Harrison Barnes' Legal Career Advice Podcast - Episode 26
One big misconception that attorneys, law students, and others have about the legal job market is that they know how to find the jobs that are out there—or that they already have all the information about the legal jobs out there.
This belief is 100%, not the case.
When I was a law student, the primary method of getting a job was (1) on-campus interviews, (2) sending applications to law firms in the NALP Guide, and (3) to a lesser extent, networking. Today, there are job boards, online lists of employers, more recruiters, and many more methods of looking for and finding positions. Still, however, most attorneys and law students are not exploring the market and finding enough jobs.
You do not know about all the legal jobs out there—nor will you ever. If you are like 99% of attorneys and law students, you are devoted to one legal job site and believe you have a unique insight into the legal job market. The best thing you can do is to question this belief that you are doing everything right in your job search.
- Far too many legal careers have been ruined due to an inability to find enough legal job openings.
- Legal careers have stalled, and attorneys are often unhappy or underemployed because they do not know the right way to look for a position.
I have seen this from countless top law graduates who worked in the very best firms, law students of all stripes, and every type of attorney out there. I know of hundreds of attorneys not working because they are unwilling to use all of the methods they should use to find legal jobs.
The more job search methods you employ when searching for a legal position, the more jobs you are likely to find. Because you are not doing a comprehensive job search, you are missing far too many positions in your search. You may not see the right people and opportunities, and your potential is being limited. You may be prejudiced about one form of a job search or another. I will explain some of the everyday prejudices and why you need to overcome them. Each additional job search method you employ will create another opportunity to find a position.
Here are some methods of looking for a job:
1. Networking is One of the Most Effective Ways to Find Legal Positions
- Prejudices People Have Against Networking
- I did not want to owe anyone anything.
- I did not want to telegraph any sort of weakness to my peers and others.
- I did not trust other people to help me all the time.
- I was aware of my weaknesses and thought that others were too, and networking would hurt me.
- I had a few bad experiences with networking early in my life.
When I was in college, one of my best friends got a summer position with General Motors paying $40 an hour. At the time, this was a ridiculous amount of money. My friend and I also happened to be friends with the son of one of the top five executives at GM. I was not as close to the executive's son as my friend was, and when I tried to get a position with the company, they rebuffed me quite rudely. Being rejected hurt my feelings and left a bad taste for networking in my mouth.
I was also interested in a summer job with a major law firm in Detroit when I was in law school. I grew up in Detroit, and my mother happened to know a partner in this law firm quite well. She offered to help me get an interview and was unsuccessful. I ended up getting interviews with every other major law firm in Detroit, but not this one.
The best friend of one of my girlfriends was also a partner at a major law firm in Detroit. In my first semester of the year of law school, I wrote him a letter telling him I was interested in a summer job. I had met him a few times previously and thought he might help me. When I called him on the phone, he hung up on me and was quite rude. This experience also left a bad taste in my mouth about networking.
There may have been a few similar experiences I had along the way that left a sour taste of networking in my mouth, and that is extremely unfortunate. In contrast to most job search methods, networking is beneficial. Had I not been turned off by these experiences and convinced that networking would not work for me, the course of my life and career might be quite different. Because I did not have any faith in networking, I stopped using it early in my legal career and believed that other job search methods were more likely to be effective for me.
Later in my career, when I started using job sites, job boards, legal newspapers, and other methods to look for positions, I began to see networking as time-consuming and tedious. I did not get instant rewards from networking like I was getting from other job search methods. Applying for jobs from job sites and recruiters would rapidly result in interviews, in contrast to the effort required to network in the legal community.
Also, when you network, you tell others in your circle that you are not happy in your current position, or open to something else. When you share information like this, your friends and others will talk about it when you're not around. Your employer could find out you're not happy if your friends and others know you are looking for a job.
In truth, networking could have worked wonders for me in my job search had I learned the right way to network and not given up on it. My ego was so fragile as a young student that I reached conclusions about networking to find a job that simply made no sense. I should have learned this skill and continued networking. Networking is one of the most effective ways to find a position.
