I hear a lot of general lamentation over the inability of lawyers to find jobs. “Glut” is the word I hear used to describe unemployed and underemployed lawyers. But is there any truth to that? Well, let’s look at the facts. Out of approximately 35,000 active members of the State Bar of Michigan, 1.6 percent were unemployed and seeking employment in 2015. According to the ABA the 2014 figures break down as follows:
- 26,248 graduates of the class of 2014, or 59.9 percent, were employed in long-term, full-time positions that require bar passage.
- 4,912 graduates of the class of 2014, or 11.2 percent, were employed in long-term, full-time "J.D. advantage" positions where a law degree is preferred.
- 8 percent of the class of 2014 were unemployed and seeking employment.
With law school debt often resulting in monthly payments the size of a mortgage (and sometimes a mortgage plus day care), it is obviously important to land a job immediately upon passing the bar, if not sooner. While contemplating the gravity of this reality, I decided to survey a small, medium and large firm to find out their dos and don’ts for job hunters.
The Small Firm
I chose the Reed Law Group because I know the principal, Steven A. Reed, well and he just hired a Cooley Law School grad who was an extern of mine about a year ago. It makes sense that a small firm is looking for someone who can hit the ground running.
Steve said these are what he finds most important on a resume:
- If the candidate has taken some courses in law school in the area(s) that I practice so I know they are applying due to an interest in that area as opposed to an inability to get a job in another area.
- If the candidate is a member of the State Bar Section in which I practice so I know that they are interested in my practice’s focus.
- If the candidate belongs to a local bar association.
- If the candidate is involved in his or her local community.
- If the candidate has good computer skills.
Steve said these are what he finds least important on a resume:
- If the candidate has extensive experience and has taken a lot of classes in areas of law that my firm does not practice.
- If the candidate identifies the political party that he or she supports.
- If the candidate states that his or her goal/purpose is to become a partner in a law firm that handles totally different types of cases (e.g., commercial real estate when my firm focuses on family law).
- A candidate’s law school ranking.
- Any information that is not on the first two pages, since I quit reading after two pages and put the resume in the do not call stack.
What impresses Steve most during an interview:
- Candidate has done some research and knows about my firm and/or the attorneys in my firm.
- Candidate is able to talk about generating billable hours and/or bringing in new clients.
- Candidate listens to questions that are asked and answers those questions as opposed to going off on another subject.
- Candidate can explain to me the benefit my firm would get if they are hired.
What impresses Steve least during an interview:
- Candidate has not taken the time to do any research concerning my firm and/or the attorneys in my firm.
- Candidate has not taken the time to decide how much money they would request if they were hired.
- Candidate makes totally unreasonable requests (e.g., high salary, car provided by the firm, two to three months paid vacation during the first year, the ability to bring in clients that are totally their clients and the firm receives no income from the clients but the attorney works on those cases while at my office).
- Candidate spends quite a bit of time during the interview describing how qualified he or she is in an area of law that my firm does not practice.
- Candidate spends any time during the interview criticizing other attorneys or judges.
Steve’s advice for applicants to his firm:
- Show up 15 minutes early to your interview.
- Give some serious thought to answers for basic interview questions prior to the interview. Be able to explain what they offer my firm, what they will do to bring in clients, why the area of law my firm practices interests them, etc. Also be able to answer questions like “What is your biggest strength?” or “What is your biggest weakness?” Be prepared to answer these questions promptly and with confidence.
- Ask questions about my firm, like “Are any major changes being considered in the firm?” and “What is the firm’s philosophy on mediation and litigation?”
- Send an e-mail thanking us for the opportunity to interview with us. (Don’t send a thank you card since a lot of the other applicants will beat you with an e-mail.)
- Ask at the end of the interview if there is any additional information or are there additional documents that we would like before we make a hiring decision.
The Medium Firm
I chose Conlin, McKenney & Philbrick, P.C. in Ann Arbor. Elizabeth M. Petoskey answered these questions.
Elizabeth said these are what she finds most important on a resume:
- Experience and/or interest and prior success in the practice area we are looking for
- Legal education
- Interest in our community
Elizabeth said these are what she finds least important on a resume:
- Extra-curricular activities
- Outdated job history information.
What impresses Elizabeth most during an interview:
- Personality and communication skills that fit the firm’s ethos
- Prior contact with firm members
- Good questions about our firm (a candidate who makes me believe he/she wants to be part of our team)
What impresses Elizabeth least during an interview:
- Complaints (or inflated ideas of candidate’s importance) from previous positions
- Excuses for negatives on resume
- Rote questions about our firm.
