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Ten Tips For Landing J.D. Jobs for Law Students and Graduates
The National Law Journal
Like many other job-seekers today, law students and graduates are frequently — but fuzzily — advised to "be entrepreneurial," "build your brand" and "think outside the box." I suggest instead to my classes, and to practitioners, 10 specific practices for maximizing one's professional credentials, networks and career opportunities:
• 1. One immediate way to enhance your résumé is to indicate briefly, as faculty commonly do, your "work in progress." Remember, however, Chief Justice John Roberts Jr.'s recent dismissal of the typical law review article as concerning "the influence of Immanuel Kant on evidentiary approaches in 18th-century Bulgaria or something, which I'm sure was of great interest to the academic that wrote it, but isn't of much help to the bar." Select topics, and article titles, of obvious practical relevance to potential employers and to their clients.
For example, you might address the responsibility of directors and officers — or of law firm managers — to ensure (and perhaps insure) the company's cybersecurity, particularly in an era of cloud and mobile computing. Not only do these concerns combine practice areas (including, for law firms, ethical and malpractice considerations), but the legislation, regulations, case law, technology and industry practices will continue to develop for years, enabling you to refine and extend your conclusions in subsequent works.
• 2. To identify emerging issues for your paper(s), don't stop after reading the business news, or even after consulting with faculty and reference librarians. Check the "client alerts" featured on the websites of many law firms. Although these summaries highlight the latest developments, to encourage on-the-clock consultations, their discussions are often deliberately qualified or vague, making them good starting points for more detailed analyses.
• 3. For other hot topics, review the online descriptions of continuing legal education (CLE) courses offered by city and state bar organizations, and by national groups such as the American Bar Association, the American Law Institute, the American Bankruptcy Institute and the Practising Law Institute.
• 4. Approach the process of writing your paper as an exercise also in networking. Whether or not you can attend a relevant CLE program in person or online, you could call or email some of its speakers to ask whether they might have any comments on your paper's focus and approach, or if they could recommend other experts or resources.
• 5. If you're more comfortable communicating face to face, consider attending the ABA's Annual Meeting in August, or the November or April meetings of its Business Law Section, for all of which law students can register at reduced rates or possibly for free. These conferences, which rotate among major cities, present unequaled opportunities to gather substantive information; to participate in the cutting-edge drafting projects of specialized committees; to meet an extraordinary range of practitioners, regulators and judges; and even (as several of my students have discovered) to secure job offers.
• 6. The ABA makes special efforts to introduce law students and other newcomers to section leaders. But before the meetings begin, you might independently try to schedule brief conversations with some of the speakers or other participants sometime during the event.
• 7. Read the business news, and the speaker lists of CLE programs, as catalogues of potential employers (or clients) beyond law firms and offices of in-house counsel. For instance, corporate governance coverage and panels frequently feature representatives of investigative and "competitive intelligence" firms, crisis management specialists, governance-rating companies, distressed-debt investment firms, socially responsible investment funds, restructuring consultants, director and officer insurance carriers, executive-compensation consultants and proxy advisers.
• 8. If you're writing about a rapidly changing area, or your paper doesn't have the number of words or footnotes usually required by law review editors, consider submitting your work to a state or city bar journal, or creating a blog to showcase your ongoing involvement with a particular issue.
• 9. You might form a student or practitioner group that, in organizing and recruiting speakers for a symposium, combines traditional publishing with blogging and networking. (One multifaceted area that such a program could address: the recent popularization of behavioral economics studies of common pitfalls in decision-making. Do executives and their counsel have a fiduciary duty to apply these newly accessible lessons to enhance their own performance? Could they face personal liability if they don't?)
• 10. Finally, it's never too early in your legal career to review the seven-page, 63-item "Obama Administration Questionnaire," which is easily found online. In November 2008, commentators speculated that the range and comprehensiveness of the questions might discourage many potential appointees. Yet you might find quite instructive the categories of activities that could someday jeopardize your applications for clerkships; for positions with federal or state intelligence, security, law enforcement or other agencies; or for political or judicial appointments.
Walter A. Effross is a law professor at American University Washington College of Law, a former chair of the ABA's Subcommittee on Electronic Commerce, and the author of Corporate Governance: Principles and Practices (2d ed. 2013), from which this article is adapted.