Q: What's the best way to get into law school?
Whether you are currently in college or you have already begun your career and are applying to law school later in life the best way to get into law school is to be prepared. This rule will apply throughout your legal education and career. There are certain things you should do to prepare yourself personally and academically and others you are required to do to prepare for the law school application process.
Targeting a School
First, make sure you want to go to law school and determine which schools will be the best fit for you academically, personally and geographically. Take part in a law-related internship to see if you enjoy the practice of law. You may find that it is quite different from what you imagine. Conduct informational interviews with current students and alumni at the law schools you wish to attend to learn about the schools and the different practice areas that interest you. The more you know the better prepared you will be to present yourself as the best candidate for a spot in a school's first year class.
Sharpening Your Skills
Once you have determined that you do in fact want to go to law school, you can begin mastering the skills required to succeed. Those skills include critical reading, writing, speaking, organizing, researching, and analytical problem solving. The same skills will be used daily in law school and in the practice of law so some mastery of them before attending will help make your transition easier.
Your undergraduate education is the first place to start building your skills. Speak to a counselor in your undergraduate career center. There are often pre-law advisors who can walk you through the application process and help you determine which schools are best for you, as well as which classes you can take to bolster your knowledge and transcript. Many people suggest majoring in English, psychology, sociology, and other social sciences. However, as long as you take a range of classes that are challenging, on subjects that you enjoy, and with a variety of professors, you will be prepared to apply to law school.
Perhaps you have already had a career and are now applying to law school. In that case, you must make clear why you have decided to make the change and determine if you have begun to master the skills required in law school.
Regardless of your current educational and employment status there are requirements that you must follow to successfully complete the law school application process and thus, get into law school. Those requirements include taking the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT), disclosing your GPA, writing a personal statement, and providing letters of recommendation, your transcript, your resume, and any necessary addenda with your applications. In order to take the LSAT you will need to register with the Law School Data Assembly Service (LSDAS). That service can provide you with applications to nearly every law school to which you may want to apply. LSDAS also compiles a report about you that will be sent to any law school you choose. The LSDAS report includes your official test scores, transcripts and recommendations. That report is required by law schools accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA). For this reason, grades, test scores and recommendations are important. Think carefully about who will best recommend you as the ideal candidate for law school. Additionally, you will need to register with the Law Student Admissions Council (LSAC) which is an organization of all of the ABA accredited law schools in the US and some in Canada. The LSAC coordinates the process of applying to law school.
As you will hear repeatedly in law school, learning the law and how to be a lawyer is like learning a new language. As long as you are prepared and willing to learn you will be an excellent candidate for any school. Law school is a rewarding and challenging endeavor. Good luck applying and getting into the law school of your choice.
Q: I am an insurance professional with a law degree and I am interested in practicing law, preferably insurance coverage and or defense work. What is the best way to apply my skills to legal practice?
As an insurance professional with a law degree, you might first consider employment with a major insurance company, or with private firms with which these insurers contract to handle some of the insurer's litigation. However, you should not limit your options.
As with any practice area, law firms are most interested in attorneys who possess in-depth knowledge of their clients' business. An insurance professional knows the insurance business better than attorneys. This knowledge is what you need to "sell" to a potential employer. An insurance professional with a law degree has knowledge of the claims process and the obligations of insurers, but you also need to emphasize your extensive knowledge of cutting edge law involving general policy defenses, coverage issues arising under specific policy types, including general liability, commercial and personal auto, homeowners, directors and officers, and employment practice liability coverage, disputes arising under excess, umbrella and reinsurance contracts.
Also emphasize your ability to analyze claims and make recommendations to clients. Firms often market themselves to potential clients by offering training on appropriate claims handling practices to minimize liability. You might contact insurance defense firms and offer to assist them in providing such training to clients.
One of the best ways to obtain guidance on how to utilize your law degree is to schedule an informational interview with a member of an insurance defense firm. Be prepared to impress him/her with your knowledge of the law as it relates to their business. This should serve to elicit interest in you.
Also consider joining a networking group of insurance professionals. This may allow you to make contact with someone who coordinates the insurer’s work with outside law firms.
Q: I am currently doing a one-year clerkship and hope to get a job at a firm starting next fall. I'm wondering if I should be applying to firms now, or should I wait until the economy picks up (hopefully before my clerkship ends) to apply.
