Finding a Law Job
If you are a law student looking for your first legal jobs or an attorney thinking about changing jobs, you need a strategy. Finding a new job in law can be similar to searching for any other kind of job, but in some ways it is different. You probably have more specific resources than a lot of jobseekers.
One of the first things you must do is decide what type of job you want. Do you want to work as a prosecutor, defense attorney, or in a certain field of law? Would you prefer a private practice position in a small or large law firm or would you like to work for a government agency? What state do you want to practice in and have you already passed the state bar exam?
Once you know what your desired job looks like, start your search. Here are some tips to help you.
- Check with your school placement office. They will have contacts for you to explore.
- Talk to other students or professors for any leads they might have.
- Spread the news to all of your family and friends. They might know of a law office looking for new lawyers.
- If you have had a law internship or done volunteer work with a law firm, ask them about possible openings.
- Contact any law offices where you think you would like to work. They may not have posted a job, but have some openings.
- Check online for upcoming law job fairs. Your school might have one planned, so be sure to attend.
- Online job boards, such as Monster and CareerBuilder, can be helpful.
- There are job boards focused on legal jobs. Check those listings first. Many allow you to post a resume and search jobs by state. Be sure to check any that you have a membership with, such as the American Bar Association.
- Be sure to check job boards that are local to the state where you want to practice.
- Hire a legal recruiter.
A resume with a cover letter is your first introduction to a prospective employer. Make sure it is the best it can be. You can find an excellent resume template with a quick internet search. Resumes for law careers may be different than ones you have written for past jobs. Here are some tips:
Format your resume for both paper copies and online submissions. Make it as clean as possible with lots of white space.
Include all of your contact information at the top. Make sure to have all your
phone numbers, cell and land line if you have one, and your mailing and email addresses.
Make sure that your
email looks and sounds professional. If it doesn't, hire a professional resume writer with experience in resumes for legal
careers to write one for you.
Don’t use more than two fonts and don’t use the flashy fonts. Choose one that is bold but clean looking. It is all right to use the normal font and then that same font in bold.
Use a 12 point font and don’t cram too much in each paragraph.
Use bullets to give a shorter but powerful look.
Don’t use the
passive voice. Example, “The article was written by me.” It will be better to say, “I wrote the article.”
Make sure there are no typographical errors. Have someone else read it to be sure. Don’t depend solely on spell check.
any responsibilities in student organizations or in jobs that are relevant to the job you are applying for.
Include your GPA and a short list of your most relevant classes.
Also list student
organizations that you belong to, especially adding if you have served as an officer.
Include any work you
did for student law organizations, such as ABA Law Student Division or your school’s Law Review.
Add a list of honors and awards you have received, both at the college level and in law school.
Write down the jobs you’ve held, even if they don’t relate to the field of law. Include any leadership positions and the amount of time at each job. Be specific about your job responsibilities and the amounts of money involved.
Include something personal about you. It can be under a heading of interests or extracurricular activities.
Be sure to add facts and numbers if possible. Example, include that you interviewed 10 people for a case you helped with.
Include any volunteer
work, especially if it relates to law.
Prepare different resumes for each type of job. In one, you might emphasize your success with Moot Court. In another, it might be better to emphasize your volunteer law work.
Most resumes will need a cover letter, whether it is mailed or sent electronically. Customize each letter to show that you have done some research on the position and company where you are applying. Put your strongest qualities and factors at the beginning of the letter. You can also explain any red flags, such as why there is an employment gap in your history. Be sure to include your contact information on the cover letter as well as on the resume.
If you have an interview scheduled, you have taken a big step toward getting a job. There are some steps
you can take to ensure that it is a successful interview.
- Interviews for law careers often start with a phone interview. Be prepared to answer questions and be in a quiet place when the phone call comes. Talk in a calm, assured voice.
- For an interview in person, take plenty of paper copies of your resume, official transcripts, and letters of reference.
- Research the law firm or government agency before the interview. Any knowledge you have about them can come in handy for knowing what to mention in the interview. For example, if they have recently won a big case, you should read up on it. It may not come up, but if it does, you’ll be prepared.
- Dress in a business suit.
- Be on time. If you are late, you’ve probably already lost the job opportunity.
- Search out the location ahead of time, so you won’t get lost getting there. This helps you be on time.
- Be polite to everyone you meet, from the receptionist to paralegals to the partners or management people who are interviewing you.
- Shake hands with the interviewers. Most law interviews will start with a group interview. Try to remember names. You will probably be interviewing with each person separately after the group interview.
- Prepare examples of your law experience. Be prepared to relate specific incidents. For example, if you assisted in a case that won a certain amount of money for a client, be ready to tell that example.
- Also be ready to discuss your school courses and any volunteer law work that you participated in.
- Prepare a short, concise speech about your best qualities. You might be asked, “Tell me about yourself,” or what
your best qualities are. Have a speech ready and practiced.
- If given the chance, ask questions of your interviewers. You can ask about recent cases, schools they attended, how the firm operates, what your position will be.
- You might be asked to identify your strengths and weaknesses. Make your weaknesses sound like strengths.
- Don’t be afraid to show a little humor, but don’t tell an off color joke.
- Don’t be negative about past employers or professors.
- Be sure to answer questions as completely as possible, but in a concise way. The interviewers have a limited amount of time, so don’t take it all up by talking about unimportant matters.
- Leave copies of your resume and letters of reference with each person, if possible.
- You can ask about what the time frame is for filling the position.
- Thank each person that interviews you.
- Write thank you notes to each interviewer as soon as
possible. Mention something that you talked about and be enthusiastic about the possibility of working with them.
Your job chances for any position in a law firm or government agencies will be increased with good
letters of reference. Most people starting in
law careers have already obtained letters of reference for entering law school,
so repeat the process for getting a job. How do you get letters of reference and who do you ask?
For a new
graduate, letters of reference from professors carry a substantial amount of weight. You might want to write a request for
your professor because he/she probably receives a lot of them. Include what classes you have taken that they’ve taught, your
grades in that class, and any memorable happenings in that class, such as winning in a mock trial or a particular sticky law
question that you were able to answer.
You should also request a letter of reference from any person who
supervised you in volunteer law work. Remind them of past experiences in the time you have been with them.
are already working for a law firm, it is an uncomfortable situation to ask for a reference. Maybe they will understand that
you are looking for a job with more responsibility. Ask your supervisor and your coworkers for letters of reference. Letters
from your supervisor will carry more weight, but those from coworkers are also important.
Don’t just ask for a
letter of reference. Ask if they can write a positive letter about you and your work. Remind them of positive outcomes in
cases that you have worked on. Many of the same things that you would record for an employee performance review can be used in
a letter of reference.
If a letter writer is having trouble with the format and thoughts to go in a reference letter, there are numerous web sites that have sample letters. Guide them to one of those.
If the letters are given to
you, make as many copies as you need for the number of interviews you expect. If you have the letters sent to employers,
provide the letter writers with addressed, stamped envelopes.
It is good to have from two to four letters of
reference. Sometimes law firms will want an additional list of references. Be sure you ask if you can include someone’s name
and contact information as a reference before you put them down. They will have time to think about what to say about you.
Write thank you notes to everyone who writes letters for you. Also thank anyone who is contacted by the employer.
Their words may have been the final point to get the job for you.
Last Updated: 12/13/2012