In recent years, law school graduates have faced a very challenging legal job market. Now, as business conditions continue to improve, the legal field is seeing an increase in the number of newly minted attorneys being hired. Recruitment for many legal jobs is on the rise, with demand for legal professionals with the hottest practice area expertise also on an upward trend. In fact, 32 percent of lawyers interviewed for a recent Robert Half Legal survey said their law firm or company plans to hire more first-year associates in the next 12 months.
While this is encouraging news, the legal job market remains competitive. The following tips may help you stand out as an applicant, land an interview and get the legal job you want.
- Write a top-notch resume. The foundation of a successful job search is a strong legal resume. Hiring managers are inundated by applications for many entry-level positions, so you want to make sure yours gets their attention. While you may not have a beefy relevant work history, you may certainly play up other accomplishments, such as good grades, internships and involvement in student law associations. Ask a professor, mentor or lawyer friend for feedback on your resume, and be sure to enlist a second set of eyes to check for grammatical errors.
- Customize your cover letter. Many legal job applications require a cover letter or at least a message-of-interest, so make sure yours is stellar. Don’t send a generic form letter. Rather, tailor it for each position. To improve your odds of getting a real human being to look at your resume and cover letter, cull keywords from the job posting and use them judiciously in your letter and resume. Study up on the firm or company. Read the company overview and executive bios. Check recent headlines to see whether they have worked on any newsworthy cases. If you spot values or legal interests in common, touch on that briefly.
- Call upon your professional network. You’ve made solid connections during your undergrad years and during law school. Now is the time to put out the word to colleagues and mentors that you’re looking for a position. To really have an impact, ditch the generic group message and personalize your approach. Let each contact know your professional interests and career goals. Don’t forget a personal note. For example, inquire about their experience starting out or ask for their perspective on a discipline in which they have experience — and by all means attach one of your newly polished resumes. To boost your networking efforts, consider joining a professional association. If you’re still working on your degree, the American Bar Association offers free membership to all students enrolled in ABA-approved law schools.
- Maximize your online presence. Social media sites, such as LinkedIn, are powerful networking and job-search tools. A 2014 Jobvite survey found that 93 percent of recruiters and companies use social media in hiring. To get noticed and exploit these web-based resources to their full potential, make sure your profile photo looks professional, and that your verbiage is accurate, up-to-date and compelling. Your total online presence — which is accessible by most hiring managers — also includes your profiles on sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, so clean those up, if necessary.
- Promote your continuing education. The end of law school is not the end of your legal education. On the contrary, taking continuing legal education (CLE) courses and listing them on your resume may increase your marketability. Each state’s bar association has its own mandatory CLE requirements, including the number of specialty credits in areas such as ethics, so do some research before enrolling. To learn of CLE courses being offered in your area, contact the bar association and check out online resources such as 4FreeCLE blog and the American Law Institute CLE web page.
- Know the market, and your value. So you’re one of the fortunate few, and after the arduous application process and candidate vetting, you get a job offer. Congratulations!But how can you know whether the compensation offer is great or just so-so? Fortunately, there is a valuable resource in the Robert Half Legal Salary Guide. The guide lists the starting salaries for more than 100 positions, including first-year associates, in small, medium and large firms. To adjust the salary range for your city, use our Salary Calculator. These resources will be invaluable as you approach a salary negotiation.
7. Expand your search. If the job search isn’t going as well as you anticipated, broaden your scope. Try boutique as well as small and midsize firms if you’ve just focused on large companies. Also realize that a juris doctor degree qualifies you to do more than just practice in a law office or serve as in-house counsel. Consider nonprofit organizations, careers in government, politics, academia, finance (especially if you enjoy business and tax law), contracts administration and information technology. Non-traditional legal jobs are rewarding, can pay well and often come with better work-life balance than the law form partner track.
While launching your first “real” job search can seem like a daunting task, you don’t have to go it alone. Reach out to your professional and personal network as well as your law school’s career center. Consider enlisting a legal staffing agency, which may be privy to jobs that aren’t posted online. And make the most of your downtime to study for the bar, conduct pro bono work, and expand your professional network.
Charles A. Volkert is executive director of Robert Half Legal, a leading staffing service specializing in the placement of attorneys, paralegals, legal administrators and other legal professionals with law firms and corporate legal departments. Based in Menlo Park, Calif., Robert Half Legal has offices in major cities throughout the United States and Canada.