Typically, firms start accepting resumes from clerks in January (for a Fall start date), although in this market, some firms have indicated that they may be delaying considering clerk applications until the spring. Clerks may wish to contact the lateral recruiting person in the early winter at specific firms to inquire as to the firm’s timetable. In past years, many firms have also held receptions for federal clerks between November and March, although in this market, it is not clear whether many firms will hold these receptions. In addition, there are specific ethical rules on applying for positions while serving as a clerk (when to apply, speaking with the judge beforehand, etc.) that you should look into. A law clerk is bound by the ethical standards established by the judge and the Code of Conduct for Judicial Employees. The Federal Judicial Center published a pamphlet, Maintaining the Public Trust: Ethics for Federal Judicial Law Clerks, which discusses ethical issues and has a specific section on dealing with prospective employers. The relevant website is: http://www.fjc.gov/public/pdf.nsf/lookup/ethics01.pdf/$file/ethics01.pdf
Q: I am an educator and interesting in getting a law degree and pursuing a career in education law. Do you have any information on the needs in this area and which law schools have some focus on education law?
Congratulations on your decision to parlay your education experience into a legal career! Education law is a vibrant and fascinating area that has undergone dramatic changes in this country in the past fifty years. This area relates generally to the branch of laws and regulations that govern federal and state education, including the administration and operation of educational institutions, athletic programs and student and employee rights. An attorney practicing general education law will likely work on a wide range of matters requiring many different skills. Some of the types of issues and matters that might be handled by an education law practitioner include: school governance, elections and voting; real property and facilities acquisition; school finance, funding and tax matters; disputes between parents and schools about the evaluation, placement and education of special needs students; labor and employment issues; disputes regarding student rights to education, free speech, privacy, and other issues;
tort-based matters; and sports law and intellectual property matters.
Attorneys practicing education law can work in a variety of contexts, including small, mid-sized or large firms; the general counsel’s office of a college or university; or a federal or state department of education office. Their clients may include students, parents, employees and/or school districts and educational institutions. There are numerous ways to research this topic further. Many bar associations, including the New York City Bar, have Education Law Committees, and the internet is replete with sites and information on this field. The Chronicle of Higher Education (www.chronicle.com), for example, is considered by many to be the leading source of news, information and jobs in higher education. Consider going to www.martindale.com to search for education law attorneys practicing in your geographic area and see whether it may be possible to speak with them about their career paths and advice.
To select a law school that has a strong Education Law department or group, you may need to simply check the curriculum pages of the websites for the schools that you are interested in attending. Some schools also offer, for example, special education law clinics, through which you can get practical experience representing a client in a special education law matter.
Best of luck as you make this exciting career transition!
Q: Having previously been a mid-level associate at a large firm, I am about to negotiate a first time of counsel position with a boutique firm. Are there typical market practices? What can I expect in terms of compensation and fee sharing. What other advice can you give to someone going into an of counsel relationship for the first time?
Congratulations on your opportunity to work as "Counsel" in a law firm. The position of "Counsel" has a somewhat broad meaning and, depending on the law firm, can be also called "Of Counsel" or "Special Counsel." According the Formal Opinion 90-357 of the American Bar Association, there are four acceptable definitions of the term "Of Counsel": (1) a part time attorney who practices law in association with a firm but on a basis different from the mainstream lawyer in the firm; (2) a retired partner of the firm who, although not actively practicing law, nonetheless remains associated with the firm and available for occasional consultation; (3) a lawyer brought into the firm laterally with the expectation of becoming partner after a relatively short period of time; or (4) a permanent status in between those of partner and associate.
The fact that you are currently a mid-level associate at a law firm it is likely that you fall under either category (3) or (4) above. If that is the case, you will be joining the firm with a status superior to that of a senior associate and should be compensated accordingly. The amount of compensation paid to Counsel varies depending on the law firm. Knowing the benefits and salary of a senior associate at the firm will provide you with a benchmark of what to expect. In addition to compensation which would include not only base salary and bonus other benefits would include receiving a client development and marketing budget.
Because you will not be joining the firm as a partner, you will probably not be entitled to share in the profits of the firm through equity. You might want to consider negotiating to receiving a percentage of profits from clients that you bring into the firm through your own efforts. In order to publicize your position in the firm, you should also receive business cards with your title as well as a description of your bio on the firm’s website.
Your law school's career services office may also be able to provide helpful resources and information on how to negotiate the terms of your position with your new employer.
Q:I am a former paralegal as well as a former Albuquerque cop and former DEA special
agent. I will be finishing law school in California and then be ready to take the New York bar. I would love to work at a District Attorney's Office, but my problem is that my training has all been academic with no real hands on experience. I would like to know how to go about getting a position as an Assistant District Attorney office and whether my lack of hands on experience will hurt my chances.