- Benefits of Networking to Find Legal Jobs
When you have social connections, the people you meet and fraternize with are often quite interested in helping you because it makes them feel good about themselves. Employers like to hire candidates who are recommended by people in their network. When others support you, this gives the person interviewing and hiring you a connection that is likely to result in a job offer.
In my career, I have hired countless people who were recommended to me by someone. A recommendation carries massive weight. I have hired numerous attorneys recommended to me by other people. I have hired receptionists, law clerks, accountants, and others. Once someone comes recommended to us, we are very likely to hire them because they have a powerful endorsement.
The reason networking is so effective is that the person who interviews and considers you for a position wants to demonstrate their social status to the person who recommended you. Also, they may owe this person a favor, like them, or wish to create an additional connection to them. When someone supports you, you are far more likely to be hired. Your odds of getting hired based on a recommendation are many times higher than if you are not. While it may be harder to network than it is to apply for a position through a job site, when you get an interview through networking, you are much more likely to get hired than any other method.
Another benefit is when you network to find jobs, you are often the only person the employer is speaking with. When you interview, you stand a profoundly better chance of getting a job than you would through many other job search methods. Networking needs to be part of your job search arsenal.
- How to Network to Find Legal Jobs
For some people, networking is so effective it is all they do in their job search. At one time, before newspapers and job sites, networking was the only way people found positions.
You can contact people you have worked with in the past, people you know from LinkedIn, social media groups, law school classmates, and colleagues. You can also meet people through bar associations and let your family, friends, and others know you are looking for a legal position.
There are many ways to network; by far, the most effective way is to simply take out a piece of paper and write down 100 people you know. Then, all you need to do is contact them. Try to call them and chat. You do not need to say anything about looking for a position. Just ask these people how they are doing and say you wanted to check-in. If these people ask how you are doing, you should talk about things other than your career before you mention looking for a position, that you are not happy, and so forth. You should give people something to think about and not go into much detail.
You want to have a conversation about something other than you looking for a position. Make the person you are networking with feel good about themselves. You simply want to network with the person and let them know you are there. You should try not to talk about yourself too much; simply make it about them.
If you do an excellent job with this, the person will remember you and think about the fact that you may be looking for something. In many cases, they may refer you to an opportunity right there, or have one themselves. In other cases, the person will simply remember you and may refer a position to you in the future – you simply never know.
Ongoing networking should be part of your career toolkit, regardless of whether you are currently seeking a position. If you are searching for a job, you should make a concerted effort to connect with 20 people a week for the next five weeks and then go back and contact them again. You need to develop a list of the people you know. Once you have this list, you need to reach out and make contact with these people regularly.
Speaking with others can also give you insight into where the jobs are and what is in demand. When you talk with others, they are likely also to tell you where others are finding success, things they have heard about that are working, and more. This sort of insight into the market will be invaluable.
2. Public Job Boards are an Effective Way to Find Legal Positions
A public job site is a free job site that is available to anyone interested in using it. Public job sites typically charge employers to post jobs on them. Most attorneys, law students, and others are familiar with the massive number of public job sites out there.
- Prejudices People Have Against Public Job Boards
Many people do not like public job boards because they apply to a position on them and then never hear anything. People also often do not like public job boards because they do not have success with them many times and believe that they are not useful.
When I have positions in our company for people to do various tasks—writers, programmers, and others—I always post positions on public job boards. What tends to happen is during the first few days the job goes live, I receive a ton of applicants. These positions pour in so rapidly that it is impossible to view them all. While I hate to admit it, what I usually do is review resumes the first day or so and then schedule interviews based on these resumes. While a job posting may be live for a month, it is always too burdensome for me to go back and review all of the subsequent resumes that come in because I am so busy and have already scheduled interviews for a few people I hope will work out. Therefore, if you apply to a position the first few days it is live, you are most likely to be interviewed and hired for the job.
There are many public job sites out there, and some are better than others. What I will usually do is cancel the position after a few weeks—but not always. I keep the job open because I want to make sure that if I do not like the initial people that apply, I have more resume to review later on. Most job sites charge several hundred dollars for a job posting for 30 days, so I want to be sure that I leave the position open for the full 30 days to get my money's worth.
I have noticed that even in cases where I close job postings, they stay active. I think many public job sites leave these jobs active because they want job seekers to believe the site has more jobs than it does. Job sites typically will advertise and market themselves based on having the most positions.
