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Philadelphia-area law students obtained advice on a very important subject recently: how to land a job. The lesson came during the spring meeting of the American Bar Association’s Business Law Section. Roughly 50 law students and a handful of professionals crowded into a conference room at the Philadelphia Marriott Hotel for the ABA session “Meet the Managing Partner, Hiring Partner and General Counsel.” Moderated by Michael Coleman of Coleman Legal Search Consultants, the panelists included Tad Decker, managing partner at Cozen and O’Connor; Joseph O’Dea Jr., hiring partner at Saul Ewing; and Don H. Liu, general counsel at IKON Office Solutions. Discussion centered on career planning and insights into finding a good job. The key items law students should look for are chemistry and opportunities to succeed, said O’Dea. And right now, some areas of law look better than other areas for success and advancement. Last year technology law was the hot area for younger lawyers, but that trend has fizzled, Liu said. “Two areas growing like crazy are employment law and intellectual property,” Liu continued. “And they don’t look like they’re going to slow down.” “Everyone is looking for intellectual property lawyers,” Decker added. Even though the demand for lawyers is seemingly there, some graduating law students were concerned about the effect a recession may have on the current job market. According to Coleman, the legal community is not seeing a significant increase of layoffs — yet. Instead of firings, Coleman said the firms are less aggressive at hiring. The recent economic slowdown has also shifted practice area demands. For example, Coleman said there’s been a greater demand for bankruptcy lawyers. EXPERIENCE VS. EDUCATION Decker mentioned firms often look for students with a good academic background, a good employment record and a personality. He also said communicating well with people and having a work ethic are essential. “I come back to personality,” Decker said. “One thing I did at [Saint-Gobain Corp.] for general counsel was interview different people to find out whether they were jerks or not. And I laugh, but it’s absolutely true. We’re looking for people who work hard and are bright, but also who want to have fun. We don’t want people to hate working with you.” The panelists also gave advice to law students who may not be at the top of their class or who didn’t graduate from a top law school. “Don’t be intimidated that you didn’t graduate number one at Harvard,” Decker said. “At the end of the day, it’s not the end-all-be-all.” He gave one example of a paralegal he once knew. She worked in a firm during the day and attended Temple University School of Law at night, graduating second or third in her class. Other panelists agreed this combination of education and experience is invaluable. GETTING THE ‘IN’ FOR AN INTERVIEW Even after establishing a plump resume of experience and education, law students may have a hard time landing an interview. The panelists offered a solution to the audience: use contacts. Liu once hired someone after meeting them in a restaurant. He recommended to always be looking for a place to network. Professors, judges, lawyers, people in the DA’s office, family members or friends are all good contacts. The panelists agreed contacts are most helpful for students when they’re trying to get in the door to set up an interview. “As a hiring partner, I’m looking for an understanding of people,” O’Dea said. “I have roughly 1,000 resumes. If someone calls and says an individual is a qualified and quality person, I will welcome that input.” O’Dea and the other panelists cautioned that contacts might help students get on the interview list. But it won’t necessarily get them hired. LAW FIRM OR CORPORATION? The panelists offered advice to students considering a future as general or corporate counsel. Liu shared his personal experience. Rather than starting in a corporation fresh out of law school, Liu began work in a large firm. Eventually he worked his way over to the corporate side of law, becoming general counsel. If he had it to do over again, he would follow the exact same sequence. “Firms give you the quality of training not available at corporations,” Liu said. “In the corporate environment, everyone assumes you are the best expert on all legal topics, so it’s important to have the most experience going in.” The panelists also discussed the benefits and disadvantages of in-house counsel. Decker pointed out in-house counsel often have more predictability and control — and possible stock options. But in-house lawyers are also subject to geographic risk. As they proceed upwards with promotions, they are more likely to relocate — a risk most private practice lawyers don’t have to take. IN THE MINORITY A few members in the audience asked if and how firms hire minority students. Most law firms — especially in Philadelphia — are constantly looking for minority applicants, according to Decker. He said it’s not so much in the way of affirmative action, but rather to increase diversity within the firm — with race, gender, age or background. Liu, who is Asian, jumped in with a personal story. When he first started working at a law firm, he was the only Asian. He stressed finding a mentor, either inside or outside the firm, to offer support and guidance. O’Dea offered a final piece of advice to the collective audience. “There’s a world of opportunity out there,” he said. “Find the best opportunity, find [professional mentors] and acquire skills so you add value to your future.”

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