Working as a prosecutor can be an incredibly rewarding career path, and obtaining a position as an ADA will require significant career planning on your part. In hiring recent law school graduates for ADA positions, a DA's office typically seeks applicants with a superior academic record, strong legal research and writing skills, an interest in criminal law, and a commitment to public service. Most ADAs are hired directly out of law school, while a few are hired as laterals. The deadline for applying directly from law school is usually in the fall of the third year of law school, around October or November. You mentioned that you will be finishing law school in California, so if you are in your third year then you should be ready to apply in the next couple of months. You should contact the district attorney offices you are interested in to learn their application procedures and deadlines.
It should be noted that given the current state of the economy, securing a position as an ADA will be especially tough. Hence, in addition to focusing on presenting a strong application, you might also consider alternatives to immediately applying for an ADA position. First, regarding your application, you should highlight your prior experience as a police officer and special DEA agent as it gives you a competitive edge by demonstrating a strong commitment to criminal law and prosecution. As for alternatives to immediately applying for the ADA position, volunteering at a DA’s office is a good way to learn the process of investigating, preparing and prosecuting a case. In today’s economy, many law students and lawyers are seeking out volunteer work with a DA’s office or other public interest organization so as to hone their research, writing and advocacy skills while they hold other positions and wait for hiring to pick up again. Finally, this is a good time to start developing networks, particularly with other lawyers doing criminal prosecution. A good place to start would be the city or state bar association along with law school alumni events. These are good venues, not just to seek out networks but also to find potential mentors with whom you can further discuss your career plans and who can point you towards additional steps that you must take to obtain an ADA position.
Q:I am sure that my question is not new or uncommon these days. I graduated from law
school in the spring of 2008. Because of the current economic situation, I could not find
a permanent position in the practice of law, notwithstanding all the honors, accomplishments
in law school and a very impressive resume. During this post-graduation period, I completed
an internship with the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law, and now I am doing a temporary legal job. I find myself in a very strange category of job seekers - I have graduated almost a year ago, and, although I obtained a unique and very valuable legal experience at UNCITRAL, I still do not have any practicing experience.
I would greatly appreciate any suggestions you may have as to what I can do to maintain my marketability?
This is certainly a frustrating time to be seeking legal employment and you are correct that you are not alone. In your question you do not say anything about the kind of legal work you are seeking and what you have done to try to find work, so we will have to make some assumptions and offer some general advice about how you can stay marketable and position yourself for a legal job.
First, if you have not already done so define what you are looking for- what area of practice, what type of organization, what type of experience. The fact that you don't mention what you are looking for suggests that you may be falling into the common trap of saying "I will take anything." While this can seem like a good idea, taking a position because it is available or, as in the case of the U.N. position, interesting, can distract you from your goals. Though defining goals can feel like you are limiting your options you will have ample opportunity to expand your search if you need. When you consider your goals take both a long and short term view -- think of what you want to do eventually but also think of what you can do now, what experience will move you toward the goal.
Second, be sure you are using all the resources at your disposal and employing effective strategies to reach your goals. A good starting point is your law school career office. Most law schools allow alumni to return to use services. If you are not currently located near your school, you can generally ask your school to request "reciprocity" with a school in your area. Also, both your law school and undergraduate school likely have alumni networks that will enable you to look up graduates in your area to seek advice and broaden your range of professional connections. The New York City Bar is also an excellent resource. There are a range of programs and services that can be a help. In addition to programs focused on job search or career development skills (such as networking, entering the profession, or managing your professional development) consider attending programs or joining a committee related to your career interests.
Third, make every effort to demonstrate your interest and commitment to the area you are hoping to enter and think of creative ways to gain skills that will position you well for the turnaround in the employment market. Seek out low cost CLE options. Join groups related to your area of interest. Most such groups offer programs or newsletters that will help you keep current. Keep up on your professional reading; you do not want to find yourself unaware of major developments in a field when you do land a job interview.
Finally, even in your current temporary position look for opportunities to gain transferable skills. Acknowledging that legal temp work will offer limited opportunities, think creatively about the possibilities available to you. For example if you have an interest in real estate, see if there are temporary opportunities related to that area. Granted, document review for a commercial property case is not a substitute for assisting with a commercial closing, but you will at least have the chance to become familiar with the terminology and documents used. If you have time between temporary assignments see if you can find opportunities that relate to your desired area. This will generally involve volunteering. One tip: it can be hard to find an internship or volunteer opportunity when you cannot make a time commitment, so be creative. Perhaps you can volunteer to assist someone with a specific project, say writing an article or planning a program. One young attorney we know volunteered to help organize a major CLE program in the area he was interested in. It gave him the opportunity to meet people working in the area and to review the program materials. He made several important contacts and showed off his organizational skills.