The big problem with public job sites, then, is that there are often "ghost jobs" on these sites that you can apply for but never may hear back. For an employer, it is usually too difficult to keep up with the volume of resumes coming in and review them all.
An additional issue with public job sites is that the employer's needs can often change. I would frequently post jobs online and then, at some point, decide I no longer need or want to hire someone for the job. Despite this fact, the ad for the position may continue to run. This disconnect is another reason you often do not hear anything from public job sites.
A further issue with public job sites that makes them frustrating for many applicants is that when you apply to a position on them, the odds are pretty good you will not always be the best applicant. If you are applying for an attorney position, you may be competing with 100+ people for the same job if the listing is on a public site. Under these conditions, unless you have excellent qualifications, your odds of getting the position are slim. There are also likely to be far more applicants for positions in major markets compared to smaller ones.
Public job sites generally only post positions that employers pay to list. As a consequence, they only show a tiny slice of the legal market. Most employers, for example, post positions on their career sites but not public job boards.
- The Benefits of Public Job Sites for Finding Positions
Free job sites are great ways to track down positions despite their drawbacks.
- First of all, most employers do not post jobs unless they have them.
- Secondly, employers do not invest in the expense of posting a job unless they are eager to hire.
- Third, in most cases, employers will interview and hire people reasonably quickly if they post positions online.
If you want to find a position, public job sites must be part of your job search. You should be applying to job openings as soon as they come up.
- Everything You Know About Finding a Legal Job Is Wrong: You've Likely Fallen for the Worst Piece of Attorney Job Search Advice Ever
- How to Use Public Job Sites to Find a Position
It is vital that when you use a public job site to look for a position, you are among the first applicants. You, therefore, should set up alerts on every public job site you can find and apply to the posts within a few hours of them coming out if possible. Most employers will interview and hire from the first applicants they receive. Employers are less likely to hire people from the later applicants they receive. This tip is the first and most important piece of advice.
The second thing you should do with public job sites is to review all of the smaller under-marketed job sites you can find. You want to take advantage of the fact that many job sites are not that good and under-market positions out there. For example, there are hundreds of association sites, small legal online publications, small local publications in various markets, and more. There are many local bar association websites, for example, that post jobs. The smaller and less known the site, the better. You should sign up for alerts from these as well.
The benefit of using smaller sites is that when the jobs are not known to many people, they receive fewer applications. It's easier to get hired for job openings that receive fewer responses.
Under-marketed jobs are one of the best ways for attorneys to get positions. If you steer away from the most significant job sites, you are going to be far better off than if you do the majority of your searches on major job sites.
- How to Find Unadvertised Jobs
3. Private Legal Job Boards
A private job board is a job site that has a paywall, and only people who pay to access it can join. LawCrossing is the best-known private job board.
- Prejudices Against Private Job Boards
People have issues with private job boards because they cost money, and most people believe they should not have to pay to find a job. People are also suspicious of anyone, or anything, that tells them they need to spend money to look for a job and that any form of spending money must be a "scam" or there must be something wrong with it.
The further prejudice against private job boards is that they are just "reselling" information that is already available in the market for free. There are over 100,000 employer sites with legal jobs from time to time, 1,000 job sites with legal jobs, thousands of state, local and government sites with legal responsibilities, hundreds of public interest sites with legal employment, and more. Yes, all of the information out there is publicly available. However, it takes significant effort to find all this information.
- Benefits of Private Job Boards
LawCrossing, for example, monitors every law firm, corporation, government, and public interest site, legal and non-legal job sites, and every other source of legal jobs it can find. Monitoring all of these sites is a lot of work and something that no single person could do on their own. Finding every opening out there means you will know about positions no matter where they are listed—on major job sites, smaller sites, employer job sites, or other sites. Having all of this information in one place will make your job search much more manageable and will create more certainty that your job search is as thorough as possible. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having access to all of the open positions.
Attorneys are taught in law school (and when they get out) the importance of doing good, comprehensive research when searching for the answer to legal issues. They use services such as Lexis and Westlaw to make sure their searches are as thorough as possible. Attorneys, law students, and others must apply this same logic to how they look for positions.
