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Let us pause to recall the ’90s — a warm time, a good time, a time when signing bonuses and stock options and Cristal-fueled weekends on the firm’s Learjet seemed to lurk just on the other side of the bar exam. Remember? Ahhh … Now that you’ve taken a moment to reflect, we strongly recommend that you wake the hell up. Because in case you haven’t noticed, it’s not the ’90s anymore. Scared? Excellent. Fear is a good motivator. But once you’re motivated, you need information — better information than the other job seekers are getting. Below, you will find a pile of good ideas from top hiring partners, recruiting managers, and law school placement pros on everything from grades to interviews to summer associate jobs. Heck, we’ve all but shined your shoes for you (not a chance). The experts’ consensus: Yes, the ’90s are over, but the job you want is still out there if you’re willing to work for it. Besides, you’re smart, you’re talented, and — even if those things aren’t true — you’re exceedingly well educated. Sooner or later, you’re going to hear the sweet music of “You’re hired.” Break out the Cristal. 1. GRADES Grades have always been the most important factor in landing a job. This year, grades are more crucial than ever. Many firms will simply be using a higher GPA cutoff than they’ve ever used before, says Joanne DeZego, the manager of legal recruiting at New York�based Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy. How high? Firms that required a 3.5 or 3.4 from a student at a top-20 law school last year may raise the bar to 3.6. The same thinking applies all the way down the law firm food chain: “Firms just aren’t going to go as deep into classes as they did the past few years,” says DeZego. There’s no simple way to supersize your GPA. You’ll just have to buckle down. Study the extra hour each night and the extra afternoon or evening on the weekends. Outline cases more thoroughly, then re-outline them to identify the most salient points. Talk to 2Ls and 3Ls who have taken your classes, and ask them what they believe are the secrets to better grades. If you’re having trouble, speak to a professor or a student adviser before you fall behind. If you don’t wind up with the GPA needed to land the job of your dreams, re-prioritize the firms you plan to interview with, says Jacquelyn Burt, an assistant dean for professional development at New York’s Benjamin Cardozo School of Law. For some students, says Burt, it can be a relief to stop chasing after jobs they think they’re “supposed” to go for — and focus instead on finding the position that best suits them. 2. CLASSES As a 1L, you don’t have much choice about the classes you take. But as a 2L and 3L, you do. It’s tempting to sign up for courses taught by the school’s most popular professors or those that will allow you to sleep in until noon. If that’s your strategy, sweet dreams. But know that it can cost you. “People should lean toward course work that’s relevant to their future area of chosen practice,” says Chris Mann, a hiring partner at New York’s Sullivan & Cromwell. Why? When you get around to interviewing, you’ll be able to make the case that you’re committed to a certain type of work. That kind of commitment shows you’re focused and serious about your career. If you do well, it shows that you have skill in a particular area. And that skill can enhance your appeal to a recruiter from day one. If you don’t know what practice area you want to go into, don’t sit there and wait for the ghost of John Jay to appear. Do some research: Consult your placement counselor. Surf firm Web sites. Go see a trial. Consider your interests and strengths: Are you comfortable talking in front of a group of people? Are you persuasive? Think about litigation. Are you scientifically or mathematically inclined? Consider patent work. Most people, says Burt, don’t know what they want to do until they look around a little. 3. LAW REVIEW If you have the chance to make law review, do it — period, says Audrey Rohan, a partner involved in hiring at O’Sullivan in New York. Never mind the swank things law review says about your grades. The writing and editing, says Carrie Mandel, a legal recruiter and managing director with the New York office of Major, Hagen & Africa, “are an opportunity to distinguish yourself in a way other than grades that’s still very much connected to academics.” Law review also gives you a leg up in practical experience (conducting research, using legal citation) that’s useful at law firms. Then there’s the prestige factor. Like it or not, firms are just plain impressed by law review. 4. OTHER EXTRACURRICULARS Grades and law review typically trump everything else, so don’t do anything at their expense. That said, pursuing other interests can be a plus. “When you come to a law firm, you’re going to have to multitask,” says DeZego. “If you’ve never done anything but study, that says to me you could have trouble handling several jobs at once.” If you do something outside of school that relates to your future practice area, great — that will only reflect well on you. But what really matters is that you’re sincere about whatever it is you do. A genuine passion can help you stand out, says DeZego. “But if you just claim interest without anything to back it up,” she says, “that will work against you.” 5. NETWORKING If networking was a good tactic before, it’s essential now, says Tamara Stephen, an associate at New York’s Kaye Scholer and chair of the New York City Bar Association’s Committee on Law Student Perspectives. A good strategy in today’s market: Commit to calling a certain number of people per week — say six — then call more than that. A pitch-perfect approach is more important than ever (you’re not the only one stepping up your networking efforts). Introduce yourself, say how you got the lawyer’s name, then be specific about your goals. Try something like, “Hi, my name is such-and-such, and I got your name from so-and-so. I’m calling because I plan to be an M&A lawyer.” If the lawyer is in M&A herself, ask if she’d be willing to meet to let you pick her brain about job hunting. If she doesn’t work in your practice area, ask if she’d be willing to share the names of lawyers who do. Local bar-association events can provide students with useful exposure to practicing lawyers. But unless the event is specifically recruiting-related, resist the urge to approach someone directly about a job. Instead, introduce yourself and strike up a conversation, perhaps about the event. Next, find out what kind of work the person does, and say you’re a law student (code for “Yes, I’m looking”). If it turns out the person might be helpful to you, ask if she would mind if you contacted her at a later date. “Networking is a process,” says Stephen. “You’re building relationships. The fruit doesn’t come until later.” 