It takes a lot of energy to commit to this kind of career planning but it is worth the effort. Best of luck with your job search.
Q:I just got admitted to the New York State Bar and I am looking for an employment in the New York City. I have an LL.M. in Corporate Law from NYU and an 8-year experience in Accounting/Audit (my last position being an Interim Controller for a mid-size company in the U.S.). I am originally from a very small Eastern European country where I got my primary legal education. I have been searching for a job for a while now, using internet, mailings and networking. I had had both my cover letter and resume re-written professionally, but I still don't seem to get any results. I cannot get any interviews. I would greatly appreciate any suggestions regarding a job search in the NYC area.
Congratulations on your admission to the New York State Bar! From your question, it appears you are doing all the right things. First and foremost, understand that these economic times are presenting new and unusual challenges for attorneys across all spectrums. Those with a foreign legal education typically have a bit higher of a hurdle in obtaining legal employment and now, even more so. However, the fact that you have obtained a LL.M. degree from a US law school will only help you in your search for employment.
While I am sure you are already aware that networking is an important job search tool, active networking should be your primary focus. Your inquiry states that you have had a prior career in accounting. A great place to start would be to exhaust all of your contacts from your prior career to see if anyone is aware of an opportunity. While they may not know of a current opening, by making the contact and letting them know you are searching for employment, they will think of you when an opportunity does arise. More importantly, your actions are part and parcel of relationship building which will yield dividends in the years to come.
Your acts of networking should extend far beyond those you have encountered in your prior career and include all family, friends and peers. Everyone who knows you should know that you are searching for employment. You should locate organizations associated with your native country, ethnic origin and religious affiliation (if any), along with any other organizations that reflect hobbies or interests. The more you are involved, the more people you will be able to connect with and the more you increase your chances of learning of an available opportunity.
Having obtained an LL.M. from NYU, your network must include NYU alumni who are practicing here in NYC. Make the initial contact based on your affiliation with NYU and begin the process of relationship building from there. Be aware that active networking does not mean just asking for a job – it is based on cultivating a network over time, one that is unique to you and reflects your character, goals and ambitions. Avail yourself of career placement advice and counseling offered by the career professionals and resources at NYU. NYU will do everything it can to help you secure employment.
In the midst of your networking, remain consistent in mailings to firms that interest you and in responding to openings posted on the internet or various publications. When responding, along with forwarding your cover letter and resume, you may even think about forwarding a writing sample that will demonstrate your proficiency in the English language (if English is not your first language). Additionally, while your inquiry does not state whether you have practiced law in your native country, your resume should reflect a demonstrated commitment to practicing law here in the US. Highlight any pro bono experience, internships, law school clinics and similar activities that show this commitment. If you are not currently involved in pro bono efforts, make the time – however little – to get involved in organizations where you can use your legal skills to demonstrate a commitment to the practice of law (and, quite possibly, expand your network!). A demonstrated commitment to the profession is particularly important given that your most recent career/position was in a different field.
Depending on how quickly you wish to land a position, the more flexible you are with respect to practice area, firm size and geographic location, the more quickly you will find a position. Keep in mind, that your first job out of law school or an LL.M. program will likely not be your last. As such, use this time to secure almost any opportunity in the legal profession and as the situation improves (and it will), you will have enhanced your skills and be an even more marketable candidate. Realistically, the market for attorneys has contracted and is especially competitive. That said, having had a prior career, arguably you have a broader network and a skill set that can be especially valuable to the right employer. I am sure you know what sets you apart.
Q:I was admitted to practice in 2000 and have been practicing a blend of securities and life insurance law since that time (both in a firm and in-house). I would like to go solo but have little-to-no experience in areas of law, such as real estate and wills and trusts, that I anticipate would provide stable billables. What\'s the best way to acquire such skills and make the transition? Should I enroll in an estate-planning certificate program at NYU? Should I try to intern at a firm that does residential real estate law? Thank you
Congratulations on your decision to start your own practice. As you further evaluate your options you should try to determine what practice area(s) you intend to focus on. Are you planning to continue your work in the fields of securities and life insurance law and are only looking to other areas to "fill in" the gap in billables as you build up enough business, or are you trying to change your areas of concentration completely? If you seek to do some really basic real estate and wills and estates work I suggest you consider the following steps:
1. Take the basic CLE seminars in these practice areas;
2. Participate in a pro bono training, join a pro bono clinic or take on a case. This will allow you not only to get exposure to the legal topics but also to "get your feet wet" with real cases.