- How to Use Private Job Sites to Find a Position
The best way to use private job sites is to sign up for job alerts and check them every day. You should also apply to as many openings as possible as soon as the listings come out. The reason you should apply to as many positions as possible is that the faster you apply to jobs, the more likely the employer will be to interview you since they tend to hire the first people who apply.
You should also apply to lots of positions when you use a private job site—often more than you think you should. The reason for this is that getting out and interviewing provides a networking opportunity that can lead to other types of jobs you may not have expected. Someone who interviews you may know someone else with a position you are a better fit for, or you may simply make contacts in the legal community that can be useful to you later on.
LawCrossing also offers something called "LawCrossing Archives" that allows you to go in and search for older positions that no longer exist. Searching for previous openings is an excellent way to see employers that needed someone like you in the past. Employers that hired someone like you in the past may need someone like you in the future.
Regardless of whether or not you are searching for a legal position, you must always be aware of the opportunities out there because you may learn that you are already in a good job, or that you have better opportunities available. You are a product, and knowing your worth is an essential component of self-knowledge that you should have at all times.
4. Mass (Targeted) Mailing to Legal and Other Employers for Positions
Mass (targeted) mailing to legal employers simply means building lists of employers and sending them letters and emails with your resume and a cover letter expressing interest in working for them.
- Prejudices Against Mass Mailing to Legal Employers
There are many prejudices against mass mailing employers for legal positions.
- First, most people believe employers will only hire if they have an advertised position somewhere.
- Second, many people believe most unsolicited mailings are a waste of time and effort.
- Third, other people think the majority of businesses out there charge fees for the service, and these services are scams.
- Benefits of Mass Mailing to Legal Employers
In my experience, mass mailing legal employers is among the most effective ways for anyone to get a position and has always been. I have seen thousands of attorneys who tried this get more jobs than they have ever believed possible.
The reason this is so effective is that you are approaching the universe of employers you could work for, or that would possibly have a position for you, all at one time. You are likely to find all the openings (or even potential openings) that are out there at one time. Being able to approach the universe of potential opportunities all at once is a huge benefit that can pay massive dividends.
There are 100,000+ law firms in the United States, thousands of federal, state and local government offices, thousands of judges, over 100,000+ companies that hire attorneys, and more. Each of these employers often has jobs they could hire for that they are unaware they have needs for. These employers will often hire people that appear at the right time. An employer does not always go out and proactively indicate their interest in hiring people in the legal market by posting a position somewhere. Frequently employers have unarticulated needs that only become apparent when someone approaches them who looks like they could do a good job.
- How to Do a Mass [Targeted] Mailing
A targeted mailing would typically look like this. Let's say you are an attorney that does corporate mergers and acquisitions and wants to work in Chicago. You are interested in working for a small to large law firm. You could build a list of all of the firms of 10 to 500+ attorneys that do mergers and acquisitions. This list might include as many as 300 law firms (or more) in a market like Chicago. You would then research the proper person in human resources at each employer to send your resume to – and contact the most senior M&A partner in each firm—and submit your resume with a cover letter indicating your interest in working for and interviewing with that employer. The more personalized your messages, the better.
- Legal Authority - Targeted Mass Mailing Done For You
- Do Recruiters Just Mass Mail Resumes?
- BCG Attorney Search Law Firm Rankings
5. Legal Recruiters
Legal recruiters typically work with legal employers to help them find legal talent. A legal recruiter will have relationships with firms in given markets and will go out into the market, and whether through advertising, cold calling, or drawing on its network of existing candidates, will find people for various positions legal employers are advertising.
- Prejudices Against Legal Recruiters
One of the things that people do not like about using legal recruiters is the sense of control they often give up in their job search. A legal recruiter will typically do the initial interactions with legal employers, and many people believe that this is something they would be better off doing themselves.
Many legal recruiters also operate independently and do not have access to the entire job market, which means they may only work with a few legal employers at one time. This restriction can limit your success when you do your job search through a recruiter.
Legal recruiters also charge employers fees when they hire candidates through them. Many job seekers believe that if they come with a cost associated with interviewing and hiring them, they are less likely to get hired.