6. 1L SUMMER The summer after the first year in law school used to be a time for students to do something quirky — or nothing at all. Says Burt, “Students don’t have that luxury anymore.” If you can get into a law firm, go. And work hard once you’re there. Working at a firm after your first year signals eagerness, plus you’ll get marketable experience. A 1L summer spent at a firm is an especially smart strategy if your grades aren’t great. A foot in the door and a little extra effort can offset a so-so GPA. Your school’s career office might have information about firms that hire 1Ls. Otherwise, use your networking contacts as well as law firm guides and Web sites to identify, say, 10 to 15 firms that appeal to you. Then check the firms’ Web sites for information about recruiting contacts, and send off resum�s, with cover letters explaining your interest. 7. RESUM� Back in the day when law firms hired in hordes, a perfect resum� wasn’t necessary. Now, a great CV is a must. A good way to separate your resum� from the pack: Showcase any work experience you have so that it relates directly to the position you’re applying for. If you don’t have experience that explicitly connects, spin the experience you have so that it speaks to the job you want. (Note: “Spin” does not mean “lie.”) 8. COVER LETTER During hiring season, recruiters receive hundreds of unsolicited letters and resum�s a week. The ones that stand out, says Eric Roth, head of the hiring committee at New York’s Mintz Levin, immediately establish a connection to someone at the firm. Point out the connection right away: “Half of the time people don’t get to the second paragraph,” says Roth. 9. THE INTERVIEW The single most important thing to do in an interview right now is to drop the “What can you do for me?” attitude of the ’90s and adopt a “Here’s what I can do for you” approach. Show off what you know about the firm (do your homework — lots of it). Express an interest in a specific practice area. Connect your skills and achievements to your ability to contribute to that area. And communicate a long-term commitment to working at the firm. Words you want an interviewer to associate with you today are committed, qualified, experienced, team-oriented, and mature. Words you don’t want to be tagged with are cavalier, unfocused, greedy, and cocky. Another key phrase right now: client-friendly. Says Milbank Tweed’s DeZego: “Deals are staffed more leanly, so there’s added pressure on an associate to be able to interact well with a client. Someone out of Harvard might have great grades, but maybe they don’t look at you in the eye in the interview or they’re awkward. That won’t play well.” 10. JOB TARGETING There are dozens of ways to identify law firms you’re interested in — size, location, quality of the cafeteria grub. But in a tight economy, it also makes sense to consider which shops — and practice areas — are growing and which are not. You’ll have to do your own, more extensive research, but examples of areas that are generally busy right now include bankruptcy, litigation, intellectual property, and regulatory practices. Don’t go into an area that’s growing just because it’s growing (if you’re morally opposed to cloning, you probably won’t love that new biotech boutique). But factor growth into your thinking. 11. THE SUMMER ASSOCIATE OFFER Got a summer associate offer from a firm at or near the top of your list? Take it. Today. In the past, many students played the field until all of their offers were in so they could weigh their options before they decided, says Burt. In today’s market, accepting an offer immediately is another way of demonstrating allegiance to a firm. 12. THE SUMMER ASSOCIATE JOB It’s no secret that some firms may be making fewer full-time offers to their summer associates this year. That means you’ll need to do everything in your power to make a good impression. Among the keys: Show enthusiasm for every project you’re given — even if you’re just making copies, says DeZego. When a lawyer asks you to do a project, start it immediately, and get it done faster — and better — than she expected. Do extra research, on your own time, to help a lawyer’s deal or case. Pay meticulous attention to detail. The lawyers you work for will remember you as “the overachiever.” That’s a good thing to be remembered as. 13. THE FULL-TIME OFFER Got an offer from the firm you summered at? Again, take it right away. If you’ve truly changed your mind about the firm, that’s one thing. But if you liked them, they liked you, and you’re simply hoping for something better to come along, you’re playing with fire. With so many firms rescinding offers these days, don’t give anyone a reason to put you on the “We’re sorry, but … ” list. 14. AFTER THE OFFER Even after you’ve signed on with a firm, it’s no longer certain the offer will pan out. Work to impress the lawyers there until the day you start: Offer to work for the firm for, say, 10 hours a week in your last year of school. Keep in touch with an attorney you liked. Follow deals you worked on by reading the trades, then send the relevant lawyer a congratulations note when a deal closes. No matter what, keep an eye on other jobs that suit your interests, and stay on good terms with everyone you’ve interviewed with. If a job offer is rescinded, you can pick up the hunt right where you left off. 15. ATTITUDE Finally, remember that the job market is what it is. Don’t waste time wishing it were 1996 again or whining that some guy who graduated three classes before you is now living in a mansion in Silicon Valley. OK, whine a little. Then call the guy to network.

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