Regardless of your law school’s geographic reach, an out-of-town job search requires diligent preparation, strategic planning, and willingness to create a network to support your plan. Review these 15 steps and get going.
First Stop: Career Services
If you do not tell your career services professionals that you want/need to go to Kansas City after graduation, do not dare to whine about getting no help. Telepathy is not a job search tool. If you don’t tell your CSO staff, your alumni and development professionals, and every faculty member and the Dean, you are wasting precious dollars of your tuition. You have no idea what kinds of personal or professional connections these people have. If you don’t let them know, they can’t possibly help you.
Long-Distance Job Search Reality Check
1. Fall Interview Footprint. Your school’s fall interview program may not reach your target town. Even if it does, fall interview programs have their limitations.
2. Who Hires 2Ls in the Fall for post-JD jobs? The majority of employers do not hire 2Ls for summer jobs leading to permanent post-JD employment. What’s that you say? Hiring a 2L in October for a permanent job nearly two years later requires a superb business plan, a well-tuned crystal ball, and/or a huge dose of magical thinking. Large law firms do it, but they are not the majority of employers.
Most employers hire when they have money and when they have work that needs to be done NOW or in the foreseeable future. Some of these practical employers are public sector (government and non-profits), small and medium-size law firms, JAG, post-JD fellowships, post-JD clerkships, and corporate.
3. Who knows about your law school? Legal employers in your target city may know nothing about your school, so your application must include meaningful, specific information. Consult your CSO staff for guidelines and do not include your school’s printed brochures.
- Programs’ rankings. Although rankings are universally despised, if you have participated in a well-ranked program (clinic, etc.), include the ranking information in the description of the program and the work that you have done.
- Practical training programs. Small and medium size law firms and litigation-oriented public sector employers will be interested in live-client clinics, trial practice, the details of your moot court, and simulation courses that you have taken. For example:
As you may know, Moot Court at (your law school) is a year-long, academically supervised and graded appellate practice requiring multiple drafts of briefs and multiple judged rounds of oral argument. It meets the school’s second year writing requirement.
4. Do not count on alumni to be up-to-date on curriculum changes. “Out of sight, out of mind,” applies. As you reach out to alumni, spreading the word about new programs becomes your responsibility. Dig into the work of the curriculum committee to find out about changes made during the past 10 years. These meaningful details will help you connect with alumni, making the research worth your time.
Limitations of large or small fall interview programs
5. Employers in your target city may not participate in your school’s interview or resume collect programs. You will have to do research to find the employers, and then introduce them to your school (#3 and #4)
Make your resume “sticky”
6. If you have access to a legitimate “local” address, use it and your law school address on your resume and cover letter. “Legitimate” includes relatives and best-best friends who won’t compromise your job search.
7. Your genuine reason to move to your target city may include spouse/partner’s school or employment, family and friends, or climate (weather and business). Do not create a fiancée who cannot be produced at a moment’s notice.
8. If you are from the area, include your high school‘s name on your resume.
Make a credible commitment and build a network
9. Join the state and local bar associations. Engage with bar leaders who are eager to recruit you for meaningful participation.
10. Use your alumni and career offices to help you contact alumni of your law and undergraduate schools who live in your target area. Connect by phone and email, and arrange to visit during school breaks.
11. This is NOT the time to say “I will do this myself.” Enlist your family and friends and their friends, as well. There is a group of people who will be hurt if you fail to ask for their help. Do not squander these relationships.
12. If you have a specific practice interest, be sure that there is an active practice in your target city before you include that desire in your applications. Nothing says “clueless” louder than stating a preference for a maritime law in a land-locked city.
13. Read the local newspapers and keep up with the active businesses and industries. How are they doing? What needs are going unfilled? Use that information to create a practice profile and a set of networking targets for your job search campaign.
14. If you are applying to the public sector, pay close attention to funding sources. Some public defender offices have had years-long hiring freezes. Don’t be the student who applies only to PD offices with no ability to hire. Even if your strong preference is for the public sector, develop a private sector Plan B.
15. Use social media wisely. Consult Amanda Ellis’ 6 Ps of the Big 3 for guidance.
Susan Gainen has created a suite of programs for law students that can be sponsored by student groups, career or alumni offices or deans of students: Alternative Careers, Second Career Law Students, Professionalism, Job Search Skills = Business Development Skills, Job Search Outside of OCI: The Forever Skill (unless you are a Ground-Hog-Day-2L). In addition to 25 years of legal career development activity (headhunter, law school career development, consultant), she is an artist. Her creativity workshops include “Open Your Heart and Close Your Wallet: Watercolor Postcards for Thrifty Travelers,””Watching Paint Dry Can Be Fun: A conversation about creativity,” and “The Lost Cave Paintings of Saint Paul: Create your cave with gesso.”