If you seek to completely change your practice areas, however, and acquire in-depth knowledge and experience in real estate and trust and estates law, you should consider pursuing a more serious course of study and try to find a mentor who would guide you in this process. You may also consider joining a committee at the New York City Bar Association or other organization which specializes in your area of interest.
Q:I am a U.S. trained attorney working in New York City. I was admitted to the New York State bar in 2005. I am interested in relocating to Europe. I am proficient in spoken and written French. What are my chances of gaining legal employment abroad? Would obtaining an LL.M in Europe improve my marketability?
Your chances of obtaining employment in Europe depend upon many variables, including your intended practice area and your place of relocation. The European legal community in the banking, finance and credit markets has not been spared from the current economic crisis and layoffs that we are experiencing in New York and throughout the U.S. As a major financial center, London, for example, has been impacted badly but markets in Paris and Brussels may be less compromised due to the focus of legal work in those cities.
Obtaining an LL.M in a foreign country can be an excellent way to develop a set of networking contacts and connections there. In assessing whether this may the right choice for you, however, you will need to make a careful assessment of your long term goals. What are you hoping to achieve by obtaining a foreign LL.M? Is your priority to make a permanent relocation to a particular country or to develop expertise in a specific area of law? In some countries, LL.Ms are designed to teach foreign lawyers about the general legal principles and systems of the host country, while some foreign LL.M programs focus on the development of a specific area of expertise, such as tax, international or intellectual property law. However, having an LL.M does not necessarily qualify you to practice law or even take a bar exam in some countries. These are issues that will require extensive research on your part.
Another route that you may wish to consider is pursuing an international opportunity through a U.S. employer or resource. Consider applying to the foreign office of an American law firm. Network with attorneys with international backgrounds whom you currently know or can meet through international committees at bar associations to learn about opportunities. Consult with your law school career development office to learn about opportunities in international courts or tribunals, or fellowships in international public interest law. These kinds of positions, although often temporary, may help you to develop contacts in your country of interest and to refine your goals for permanent relocation.
am a West Indian-trained attorney, admitted to the bar in my jurisdiction in
1998 and to the New York State Bar in August 2008. I am willing to start
working at any level within the profession. What are my chances of gaining
employment with a New York firm without having to attend an ABA law school or
do New York firms give any recognition to an education obtained from the West
Realistically speaking, your chances of finding employment
at a law firm are slightly below average. The fact that we are about to enter the fourth quarter of the year when
law firm hiring is traditionally slower and given the current economic
situation does not help matters. That
said, the challenge is not insurmountable.
A good place to start would be to identify and research law
firms that have offices in your native jurisdiction. Particularly if they are looking for those with relevant
jurisdictional knowledge and language capacity, that may be your competitive
advantage. Beyond that, you could pinpoint
firms who have large practices in your specific area of law and try that
It is always preferable to get introduced to a firm and
relevant hiring staff through a personal connection. Dig deep into your network to see who you may know here, where
they are and how they might best be able to help you. Interview them to find out how they went about getting their
jobs. To the extent applicable, search
engines such as Martindale Hubbell, Linked In or Facebook may be a good
resource to track people down.
Once you have established a relationship or connection with
a firm, you may want to consider letting them know that you would be willing to
take a step back in seniority—particularly if there are stark differences
between US law and that of your native jurisdiction. You may even consider going in as a paralegal or contract
attorney with the understanding that if your performance is stellar, you would
expect to be considered for a partnership track associate position.
Another option to explore would be temp agencies. There are several in the city and they may
be able to get you placed at a firm on a temporary assignment. Again, depending on your performance and the
needs of the firm, these engagements may lead to permanent employment.
All of the above will likely take some time to
implement. In the interim, you may want
to consider attending a US law school’s LL.M. program. The benefits of pursuing an LL.M. include
increased opportunities to network, more formal career placement resources affiliated
with the school, access to an alumni network, and potential skill acquisition.
Q: I am a Florida attorney seeking to move to New York. What are my options for admission without having to take the Bar Exam?
The New York Board of Law Examiners is the body that governs admission of attorneys in New York State. Although New York State permits admission on motion, without examination, for applicants who have practiced for five of the preceding seven years, are admitted to practice in at least one reciprocal jurisdiction, and have graduated from an American Bar Association approved law school, Florida is not currently one of the reciprocal jurisdictions. Please see the New York Board of Law Examiners website at http://www.nybarexam.org/aom.htm
for a full list of reciprocal jurisdictions.