Finally, the quality of legal recruiters (like any middleman) can vary tremendously. Some are very good at their work, and others are quite weak. The bad actors in the profession have given the good actors a taint they may need to overcome. For example, the bad actors have a reputation for gamesmanship and sometimes even dishonesty.
- The Benefits of Using Legal Recruiters
Legal recruiters may know about jobs that employers have not advertised or jobs that would be difficult for you to find on your own.
Legal recruiters also know how to frame your candidacy for various positions and make you look attractive to employers.
The best legal recruiters can prepare you for interviews.
The very best legal recruiters also often represent very few people, and their involvement in your job search is something that can get the attention of legal employers.
While legal recruiters charge employers fees, these fees are often a tiny percentage of the amount of money that a legal employer stands to earn from you and, in that regard, is insignificant compared to the return you represent for the legal employer. Moreover, most legal recruiters will only receive their fee six months to a year after you start working at a legal employer. This waiting period means there is little risk for most legal employers hiring you because they owe nothing if you do not work out.
Legal recruiters are typically strong advocates for their candidates and can get the eyes and ears of hiring personnel more quickly and easily than you might on your own. They ensure your materials get looked at and do not slip through the cracks. They will position you like you are the one best suited for the position. Moreover, most legal recruiters say positive things about you to hiring personnel that you would not be able to report on your own. If you did, you might look like you were tooting your own horn too much.
For example, the best legal recruiters will interview you before they start working with you. They will learn about how you grew up, the struggles you might have, and other factors that can make you stand out from other applicants.
- How to Use Legal Recruiters
There are many kinds of legal recruiters out there—there are recruiters who specialize in permanent placement, law firm placement, temporary placement, in-house jobs, and various geographic territories. There are large recruiting firms and small recruiting firms. Some legal recruiters will represent anyone who contacts them, and other legal recruiters will only represent a few of the people who contact them. Others will only represent people the legal recruiter contacts for a specific job.
The best type of legal recruiter to use is one who specializes in whatever it is you might be seeking. Having contacts in the legal recruiting community is extremely intelligent for attorneys. I have represented people in the past who tried other job search methods for months or, in some cases, years. Within a few weeks of finding me, these candidates got five or more interviews and received offers. A good legal recruiter can make a massive difference in the success or failure of your job search. They will know about positions and how to get you looked at by employers you would not usually find on your own.
- How to Select the Best Legal Recruiter and Maximize the Effectiveness of Working with One
- A Comprehensive Guide to Working with a Legal Recruiter
6. Done-for-You Legal Job Search Services
There a few done-for-you job search services that help attorneys and law students. One example would be LawCrossing Concierge. LawCrossing Concierge researches all of the existing and past jobs in its database, then suggests which ones to apply to. It will then do the time-consuming work of applying to these positions for you. All you need to do is respond to applications and show up for interviews. Unlike a legal recruiter, however, a done for you job search service will not prepare you for interviews or negotiate with legal employers on your behalf. You will typically need to do all of that on your own.
- Prejudices Against Done-for-You Legal Job Search Services
The main prejudice against these sorts of job search services is that they cost money. Also, most of these services will only expose you to existing openings in the market—or past opportunities if you so choose. In most cases, these will not network for you, or help you track down the "hidden job market" like targeted mailing or a legal recruiter might.
- Benefits of Done-for-You Legal Job Search Services
Done-for-you legal job search services can save you a great deal of time by researching and applying for legal jobs. These services also act as your "private recruiter" and will send you every legal position in the market, not just ones where they think you would be a good fit. Finally, they run your legal job search like a business and are on top of it at all times.
A typical person searching for legal jobs might spend an hour or two during the weekend applying to new positions. A done-for-you job search service will apply to legal openings on your behalf daily (if you so choose) so you apply to new positions when they first come out and stand a better chance of getting them.
An additional benefit of done for you job search services is that they typically will monitor and help you apply to all types of openings—law firms, in-house, government, public interest, academic, nonprofit, and more. Having access to the entire market at one time means you are much more likely to know your best practice setting and be able to get a job more quickly than most other methods of searching for positions.
- How to Use a Done-for-You Legal Job Search Service
The best way to use a done-for-you legal job search service is to make sure that you have a good idea of what you want. Typically, it is a good idea to give specific parameters of what it is you are seeking and leave no uncertainty in your instructions, so you get satisfactory results from them.
