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There’s a lot of pressure to land “the legal job of your dreams” when you graduate. But truthfully, almost no job right out of law school is the definition of a good dream. If it were, half of all new associates at large law firms wouldn’t change jobs within three years! Let’s be realistic. The most you can expect from your first job after law school is to hone the skills you like to use and learn what you need to develop a rewarding career — over time. WHO YOU ARE Accomplishing this is not only a lot easier, but more realistic, when you invest in preparation, first figuring out what skills you prefer to use, then determining what positions match your natural abilities and interests, and finally by writing a target-oriented r�sum�. Let’s start by developing your career profile with three simple questions: Are you drawn to people, or to data and ideas? In general, you’ll find more of a people orientation on the plaintiff’s side of personal injury; in criminal law; in family, elder, immigration, employment and sports law; and in general practice. If you gravitate toward data and ideas, you’ll be suited to insurance defense and coverage, bankruptcy, environmental and health law, commercial transactions, tax or real estate. Are you motivated to solve problems or to analyze them? “Problem solvers” prefer the concrete, relatively short-term projects in elder law, adoption, small-business representation, simple estate planning, criminal law, guardianship and general practice. “Analyzers” like the complicated, large-scale projects readily found in environmental law, commercial transactions, complex litigation, trusts and intellectual property. Do you want to do more writing or more talking? Thriving in the library or when you prepare class notes is a good clue that you tend toward writing. Preferring to learn through study groups or loving moot court and clinical education classes means you’re happier when you’re talking. At the beginning of your legal career, you won’t do much talking in most departments of a midsize or small law firm. Later, it will be hard to concentrate on writing unless you choose appellate work, insurance, IP or complex business transactions. By the time you finish just this simple analysis, you’ll have identified several areas of law that interest you. WHERE YOU BELONG The next step is to figure out the environment best for you. The three short statements below will help you determine whether you’re suited to the practice of law in a large law firm or in a business-related specialty boutique. (The answer follows the question.) TRUE / FALSE: You are more drawn to issues involving people and human behavior than to data, theory and numbers. In 1980, corporations first surpassed individuals as the primary consumers of legal services. Those entities overwhelmingly turn to large law firms and specialty boutiques for their legal help. As a result, most work handled by those firms involves the transfer of money, not the personal concerns of people. Those who’d feel most comfortable in a big-firm environment would circle “False” in the statement above. TRUE / FALSE: You prefer to work on concrete, relatively short-term projects, rather than to analyze complicated issues. The democratization of information through technology has lessened the need to pay lawyers for advice on routine matters. Competition from nonlawyers — escrow companies, independent paralegals, accounting firms, even funeral homes — has further eroded dependence on lawyers. Lawyers in big firms and specialty boutiques now earn most of their fees by analyzing complex fact situations or those without black-and-white legal conclusions. This type of problem solving requires a foundation of in-depth analysis, accumulated through many hours of review and research. Those who’d feel most comfortable in a big-firm environment would have circled “False” in the statement above. TRUE / FALSE: You would rather gather information and communicate with others orally than use written methods. Oral communication in large and business law firms is limited for new lawyers in all but a few practice areas. Even for experienced lawyers, the need to keep records of conversations and to report to clients, opposing counsel, the court and colleagues make writing a big part of every day. Those who’d feel most comfortable in a big-firm environment would have circled “False” in the statement above. Of course, if you’re not cut out for a large law firm or business-related practice, you can seek employment with many other employers — criminal prosecution or defense, small firm general practitioners, family law, personal injury, government advocacy and in-house corporate opportunities. But should you be considering options outside the law as well? ALTERNATIVE LAW Here are just a few of the most common nontraditional ways lawyers and recent graduates make use of their legal background without practicing law. SERVICING THE LEGAL PROFESSION. Let’s start with law firms themselves. Former practitioners happily serve as firm managers or administrators, or as directors of development, client services and associate recruiting. You can also work for one of the thousands of service providers to the profession, many founded by former practicing lawyers. Think software vendors, contract lawyer placement agencies, litigation management and legal research services and jury, marketing or management consultants. And don’t forget the publishers of legal books, magazines, newsletters and newspapers, as well as the online services. All of them hire law school graduates in departments as diverse as editorial, sales, management, acquisitions and training. REGULATION OR ENFORCEMENT SPECIALIST. Corporations and government agencies are interested in lawyers with knowledge relevant to compliance and enforcement functions. Examples include the Americans With Disabilities Act, affirmative action, the environment, employee benefits, internal ethics, labor relations and legislative or community affairs. Purchasing agent and contract administration positions are also prevalent. EDUCATIONAL ADMINISTRATION. Most law schools these days prefer to hire law school graduates for positions in career services, alumni relations, fund raising and continuing legal education. Colleges and universities also hire lawyers as ADA and equal employment opportunity investigators, to monitor risk management, human resources, or technology transfer, or to work in contract negotiation and administration. NONPROFIT MANAGEMENT. Every bar association provides opportunities for law school graduates to manage or supervise operations. Lawyers frequently handle discipline, CLE, attorney assistance, mentoring, public affairs and lobbying functions. Nonprofit organizations outside the legal profession often look to volunteers — many of them lawyers — when seeking directors or project managers, or specialists in development or planned giving. THE ALL-IMPORTANT R�SUM� The content of your r�sum� is key. Too many job hunters worry about such trivialities as paper stock, type font and page setup. Well, guess what? In my experience, a r�sum�’s appearance will never command the attention or respect of an employer. For that, you need substance. Follow these steps if you want to create a knockout r�sum� and make sure that you know the answers to these questions before you begin: � What skills are required to perform this work? � What other skills and personal qualities will the employer find attractive? � Which of my work, volunteer, leisure or educational experiences demonstrate that I possess those skills and qualities? � What results did I achieve in those experiences? Define what it is you want to prove. A powerful r�sum� reads like a persuasive brief. Underlying its content is the premise that you are the right person for a specific job. Summarize your r�sum�’s premise in one sentence before you begin drafting (but delete that summary from the final product). Organize your qualifications to prove your premise. Employers no longer look for someone with the right “credentials”; they look for someone with the right skills, knowledge base, motivation and results. So do as Business Week says and forget titles. Load your r�sum� with specific examples of the work, volunteer, leisure or educational accomplishments that show the employer you can do the job. Don’t add superlatives such as “excellent” or “outstanding”: Let your results speak for themselves. Pare down your r�sum�. Imagine you are creating a magazine advertisement. Make every word count by evaluating each entry this way: � Does it clearly support your qualification for the position? What specifically does it add to the total picture? � Do the facts translate into benefits for the employer, or just recite history? � Does the information raise more questions than it answers? Get it edited. Show your best effort to at least two individuals who work in the field you’ve targeted. If you invest in this homework, you’ll know what direction to head in to find a satisfying post-law-school career. Deborah Arron, a lawyer, is a career counselor for professional people in Seattle. Her Web site is www.DeborahArron.com.

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