Smart and delusional job search strategies for 3Ls

3ls framed

Smart and delusional job search strategies for 3Ls

3L spring or fall semester job search strategies range from very smart to completely delusional.

Ideal: Organized, structured, systematic and not frantic combination of:

  • Self assessment,
  • Targeted networking based on
    a. well-developed or tentative selection of practice areas or career paths,
    b. geography,
    c. friends, family, and a constellation of established personal and professional contacts.
  •  Volunteer hours with work is tied to skill-building,
  •  Wise use of social networks, guided by Amanda Ellis’ 6Ps of the Big 3,
  •   Selective application for posted jobs, and
  •   Careful exploration of leads gathered through connections for upcoming openings.

Not so good #1: Ramen Noodles: Efficient and effective job search is much more like making barbecue than making ramen noodles.

“I want a job, any job” inspires activity as fruitless as throwing noodles against the wall to test for done-ness by seeing what sticks.

Frantic application for every possible job posting looks deceptively like forward motion, but it is so time-consuming that it supplants thoughtful assessment, careful research into options (substantive law, the nut-and-bolts reality of specific jobs, geographic locations, etc.), and all other activities known to produce results. (See Ideal, above)

Not-so-good #2:  Magical Thinking.

The far side of short-sighted defines applying for one job or jobs in just one category, regardless of the state of the underlying industry or ongoing hiring freezes.

Classic example: Consider the student who applied only to the Cook County Public Defender for the three years that he was in law school, which coincided neatly with the office’s three-year hiring freeze. Sadly for the career professionals who have to document and answer for the employment results of each student, there is no category for “delusional.”

Oh So Sad. Hiding under the bed and communing with dust bunnies, who are not hiring.

Overheard often: “It’s February. I’m not going to look until after I take the bar (or get bar results).”

There are some students for whom part of this strategy is correct:

1.      Students who have absolute moral certainty that they will not practice law (trust fund babies, committed stay-at-home parents, professionals in other fields adding “law” to their skills toolboxes),

2.      JAG applicants (who should have a Plan B because stuff happens. Not everyone passes the entry physical),

3.      Students who are the trailing spouse/partner of someone whose future is structurally up in the air (military spouses, medical students, Foreign Service, etc).

Search on hold? A waste of time

For everyone else, putting a job search on hold for seven (until after the bar) or ten or eleven months (after bar results) is an astonishing position and a colossal waste of time.

Don’t know what you want to do?

You can wait 11 eleven months to be struck by a flash of insight or spend some time exploring practice areas and specific jobs. Volunteer. Get a part-time job.

Don’t know where you want to practice?

You can wait 11 months to see if the construction industry returns to your hometown or to learn whether the town fathers and mothers attract the equivalent of a Silicon Valley to your local mall. Interesting questions, certainly, and ones that you should follow by reading your hometown paper on line or by reaching out to the denizens of City Hall to monitor their efforts. It is, however, unlikely that a thriving business will appear out of nowhere in time to help you decide which bar exam to take or for you to secure a job in October after graduation.

Don’t know where you want to take the bar, so you’ll take it in February?

Opting for the February bar because you are tired of studying is a frequent cry of retreat from students who for a variety of reasons can’t focus on next week, much less next fall. Get a grip because:


  1. Many jobs require that you have taken and passed a bar exam before you can be considered as a candidate. Assuming that you pass, you can’t begin a search until at least year after graduation.
  2.  You will never care more about Torts and Contracts than you will just after graduation.
  3.  Studying with your pals (either in your law school’s location or in a bar study site where you might have just a few classmates) is a comfort. When students around you are wailing about material that is new to them, you and your well-instructed pals can nod knowingly and silently thank your first year professors.
  4. Because the February bar is out of pattern, you will have to explain yourself for taking it. Your risk? “I donated a kidney” will make you a hero. “I just didn’t get around to it/I was tired of studying/I just needed a break” can brand you a slacker.

Know that you want to travel after taking the bar?

You can pack a backpack all over the world and then try to explain yourself when you look for a job, or you can make the most of your trip by exploring sites such as Meet! Plan! Go! which can guide you toward activities that can make your post-bar trip look like a series of smart professional activities.

Help is available.

Every law student in American has access to a career office staffed with professionals who are there to guide you through the easy stuff (resumes) and the really hard stuff (decided what you want to do, and devising strategies to help you achieve your goals).

One 20-minute visit is not enough.

If you believe that your career office is understaffed, take your concerns to the Dean who is uniquely situated to remedy the situation. Talk about student-to-professional ratios. Do the math. If you have 600 students and two professional staff, how many minutes can each student spend with a career adviser in one year?

Every minute of every day isn’t available for students because the career professionals must reach out to prospective and current employers, alumni, bar association and other professionals. They also organize and plan the programming that you should be attending, and they also work hard to stay current with the market for lawyers and for opportunities for alternative career paths.


About susangainen

Whimsical Wildlife Documentarian. Abstract Painter. Writer. Teacher. Explorer.
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