For more information on admission in New York we recommend you contact the New York Board of Law Examiners at (518) 452-8700.
Q: I've been a practicing litigator for 10 years and have done some personal/life coaching on the side for the past 2 years. I very much want to transition into professional development at a firm and, although I have had some great feedback, it comes down to the old conundrum: I don't have experience and I can't GET experience. Is there a certification program etc... that would be helpful/useful?
There's no particular certification program that is required for work in the legal professional development field. If you'd like to attend a program to show your interest in the area, you might try some of the programs organized by the National Association for Law Placement (NALP), such as the Professional Development Institute or the Newer Professionals Forum. Information about these programs is available on the NALP website.
Another option is to pursue some sort of further study through a university. For example, New York University's School of Continuing and Professional Studies offers professional certificates in Human Resource Management, Leadership and Organizational Development, and Coaching. Other universities may offer comparable courses. Some former lawyers have used these programs to help them move into the Professional Development field.
Alternatively, you may be able to find opportunities to gain experience in professional development even in your current position, regardless of whether it is in a firm or a company. Some ideas are as follows.
– Involve yourself in the recruiting and hiring processes.
– Help develop CLE or other training programs.
– Create or advance the mentoring program where you work.
– Volunteer to serve on committees or task forces dealing with work life balance, diversity, or continuing education.
– Write an article that relates to the field.
– Take responsibility for managing staffing.
The experience you would gain from doing any of these things will not only show potential employers that you are interested and committed to the area of professional development, but it will also help you to learn more about the area to allow you to make a more informed choice about your move and the areas in which you'd like to focus. If it's difficult to do these things in your current employment, look for opportunities to do these things as part of a bar association or legal organization in your practice area. Also, make sure you're highlighting the experience you already have, in areas like these and also in coaching.
Even if it seems like everyone requires previous experience in the area, don't be discouraged. Not every employer requires previous professional development experience. In fact, a significant number of people working in legal professional development today moved straight into the area from the practice of law. If you read job advertisements carefully, you may realize that firms and other employers will recognize previous legal experience as an attorney and don't necessarily require legal professional development experience. Closely monitor positions advertised in the area so that when a position comes along that is a good fit for you, you'll be able to apply right away.
Q: I am looking to change my practice area to intellectual property from matrimonial law.... a big leap. I am willing to enter the IP area at any level, but I was also researching an LL.M. in the area of IP. Do you think this will help in changing areas of law, and do you think employers value this degree?
You are indeed making "a big leap" changing from the practice of matrimonial law to an intellectual property area. It is important not to rush into such a change and make sure you are making the switch for the right reasons. Is IP where you feel your skills and interests lie? Talk to others who practice in the area and make sure that this move will bring you closer to your ideal job. It is important to keep in mind that switching practice areas will likely mean accepting a cut in salary and in seniority.
A practice switch is difficult in any case. But it is more likely to be doable the more junior the candidate is, the more a candidate has prior relevant experience in the area (whether in law school, in a published note, or in non-legal work) and the more a candidate's current firm is open to the prospect.
The longer you have practiced in an area the more pigeon-holed you become and the harder it is to switch. In most cases the reality is that if you are more than three years out of law school and without any prior experience, it is unlikely that you would be able to make the switch absent the unlikely scenario in which someone presents you an opportunity.
An LL.M. in intellectual property is somewhat unusual. The test as to whether employers value an LL.M. in IP would be to ask the deans and administrators for these programs for placement statistics. How many people with similar backgrounds to yours have used the degree to land a job? How well did they do in the program (and what were their grades and work experience prior to entering the program)? What is the process for on-campus recruiting? What types of firms recruits from the program? Speak with alumni from the program who are currently working and ask them for their advice. If these questions can be answered to your satisfaction, then the program may indeed help you switch practice areas. Best of luck!
Q: I am a 56 year old man who has been on disability for the past 18 years. I hold both a JD from St. John’s and LL.M. in taxation from NYU. I want to go back to work and am willing to accept entering the job market at any level and in any capacity (including paralegal). Do I stand a chance?
This answer assumes that though you were on disability for 18 years you are now ready to reenter the work force and are able to perform all the necessary work-related tasks.
You are not alone in the challenge of returning to practice after a lengthy absence. To be successful in your search, you will need to be focused in your approach and be diligent in your follow-up.
