And It Begins...
On Thursday, September 4th, come celebrate the launch of First Thursdays – the monthly social events for young attorneys to build their personal and professional networks. Meet other young attorneys along with young CPA’s and Financial Advisors while enjoying beverages and hors d’oeuvres. Leave with a bunch of new professional contacts, a gift bag, and maybe a door prize. Register Today
First Thursdays Series
Kickoff Cocktail Reception
Sept 4, 7-9 pm
Spirit of New York Dinner Cruise
Oct 2, 7-10:30 pm
City Bar Exclusive Shopping Event at Brooks Brothers
Nov 6, 6-8 pm
Pass the Bar
Dec 4, 6-8 pm
Thank you to our First Thursdays
Sponsors: ClearChannel, New York Law Journal, Vault
Job Hunting in a Down Market
By Susan G. Manch
Times are tough and the economics of the legal marketplace are uncertain. Many associates are struggling to make their hours and firms that are busy are worried about struggles yet to come. Unpredictable markets can make job-hunting a risky proposition. So should you stay in a job that’s not right for you based on the “bird in the hand” theory? Not necessarily. Jobs can still be found in this sort of market, but you have to take a strategic approach.
A strategic approach includes setting goals, doing your homework, preparing personally, and following through.
What is driving you into this job market? Is it boredom or are your core career interests not being fulfilled? Any job can provide a learning opportunity and until you have articulated explicit career goals you can’t hope to wring the most from either your current or future job.
A career goal does not need to be an end point (think partner or general counsel); rather sound career goals identify ways you would ideally like to be spending your time at work and the trajectory you would like your career to be on. For example, solid career goals would be: “to get significant trial experience and be in a position to qualify for a high level prosecutorial position at the state or federal level” or “have access to a consistent deal flow that will allow me to develop a partner-level expertise in mergers and acquisitions.” Specific goals such as these inform every key decision you will have to make as you consider your job search—first, can your goal be met through your current job and if not, which organizations should you consider, what skills will you highlight on your resume, how will you state your interests and career goals in an interview, and how should you choose from among multiple offers.
DO YOUR HOMEWORK
Once you have a clear idea of what you want, you have work to do. Your research skills will serve you well in this effort. If law firms interest you, check out the legal press publications to compare revenues, profits, and leverage figures. Look at job ads to get an idea of who is hiring and what they are looking for (but don’t apply yet or call search firms—you are not ready!). Read firms' websites to learn about their practice areas, client focus, and strategic vision. Do a general search of each firm to get a sense of the broader industry buzz on the firm as a presence in their markets or nationally. Look at published law firm guides and peruse the blogs and chat boards (recognizing that this type of information may be severely biased). Once you have this research in hand, talk to people who have had direct experience with each firm—friends from law school who work there, for example. This in-depth homework should provide you with a clear picture of the firms you should target.
If you are looking at public service, in-house jobs, or non-profits, the process is the same.
Find the industry or professional publications that profile the employers. Search their job listings to get a better idea of what people do in jobs with which you are not familiar. Network and gather data from sources. Do informational interviews if you are uncertain of the type of employer or job you are seeking.
Once you have determined which employers are worth pursuing, you'll want to get a sense of what they are looking for. Every employer has an implicit success profile. You may be able to discern this information from their website or by talking with people who have been connected with the organization. Look for clues on who becomes successful (read partner or general counsel bios and check out who's in the news or annual report), who is most satisfied (ask personal contacts and check survey info), and how the organization describes itself and its recruiting prospects (look at the “careers” sections on websites). Gather all this intelligence and then pull out adjectives that represent themes from the information you've gathered (such as entrepreneurial, client-service oriented, collaborative): These are the core selection criteria for new hires, even if the firm's recruiters don't say so.
Look at your own résumé and accomplishments, and determine which aspects of your background and experiences would most likely appeal to these organizations. Be prepared to talk about them in your interviews, looking for opportunities to highlight your similarities to the firm's success profile. Of course, it never hurts to let firms know that you have done your homework; asking thoughtful questions about the firm and its practice sends the message that you are being as careful about your search as they are about hiring the right person.