Elizabeth’s advice for applicants to her firm:
- Be honest with your interviewers and with yourself
- Demonstrate your strong work ethic and be diligent
The Big Firm
I chose Bodman PLC in Detroit. Thomas P. Bruetsch answered these questions.
Thomas said this is what he finds most important on a resume:
A candidate needs to know his or her audience. Most hiring partners are also busy practicing lawyers, and they receive many, many resumes. Different positions require different skills and backgrounds. But one thing that is always important is that the information that qualifies a candidate for a position – whether that is academic background, work experience, entrepreneurship, unique skills, etc. – is presented clearly. The best resumes efficiently convey a candidate’s qualifications for a position, highlight what sets them apart from the pack, and do not overstate or omit important information.
Thomas said this is what he finds least important on a resume:
We’re looking for relevance. A resume should concisely communicate why we should interview a candidate for a need that we have, but it also needs relevant detail on what a person has done or accomplished. A resume that is simply a collection of lists – education, prior positions, etc., is not particularly helpful.
What impresses Thomas most during an interview:
Good, original questions that demonstrate the candidate has given considerable thought to a career at our firm. Some candidates are not prepared to ask questions; many candidates ask canned questions. Very few are prepared to engage in an original, more substantive discussion.
What impresses Thomas least during an interview:
A candidate who can’t engage. A candidate who is not prepared or who doesn’t act like he or she is enthusiastic about the prospect of a position at our firm.
Thomas’ advice for applicants to his firm:
Do your homework. Understand what we are looking for. Define what sets you apart. Always be professional. Be ready to talk to us about why you want a career, not just a job.
Advice from a Career Transition Coach
I also interviewed Nick Synko of Synko Associates, a career transition coach extraordinaire. I asked him what kinds of questions he would ask a client who came to him complaining about not being able to get a good full-time job.
Nick said he would ask:
- What is your job search strategy? Are you making online applications only? What are you doing to take a more comprehensive, aggressive approach to finding a job?
- Have you invested in a career coach? If not, who is mentoring you in your job search and what are their qualifications?
- Have you had your resume evaluated by a qualified career counselor? How many resumes have you sent out? If your efforts have been unsuccessful, what have you done to upgrade the impact or market presentation of your resume?
- Which companies would you identify as high priority target employers? What have you done to understand their business and mission to identify who to contact and how to construct an introductory letter that may draw attention to your candidacy?
- What industry or professional journals and websites do you pay attention to? What related professional meetings or tradeshows have you attended to increase your professional knowledge?
- What courses have you completed during your period of unemployment to demonstrate you are up-to-date professionally and a continuous learner?
- What you are doing to take an organized, systematic approach to networking? What have you done to network in the last few weeks? Have you attended networking events? Have you attended professional association meetings?
- Are you using social media (Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn) to advance your job search strategy? How are you continuously improving the use of social media to reach your network? Have you evaluated the LinkedIn profiles of your competitors? What do you uniquely offer compared to them? What do you lack?
- When asked about your expected salary requirements, what number or range do you state? How have you researched that number to know if it is high or low, and competitive?
- Who have you used to coach you through mock or practice interviews? How have you prepared for scheduled phone interviews? Provide a list of a few standard interview questions you expect. How do you answer those questions?
More Resources for Job Seekers from Career Coaches
Getting top marks in a good law school and passing the bar exam will greatly aid a lawyer in landing his or her first job, says Mark Weber, assistant dean for career services at Harvard Law School. While students are in school, Weber recommends they attend career programs, take substantive courses to learn about different practice areas and take clinical courses to gain hands-on legal experience. He says students should also use their summers to obtain practical work experience. They should cultivate relationships with other attorneys, including school faculty who can direct them to their own contacts in the industry. Weber says prospective lawyers should also review and manage their online profiles by adjusting privacy settings on social media. "Lawyers need to look and act the part," he says. “Having good judgment is as important as having mastery of the law. By managing your professional presence, whether it be through your résumé, social media or business attire, you are demonstrating your good judgment to prospective employers." Weber also recommends that would-be attorneys hone their writing skills. "Writing clearly, concisely and effectively puts you ahead of the pack," he says.
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To all of you out there seeking jobs - GOOD LUCK!!
Lori is a shareholder at Nichols, Sacks, Slank, Sendelbach, Buiteweg, & Solomon, P.C.