Recent and not so recent graduates seeking an attorney job without experience often run into problems finding a decent position. The high competition allows law firms to be very picky.
The American Bar Association reports that among 2019 law school graduates, 6.4% were unemployed one year after graduation. As for the lucky ones who found a job, 48.1% worked for law firms, 11.5% took positions in government agencies, and 10.3% engaged in the business sector.
So, how to get a job as a lawyer with no experience and connections? The truth is, many employers care more about the potential candidate’s on-the-job experience than their academic success. To get a job, a law school graduate will have to put in a lot of effort. But nothing is impossible.
Resources to search for a lawyer position
- Law firms websites. Big law firms always have a Careers link on their websites and often recruit entry-levels to fill support positions.
- Staffing agencies. These agencies are good to look for contract and small-firm positions, such as legal assistants, clerks, and receptionists.
- Law school career office. Career offices can provide a list of employers interested in the school’s graduates and tools to navigate the job search.
- Job-search websites. There are both specialized sites for finding vacancies in the legal field (lawcrossing.com, U.S. Courts) and ones with a broader profile (Glassdoor, Indeed). Many of them are free to use and often have entry-level positions to offer.
- Craigslist. This resource is often disregarded, but it does have decent job postings on occasion. It won’t hurt to monitor. Search in the jobs section for legal/paralegal positions.
Tips to get in the legal field without experience
Getting a job at a law firm straight away after graduation from a law school isn’t a cakewalk. It takes a lot of time, persistence, and a willingness to settle for something less for a while. Here are a few options and steps to get closer to the desired career as a lawyer.
Contact smaller and non-profit firms.
“The truth about the fast-paced legal market is plain and straightforward – businesses want to hire a qualified person ready to bring profit instantly without additional on-the-job training,” says Andriy Bogdanov, CEO of OnlineDivorce.com. Recent graduates have to compete with experienced lawyers who seek new positions for various reasons. General advice to fresh job-seekers is to gain experience in minor cases and firms before applying for an attorney position.
Small boutique firms and non-profit organizations often hire law-school newcomers to stay on a budget. Many corporations engage with small law firms for the same reasons – to cut down on legal consultation fees.
You can try and get some experience doing simple divorces and custody hearings, insurance and rent disputes, etc. After you’ve gained a few years of courtroom experience, you can start applying for attorney job openings with more opportunities to succeed.
Make useful connections
Networking is a perfect way to find a hidden vacancy. “Networking has been cited as the number one unwritten rule of success in business. Who you know really impacts what you know,” explains Sallie Krawcheck, CEO and Co-Founder of Ellevest.
You can try seeking out informational interviews with attorneys or alumni practicing in your field of interest. Make a list of firms where you would like to work and set up a consultation with a particular lawyer. Look for contact details on the web, on LinkedIn, or ask your school’s career office to help find alumni contacts.
Informational interviews are meant to get insights about the particular field of law and a general idea about the chosen law firm. It’s not the right time to ask for a job, however. But these types of meetings can help make connections that might lead to a job offer or internship.
Other places to network are events and trainings held by the Bar Association, alumni events and mentor programs, sporting and fundraising events, etc.
Volunteer or work part-time in law firms
Although volunteering does not bring any profit, it can be an excellent place to acquire valuable skills and legal work experience that looks good on a resume. Non-profits, such as legal aid offices, are always in need of extra help. They will provide you with many to-the-point tasks and won’t waste your time doing inessential work.
Be prepared to work for a small salary or none at all at first. “My first job after law school was an unpaid clerkship,” recalls Christopher Puck, a Boston University School of Law graduate. “I traversed a long road of unpaid internships before finding a paid job as a prosecutor.”
Part-time positions aren’t a good income source either but are undoubtedly easier to get. Look for contract work in your local tenant firms or appearance attorney firms. Don’t neglect seemingly unattractive jobs. Consider the benefits you can get out of working there. Everyone needs to start somewhere.
Reach out to your employed schoolmates
Some of the connections you make at your law school may prove helpful in the long run. Contact your schoolmates who already work for law firms and may have leads you need. Maybe some of them have an established network in the area and can suggest your candidacy for open positions. Ask them for referrals and contact other people who might have some information. You only need one person to hire you, and you never know who might lead you to them.
Improve your resume
Do not neglect the power of a well-written resume to land you a callback and invitation for an interview. As was already mentioned before, the legal field is a very competitive place to find a job. Hiring managers receive about 700 resumes for each vacancy. Given that they simply cannot read that many applications because of a heavy workload, each resume has about 10 seconds to garner the reader’s attention.
A successful resume must be concise and tailored for the given vacancy. It should use appropriate wording, formal style, and logical structure. Use bullet points for presenting your relevant skills and previous responsibilities, e.g., during an internship or volunteering. A resume is a perfect tool to advertise your skills and strong sides – make sure it looks professional.
Prepare for an interview
As for the interview, careful preparation in advance is a must. Do thorough research about the law firm and the position you’re applying for. The company’s website and blog are good places to start. During the interview, casually mention some of the information you learned once or twice.
Prepare questions for the interviewer, such as “are there career growth opportunities in the firm.” Don’t forget to mute your phone and forget about it for the whole meeting. Looking constantly at the phone suggests either a lack of interest or respect. Neither is beneficial for your chances to get in. “Your body language can divulge your disinterest or, conversely, it can affirm your attentiveness and confidence,” says Michelle Tillis Lederman, a communication expert and writer.
Ways to get litigation experience
Highly valued in resumes for legal job openings, litigation experience roughly means participation in lawsuits and court actions. Even entry-level positions, such as assistant attorney or paralegal, frequently require some expertise. Fortunately, there are a few options to get it before entering a legal market.
Clinic programs at law schools
These programs are designed to let students get hands-on experience participating in real-life cases. There are plenty of clinic programs, allowing students to practice and gain hard and transferable skills for their future careers. They learn to plan cases, draft documentation, gather evidence, communicate with clients, and even represent clients under the lawyer’s supervision. Law school students can sign up for these programs anytime during their education.
Internship at law firms or government agencies
Another option to gain that valuable experience is an internship. Some law firms and government agencies offer summer internship programs. Most of them are unpaid, but there are exceptions. Internships at reputable law firms are sometimes hard to find since not all of them are widely advertised. Inquire to your law school career office for available options.
Government agencies also allow both students and recent graduates to have a leg up on the working process. It’s a way to get some experience in the field and also a chance to gather valuable connections. The information about legal internships is often available on the government agency’s website.
An internship is a great way to understand what you want to do in your life after graduation. Hallie White Speight, another BSLU graduate who works for Middlesex County District Attorney’s Office, remembers how she had doubts about the Criminal Law course she was taking. She didn’t see criminal law as her career. “During my 1L summer, I worked as an intern in the Appeals Unit at the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office. To my surprise, by the end of the first day of my internship, I was in love with the work.”
Low-grade legal jobs
Going to a less competitive legal market is probably the easiest way to work at a law firm. There are plenty of positions to begin a legal career. Start small and work your way up to the desired position. Here is a list of jobs to consider:
- legal receptionist
- legal secretary
- court messenger
- file clerk
- document coder
- copy room staff, etc.
All the above options provide an opportunity to work in the legal field and understand what you like and don’t like. Again, you can establish professional connections that might contribute to your career growth.
When looking for a job, a lot depends on how much a person wants to be successful. Resilience, perseverance, and self-righteousness are qualities that will help in this challenging task. These are also qualities that every good lawyer has. Consider finding a job as your first test of strength. If the legal sphere is your calling, sooner or later, you will succeed.