Every employer is looking for the best of the best—particularly in an uncertain market. Know your weaknesses and be prepared to turn them into advantages rather than try to hide them.
If your school or grades are not top tier, focus on the depth and scope of your experiences and firm/community activities. If your work experience has been substandard, be ready to articulate steps you have taken to address this (training, pro bono work, committee or community activities). Look at everything you have done from a new angle so you can be prepared to bring out all of your selling points.
Think of the initial interview as a 30-minute audition. Even though some interviews may be longer, it pays to prepare as if this is all the time you will have to make a winning impression.
This is your opportunity to show an employer what you would be like as a colleague. Many candidate evaluation forms ask, "Would you like to work with this person?" or "Would you consider giving this person an important assignment?" With that in mind, think about the message your appearance and demeanor send—are you prepared with knowledge of the organization and job, do you act and look like a professional, are you a confident communicator? If you struggle with extemporaneous speaking, now would be a great time to engage a personal communications coach. It is a great investment in your future and reduces a primary job-hunting anxiety.
Prepare for each interview by scanning over your résumé; make sure you can speak with authority on any entry found there. Oral expression, reasoning, and analysis are on many organizations’ interview checklists. They will be assessing your answers to see if you can think on your feet and put thoughts together in a logical fashion.
Many interviewers will not come prepared to ask thoughtful questions. Candidates who can comfortably keep the conversation going, asking questions and subtly weaving their accomplishments and career aspirations into the discussion stand out under these circumstances. Listening carefully allows you to pick up on what the interviewer is looking for and the criteria he or she may use to recommend an offer.
Ask two friends to help you practice interviewing. Have one person interview you and the other observe the interaction. Using a triad model is the most effective way to practice interviewing skills because you have someone standing apart from the interview itself, watching your performance and the reactions of the interviewer as the conversation unfolds. Remember, you may have only 30 minutes to secure a second interview, so it is critical to practice getting information across in a succinct manner.
Once you have secured additional interviews, you have a chance to assess the employer more carefully. Try to get a feel for what it's like to work for that firm. Watch and listen. How do people interact with one another? Are they casual and relaxed, clearly enjoying one another, or do they seem to barely know one another? Are doors closed or open? Is there a big difference between the personalities of the senior and more junior lawyers, or do you sense many commonalities? Could you see yourself coming to this place every workday? Has anything about the work discussed sounded really interesting or engaging? These are just a few of the questions you will need to contemplate while you are in the interviewing process.
With all your thoughtful preparation and careful execution, barring major catastrophes, you should be the recipient of several offers. How do you know which one is the right one? Most candidates say they fall back on two primary factors when choosing their employers: the people and the substance of the work. Those are important criteria, but you have to go a step further. The best way to make a decision is to assess the probability of being successful and satisfied in a particular job and organization: availability and skill-building potential of the work, senior and junior people you like and respect, stability of the organization’s business model and its competitive position in the market, opportunities for training and development, and commitment to external interests you may share (e.g., community involvement, pro bono work). These are the factors that are more likely to help you decide which organization is right for you.
Only you can decide which job and organization are right for you, but it is a much easier decision when you employ a strategic approach. Good luck and happy hunting!
Susan G. Manch is a principal in the consulting firm of Shannon & Manch, in Washington, D.C. She can be reached for comments at email@example.com.
Defining and Achieving Success as an In-House Woman Attorney
Tuesday, Sept 9, 6-8 pm
Mindfulness Meditation in Law Practice
Thursday, Sept 18, 7-9 pm
Annual Welcoming Reception for Law Students and Recent Law School Graduates
Monday, Sept 22, 6:30-8 pm
Setting a Course for Success: Strategic Career Advice for Young Women Lawyers
Tuesday, Sept 23, 6:30-7 pm - networking reception; 7-8:30 pm – discussion
Ask the Experts
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?
A: 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,
Visit http://www.nycbar.org/lawyers-connect/lawyers-connect-overview to start taking advantage of everything Young Lawyers Connect has to offer.