You should begin by determining where you see yourself, i.e. your "15 second elevator speech". These are the same points that you should delineate in your cover letters and emphasize in your conversations with recruiters, whether at a law firm or a placement agency. Remember that law firms have a reputation of thinking in a traditional lockstep classification based on year of law school, and you will have to take the lead in figuring out where best you would fit in. You should attempt to explain the gap in your resume to the extent that you are able and comfortable in doing so. Be sure that all your professional accreditations are active.
On a practical side, you should try to reach out and network with as many former colleagues and professional and personal contacts as possible and explain what you are looking for. For example, St. John’s University School of Law has an "Alumni Lawyers Network" who assist other alumni with career guidance. You should talk to as many people as possible about potential opportunities, go on informational interviews and seek referrals from others, particularly learning from others who have successfully reentered the legal workforce.
This is process: the more contacts you make, and the clearer you are in your approach, the greater your chances of finding the opportunity that is right for you and right for your future employer.
Good luck with your search
Q: I am interested in applying to staff attorney programs at New York firms but am not sure how to go about doing so since it is not always clear which firms have them. I have also heard that most staff attorney positions are filled by in house referrals. Is there anything you can tell me that could demystify the recruiting/hiring practices for these positions as well as how to go about comparing the different firm programs. Also, are these positions as dead end as many people surmise?
The large New York law firms frequently employ a number of Staff Attorneys in addition to their roster of Associates. These Staff Attorney positions tend to have set hours and pay more modest salaries. Beyond these characteristics, the positions can vary widely. At one end of the spectrum, a Staff Attorney could be hired out of law school specifically for junior-level document review. At the other end of the spectrum, a Staff Attorney may be a former Associate doing high level work who has chosen to transfer into a Staff Attorney position in exchange for a shorter workday. The career opportunities arising from a Staff Attorney position also vary depending on the Staff Attorney's experience level, market forces and professional relationships. One former corporate Staff Attorney became invaluable after six years of handling derivatives documentation and was offered an Associate position at a large New York law firm. Granted, this was an unusual situation. The market in derivatives was booming and the supply of derivatives lawyers was insufficient to meet the market's demands.
A more common scenario is that of a recent law school graduate whose grades and extracurricular activities did not meet the requirements of the large New York law firms and who took a position as a Staff Attorney doing document review as an alternative. The frequently asked question in this context is whether such a Staff Attorney will be able to parlay the Staff Attorney position into an Associate's position. While there are always exceptions, the answer, more often than not, is no. There are two main reasons. First, large law firms place great importance on academic credentials and a stint as a Staff Attorney, even a stellar Staff Attorney with a great attitude, will not usually erase a mediocre academic performance in the firms' eyes. Second, document-review work does little to exercise and develop lawyering skills so it does not add valuable lawyering experience to a resume.
Just as there is no one kind of Staff Attorney position, there is no one way to seek such a position. The higher level positions are generally obtained through personal contacts and referrals. If on the other hand you are looking to do document review or other junior level work as a Staff Attorney, you can call the firms' human resources departments and inquire if they hire for these positions. Every firm has a different policy on Staff Attorneys. Alternatively, you could get this work through a legal placement firm. If you take this route, you will be a "contract attorney" who is employed by the placement firm rather than a Staff Attorney employed by the law firm and the placement firm will take a cut of your hourly wage.
If your objective is ultimately to get hired as an Associate by a large New York firm, your best bet is to find a position somewhere else where you are challenged, engaged, and gaining valuable lawyering experience.
Q: How do I make a comeback from a bad evaluation?
Receiving negative feedback in the workplace can be very difficult, but when negative feedback comes in the collective form of an overall “bad” evaluation it can be devastating to one’s professional ego and sense of mastery. That being said—there is life and career after what you call a “bad” evaluation if you can identify and find some constructive lessons that you can use in the future.
First, it is helpful to reframe the term “bad evaluation” by really understanding its purpose and message. This might be hard initially—but at some point ask yourself how much of the evaluation was on target and how much was unfair? What parts of the evaluation do you believe have merit and which parts do not? At the end of the day—how much you internalize and learn from the negative feedback—is your choice. With a little distance and time, you might be able to glean some important information about what is expected of you, what benchmarks need to be met, how best to garner support and help from your workplace and what substantive skills need to be improved.
Now onto the comeback part of your question. Armed with this new information about how to improve your skills and what areas need development, enlist the support of more senior attorneys, mentors, partners and professional development individuals to help you improve and hone identified areas of weaknesses. The “comeback” part rests squarely on your shoulders.
By focusing on what can be learned and changed, setting a course of action for either obtaining those needed skills or enlisting the support of others you start to lay a strong foundation for a comeback in attitude, in mindset and in results.