For maximum effect, you can also use a done-for-you job search service in tandem with other job search methods such as using a recruiter, target mailing, and networking.
7. Law School Career Services Offices
Most law schools have a career services office with excellent resources to assist you in your job search. You can use your law school's career services office to find a position at any stage of your legal career.
- Drawbacks of Using Your Law School Career Services Office to Find a Legal Position
Many law students and attorneys often did not have a pleasant experience with their law school's career services office the first time they tried to use them and, for that reason, have discounted using them. Many career services offices are bustling, and you may have caught them at the wrong time when you needed something, and this may have left a bad taste in your mouth. Or you may not have known the right questions to get the information you needed. It is essential to understand the virtually no job search method is perfect—you need to accept that each may have its limitations and its strengths.
The main drawback of using a career services office is that it may require some work on your part. You will need to make appointments, follow up, and often be persistent because the people who work there can get extremely busy.
- Benefits of Using Your Law School Career Services Office to Find a Legal Position
Most career services offices at law schools have a massive number of contacts they can connect you with for your job search. Many offices receive exclusive openings given to them by alumni and local employers. Moreover, they know which employers are most likely to hire their graduates. Most people who work in career services offices are former practicing attorneys with connections to the legal industry. They can often help you with your resume, cover letter, and interviewing skills and will do so for no charge. A career services office is one of the best deals in town and something that can help you long after you have graduated from law school.
While many attorneys and even law students feel too proud to draw on the resources of their career services office, not utilizing their help can be a huge mistake. The people inside career services offices have no incentive to do anything other than tell you their honest opinions and help you. It is always a good idea to speak with and use your career services office when searching for a position. Being on their radar is extremely useful.
In my career, I have hired graduates from local law schools in the Los Angeles area after directly calling the local career services office and asking if they had any ideas of people I should interview. While most career services offices will send the resume of everyone they know who is looking to employers, they often will tell the employer something to the effect of "you should speak to this person, you will like them." If you impress the career services office, they will go to bat for you. While I have never heard any career services office say something terrible about an attorney or law student, I've listened to them go to bat for people numerous times.
- How to Use Your Career Services Office to Find a Position
The most important thing you can do is get on their radar. Once you are, you should stay in touch and review listings and other announcements that come out from them. If possible, you should meet with your career services office and check in with them periodically. The more familiar you become to them, the more likely they are going to be to remember you when they have positions or speak with employers and others. You should sign up for job alerts if your school has a private job site and take advantage of cover letter, resume, and other online and in-person workshops and resources they might have.
These are the most common job search methods. Ideally, you should employ all of these in your legal job search, if possible. Your objective is to track down every opportunity, then speak and interview with everyone you possibly can.
About Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes is the founder of BCG Attorney Search and a successful legal recruiter. He is extremely committed to and passionate about the profession of legal placement. His firm BCG Attorney Search has placed thousands of attorneys. BCG Attorney Search works with attorneys to dramatically improve their careers by leaving no stone unturned in job searches and bringing out the very best in them. Harrison has placed the leaders of the nation’s top law firms, and countless associates who have gone on to lead the nation’s top law firms. There are very few firms Harrison has not made placements with. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placements attract millions of reads each year. He coaches and consults with law firms about how to dramatically improve their recruiting and retention efforts. His company LawCrossing has been ranked on the Inc. 500 twice. For more information, please visit Harrison Barnes’ bio.
About BCG Attorney Search
BCG Attorney Search matches attorneys and law firms with unparalleled expertise and drive, while achieving results. Known globally for its success in locating and placing attorneys in law firms of all sizes, BCG Attorney Search has placed thousands of attorneys in law firms in thousands of different law firms around the country. Unlike other legal placement firms, BCG Attorney Search brings massive resources of over 150 employees to its placement efforts locating positions and opportunities its competitors simply cannot. Every legal recruiter at BCG Attorney Search is a former successful attorney who attended a top law school, worked in top law firms and brought massive drive and commitment to their work. BCG Attorney Search legal recruiters take your legal career seriously and understand attorneys. For more information, please visit www.BCGSearch.com.