In my first few days as a 1L in law school, I think I heard the work “networking” more than I heard the word “law.” Public Relations may want to consider rebranding law school “Networking or Bust.” If you are reading this, you are aware that the bulk of job hunting is during law school. The networking events, the bar association happy hours. Remember? We went out bright-eyed to get coffees with overworked lawyers who are probably wondering when they lost that same bright-eyed wonder.
There are generally two options for jobs out of law school. Either you landed an offer before graduation and have the stress of making sure you pass. Or, you haven’t landed an offer, and also have the stress of making sure you pass. So, you are looking for that official license as your ticket into a firm. The bar exam comes, but that ticket doesn’t. What now? The rumor is no one will hire you if you’re not a licensed attorney, right? How does one network for a law firm position without being a licensed attorney? Well buckle up for the next two main considerations.
Offer Value Apart From A License
Start by brainstorming what makes you stand out from another law graduate who is a licensed attorney. Did you take some time before law school in a different profession? Does a firm you are interested in have any paralegal positions or assistant positions you can apply for while you study for the upcoming bar? This is not the ideal situation, and we all understand that. You spent years of hard work to become a law school graduate. And you will take that next step and become an attorney, this is just a pit stop. Treat it as such. Try not to look at any position available as “beneath” you. Certainly you want the title and the salary of an attorney. But none of that will happen unless you are licensed. So at a networking event, the best thing you can offer a licensed attorney and his or her firm is acknowledging you can offer the same skills as a lawyer but in a different role – for now.
Networking is all about the spin. How can you spin your specific situation? For example, spin looking for a non-attorney position into how you can add value as a paralegal or assistant. Law firms love to see added value in any situation. What can one bring to the table that will add value to some aspect of the business. An individual who went to law school, with your skills, can do the same work a paralegal or assistant can but will take less time to understand tasks such as research or filing with the court. You can add value not only time wise to a firm but also budget wise. If you get the opportunity, filling such a role and position can also add value to your experience and can help you to develop your practical skills relating to how law firms work. Those soft skills come in handy when selling yourself as a good fit to any law firm.
Keep in mind, however, that it will be tough to find an employer that will hire you as an attorney. So, to ensure you still have time to study for that upcoming bar, look for temp work. To find that, you have many options. First, you can contact an agency that places legal temps. With these kinds of agencies you’ll typically do document production and so forth. Another option is to go to your career services office and look for listings for firms seeking people for research projects. And while they’re typically looking for second-year clerks, you can do anything a second year can do, and on top of that, firms that have these kinds of projects typically need somebody in a hurry, and you’re in a perfect position to respond immediately.
Demonstrate Competence Apart From A Test Score
Another tip during a networking event, whatever form that may take, is to demonstrate that you are competent. One of the hurdles you’re faced with, unfortunately, is to deal with seasoned attorneys considering you “incompetent.” I could write another 1,000 words on why that is hogwash – and maybe I will. But not today. For example, the conversation drives towards the ultimate confession. You haven’t passed the bar exam. But you can spin this! Try forming a script along the lines of, “It’s a strange fluke. I’ve had great success with research while I worked as a law student at X firm, and I am generally familiar with hard work, such as when I was on law review (or insert whatever you were involved in here).” This framing shows that just because you couldn’t pick the correct wrong answer as the multiple choice requires, doesn’t mean you don’t know how to analyze and think as an attorney would. Whatever your personal script is, make sure you say it with your head held high. Fake it until you make it.
All in all, this too (and you) shall pass. Keep in mind that when looking for a job, even after failing a bar, that a licensed attorney position isn’t the only one available. You are qualified for much more! This isn’t rock bottom, take it from me.