size with the expectation that they will give each Summer Associate an offer. Offers may be given as soon as the last day of the program or at most a few weeks after the end of the program.
For more questions about the Summer Associate Program please set up a time to meet with one of the CSO advisors.
During the job search, the salary question can come up in many forms, it can be part of an online application process, or the employer can ask that you include it in your cover letter or resume, or it can be asked during the interview process. In any case, it is good for you to know what your number is before going into any salary negotiation.
Know Your Market
So how do you determine what your starting salary should be? You need to know your market and take into account the following input factors:
- Your level of experience (0-3 years)
- Your industry (Public or Private Sector)
- Work setting (Small firm, Medium firm, In-house, Government Agency, Public Interest, etc.)
- Geographic area (rural area, big city)
- Competition (i.e. How saturated is the market?)
These factors all contribute to what your salary should be in a given market, for example an entry level attorney in a small private practice law firm in a town in western Massachusetts will not be paid the same amount as an entry level attorney in a small private practice law firm in downtown Boston. A small town lawyer can expect to get paid less than an attorney in a major city.
Online Salary Research
Now that you know what factors go into determining a salary you can go online to research estimated salaries in your area. Here is a list of some of the best websites for salary research:
A search for “entry level attorney” in “Boston, MA” on salary.com or indeed.com reveals that the median salary is in the range of $68K-$89K. However, this does not take into account the industry or office setting, meaning we don’t know if they are talking about private sector law firms or public sector government agencies. According to NALP’s starting salary research for the class of 2011, small firm salaries ranged from $50K-$70K nationwide. Robert Half Legal’s 2015 Salary guide shows that First Year Associates in a small firm in Boston made between $71K-$100K. As you can see the range goes from as low as $50K to as high as $100K. While these searches provide a general range it is necessary to do further research based on your industry or specific office setting in order to get a more accurate number. For example, in Boston, the starting salary for a public defender is $40K and for an Assistant District Attorneys it is $37,500.
Know Your Floor
Once you get an idea of the range of salaries that you can expect for the position that you are applying to, you should determine your floor, which is the least amount you could be paid and still be happy with. This requires you to do a budget and calculate your expenses so that you have an idea of what would be acceptable for you. When an employer asks for your salary range, you will make sure not to go below your floor when giving a range. When answering the salary question give a range of about $10K; for example, $50K-$60K or $70K-$80K.
Answer Without A Number Ideally it is best to observe the golden rule of salary negotiations and get the employer to give you their number first. Common ways to respond to the "What is your salary requirement?" question without giving a number are:
- In a cover letter, "My salary requirements are compatible with the market rate for someone with my level of education and experience."
- In an interview, "I'm sure what you have budgeted is consistent with the market rate and I would be happy with any reasonable offer that you provide. What did you have in mind?"
The goal here is to get them to give you their number first so that you can evaluate where it falls in the range of your predetermined floor and ceiling. For example, you may be prepared to go as low as $50K and their bottom is $60K. You don't want to leave money on the table if you can help it! Consider All The Benefits Salary is only one part of the employer's whole compensation package. Other parts to consider are benefits such as health insurance, vacation days, 401K matching programs, flexible hours, working from home, and a transportation stipend. If your employer can't give you a higher salary you can negotiate for some of these other benefits to be added to your compensation package.
Employers Expect You To Negotiate
While you may feel vulnerable about the fact that you are looking for a job, the reality is if the employer wants to hire you they expect that you will want to negotiate your salary. In a survey by Careerbuilder.com employers said that they expect a salary negotiation and build that into their initial offer.
Whether you are seeking your summer internship or
looking for post-graduate employment, the winter break is a good time to
organize your job search campaign.
1. Update your resume and LinkedIn profile. Be sure to add any clinic experience or leadership
activities you participated in this past semester. For help on updating your
resume and LinkedIn profile, you can download the Resume Tips handout and the LinkedIn
for Law Students Guide by visiting Symplicity > Job Search
Handouts > Document
Library section and doing a keyword search using the name of the
document. The Career Services Office will be available
to review resumes and cover letters starting January 6.
2. Set up an informational interview. Use this time to research alums or
other attorneys in your practice area and city of choice and set up an informational
interview. Use the Contact Alumni tab in Symplicity or the LinkedIn Alumni search to
find attorneys to contact in order to set up an interview either in person or
on the phone. Also download the CSO
Informational Interview Guide which is a helpful resource that will walk you through the process.
3. Reconnect with old contacts and establish new
holidays are a perfect time to connect with former employers and colleagues in order to wish them well
and update them on your academic and career progress. This article provides great networking tips for the holidays. Use holiday parties to update old
friends, relatives, and neighbors with your interests and where you would like
to practice. You never know who has valuable contacts that could lead to
4. Apply to jobs and research potential
employers to contact directly. Use
Symplicity to search for jobs by going to the “Job Postings” tab and selecting
“CSO JobNet”. Search through other websites
listed on our Job
Search Resources handout and utilize our handout Targeting
Small to Medium-Sized Law Firms usingMartindale to do a targeted search for firms and organizations in your
geographic area and field of interest.
5. Relax.Focus on a little rest and relaxation so that you will
feel rejuvenated upon your return next semester: sleep in, catch up on your
favorite TV shows, do some non-law school related reading, and spend quality
time with your family and friends.