Q: I have really enjoyed the time I have spent on recruiting the summer class for my firm. How can I best transition into a full time management/recruiting role at my firm?
First of all it is worth noting that the if the firm asked you to actively participate in the summer recruiting they must also notice something about your natural skill set for this type of position. In best case scenarios, good law firm recruiting involves being naturally likeable, socially comfortable meeting new and introducing new people, having sophisticated liaison skills and stealth troubleshooting abilities. It is not an easy job but for those who gravitate naturally to this position it can be a very fulfilling, social and meaningful way to add value to a firm and its very pivotal goals of attracting and retaining top legal talent.
That being said, your firm may have noticed these skills in you but may be surprised to hear that you wish to transition from practice to management. The best course of action is to do your due diligence with lawyers who have made that transition but who are not working at your firm. As part of your initial inquiry you might ask about the nature of the work, compensation and career growth potential. A good source of information for this is NALP and their programs and membership.
Once you have completed some initial inquiries and have really determined that this transition is for you—it’s time to leverage on your insider knowledge of the firm and the good will that you have built at your firm! Once you are certain that this is something you want to do, speak to the professional development department of your firm, inquire about possible position openings and suggest ways in which you might be able to add value to that position. Talk to partners that you work with only once it is clear that there is a position that you wish to be considered—these partners might be able to help you in your goals as well.
Finally, there have been several instances where lawyers have made their intentions to transition known to their department and yet they continue to work as lawyers until landing the job at their firm comes to fruition or until they have been able to secure a job like that elsewhere.
At the end of the day, if you are determined to leave the law to transition into management, it is probably best to let the partners who like you and respect you help you in the process. They are going to find out eventually, so you might as well maintain your good will with them by being the one to tell them so they are best inclined to help you in the process.
Q: I am trying to find a job in copyright and trademark for this summer; hopefully one that will also be permanent job after graduation next May. What is the best way to prepare myself for this field while still in school? What are the best firms to work for- both in prestige/pay and balance?.
To get a job in Intellectual Property, your resume must reflect this interest. The key is to make it easy on the person reviewing your resume to understand that your area of interest is indeed IP. I suggest your past job descriptions focus (only if applicable, of course) on work you've done in this area. If you don't have a background in IP, then you need to demonstrate your interest by listing your involvement in your school's IP club or other relevant activities. (If your school has no such club, then create one and be the founding member!) Nothing is less impressive than a candidate who claims interest in one area, but who has not made any effort to educate him or herself or become really involved in that area. You should consider whether you're more interested in the litigation or corporate side (as IP tends to straddle the two), and make sure you tailor your coursework appropriately. The more you know about who you are and what your looking for, the easier your search will be. IP is a relatively small specialty, and so if you want to focus solely on IP, you will need to present yourself as a competitive candidate.
As for chosing an appropriate firm, as you must know, there are boutique firms as well as IP departments within the world's largest law firms. At this stage of the game, the large firms have already hired their summer classes, so you would likely have more luck with smaller firms. Like any other law student, you should consider a firm's culture to ensure that it will be a good fit for you. You will need to spend a great deal or time and effort determining what positions out there will provide you your best opportunity to grow professionally, but in the end you efforts will be rewarded. Though it is not appropriate that we recommend any specific firms, there are many websites that do rank firms based on such things as pay and work life balance and you may want to explore one of those. You may wish to search for firms with an IP practice on martindalehubbell.com and then research the culture of those firms on a site like vault.com.
Q: One of my former law school friends referred me to her current law firm. I have been invited back twice and the interviews seem to be going well and I would really like to work there. It has, however, been a week since I have had heard back from them. Is it all right for me to call the partner that I interviewed with to see where I stand?
The answer to this question is really dependent on the facts and circumstances of each case and is ultimately a judgment call. Nevertheless, here are some factors to consider. If this is a typical large New York law firm, it is unlikely that you will have made a sufficient connection with the partner to call him or her directly. In addition, large law firms have formal recruiting processes and it would be more appropriate to contact the recruiting office or to ask your friend to do so on your behalf. One week is not a very long time in the life of a busy law firm. It can often take at least a week for a large firm to collect comments from the lawyers with whom you interviewed.
If, on the other hand, we are talking about a small firm without a formal recruiting process, you may have no choice but to contact the partner. An alternative, however, may be to contact your friend. You also may consider waiting another week, assuming you have the time to do so.
Ultimately, if you do choose to contact the partner, you may consider sending an email because an email is easier for a partner to respond to than a call.
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The answers do not necessarily represent the views of the New York City Bar Association or the Committee on Career Advancement and Management.