Have a happy and productive winter break, from
your friends in the Career Services Office!
One of the best ways to figure out what type of law you want to practice is to speak to a professional in the field to find out what a day in the life of a lawyer is really like. This week we are grateful for 2005 alum Mike Winters, Corporate Counsel, Labor and Employment/Compliance Analyst at Wayne J. Griffin Electric, Inc. for taking the time to answer 7 Career Questions.
What interested you in this area of law? Shortly after graduation, a friend asked me to be a volunteer juror for
him at an MCLE course on trial practice. At the end of the day, the
Superior Court judge teaching the course offered some career advice to
us. He suggested that we incorporate employment law into our careers as
it was a growing, changing, and unfailingly interesting field of law.
Over time, many factors have guided me to this practice, but his advice
has rung true.
In your role, what are your duties and responsibilities? There are many, including advising the company on applicable legal updates, ensuring that our practices comply with new and existing laws alike, managing litigation/outside counsel, lending assistance to all departments in the company. One of the great things about working in-house is that each day is unique.
What do you enjoy about your line of work? There are many things I enjoy, but some that jump out would be the variety and my team. There are new challenges each week, which means I am always growing and developing my knowledge and skills. I find it very rewarding that my work, with Human Resources and others, allows the company to avoid potential litigation and other legal matters that would be costly distractions from the company’s real objectives.
What do you find challenging about your line of work? The transition from working in a law firm to being an in-house counsel can be a challenge. As an associate in a law firm, there is a road map to follow, at least to some degree. You have a certain number of cases at a given time, and each case has a procedural trajectory from complaint, charge or demand letter through trial or settlement. Moving in-house, you are managing outside counsel and perhaps handling administrative claims, but your time is also divided among many other responsibilities. You are wearing many “hats” and “success” can have different meanings. It is a challenge, but one that I enjoy.
What skills and experience are most valued in this area of law? Knowledge of the laws and procedures are always of great value. But beyond that, particularly for employment law, I would say the ability to listen and understand another person’s perspective. When I was in private practice, the mediation of an employment claim often revealed new characteristics of the claim. I was always interested to learn the root cause of the conflict. Often times, I would hear that the real “problem” was not directly related to the specific cause(s) of action.
How did you get your first job after law school? By keeping positive. Landing an entry-level legal job was a challenge in 2005, and I know that today it is no different. Due to some unique circumstances, I was still job hunting even after being sworn in. But through contacts and perseverance, I found myself working for a small law firm in Boston. I worked hard and represented our clients well. We had a diverse case load, so I was always learning. With only three lawyers in the firm, I was fortunate enough to regularly appear in court and even win a jury trial in my first year.
What advice would you give your 1L self about how to create a successful legal career? Be your best wherever you are at any stage in your career. You will face both personal and professional challenges. But if you work hard and find a way to succeed where you are, you will find there is no one path to where you want to be.
Congratulations, you made it to law school! You are on your way to creating a great career for yourself. You know you want to do something meaningful with your life, you know you want to help people, and you know you want an interesting and challenging job. Then out of nowhere someone asks you that dreaded question, “What type of law do you want to practice?” and you freeze up like a statue. Why is it so hard to answer this question?
Lack of Clarity Leads to Indecision
Most first year law students enter law school with a desire to “be a lawyer” but very few actually know what kind of law they want to practice after they graduate. The reason is because while the idea of a lawyer is familiar to most of society, what lawyers actually do on a daily basis is not. Add to that mystery, the myriad of practice areas, types of employers, and legal issues one could get involved with and the average law student is left feeling overwhelmed with having to make a choice.
Turn Your Big Decision into a Small One
If you’re interested in everything from criminal law to corporate law and you are not sure what you want to do, one way to help make your decision is to break it down into smaller chunks. By focusing on the smaller decisions you will be able to piece together an answer that addresses the big question.
Build a Decision Tree
Within each practice area there is a decision tree of options that can take you down several different career paths based on the types of issues that you care about, the industry that interests you, the types of employers you want work for, and the types of clients who you want to help.
For example, someone interested in the area of Intellectual Property may want to work in the entertainment industry, at a law firm, helping a music publishing company license the copyright to their collection of songs or they may want to work in-house at a life sciences company, as a patent associate, filing patent applications.
Intellectual Property ---> Practice Area
Entertainment Industry ---> Industry
Law Firm ---> Type of Employer
Music Publisher ---> Type of Client
Licensing of Music ---> Type of Legal Issue (Copyright)
Intellectual Property ---> Practice Area
Life Sciences ---> Industry
Corporation ---> Type of Employer
Corporation ---> Type of Client
Filing Patent Applications ---> Type of Legal Issue (Patents)
As you can see, to say that you are interested in Intellectual Property is just scratching the surface of what you need to know in order to find the right job for you. A student interested in the entertainment issues within IP is probably not going to also be interested in the science aspects of IP and vice versa.
Connect the Dots
Your goal with a decision tree is to go from your academic understating of a particular area of law and connect it to what it looks like in the real world. By creating a decision tree using these five categories (Practice Area, Industry, Type of Employer, Type of Client, and Type of Legal Issue) you can quickly connect the dots between school and work life. This clarity will allow you to have more effective conversations with alumni and lawyers that you meet during your job search.