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Recession Job Search Tips for the Unemployed Lawyer- Creating a Job “Surge” December 1, 2009

Posted by admin in : Uncategorized , trackback

surge The beginning of November marked my ninth month of unemployment. Up until the end of October I had a total of 4.6 interviews during my employment stint. Under my calculus an interview receives a full point when 1) an actual opportunity to interview is provided, and 2) the interview entails the possibility (however slim) of actual obtaining a position. Mind you, this is not a tough rubric, in fact under these rules, even if the pay offered is offensive, or if the work is part time and even contract based— a full point can be awarded– as long as the interview is conducted in good faith and a legitimate opportunity to compete for a position exists.

However, if I am invited on an interview and it is subsequently canceled that only counts as .10 in my rubric, and a full-on interview where it is made clear there is no actual position counts as .50.

So my interview chart from March to October, after sending out hundreds upon hundreds of cover letters and resumes, looked something like this:

Bloomberg Legal Analysis Position, NY (1 Point)- Since I left the door open during the interview to the possibility of returning to law as an actual practicing attorney, I did not fit the profile Bloomberg was looking for (which my hunch is that it requires the interviewee to exhibit at least a slight disgruntled attitude towards law school). (Full Post)

Small Litigation Boutique, DC (1 Point)Although, I was invited back for a second round interview at this small boutique litigation firm —the ultimate candidates selected had more experience and more pedigree (one had a degree from Yale Law School, was a special prosecutor, had several prestigious government posts, and had fought in the Iraq war).

Solo Practice, NY (1 Point)- After waiting in an un-lit messy office while the interviewer ignored me and did work he had piling up from the day- a high stakes special task was designed to test my knowledge of obscure court rules.  I gave up any chance at a second round interview by giving this gentleman a piece of my mind in a sharp-witted e-mail response to his task. (Full Post)

Part Time Contract Position, NY (1 Point)- After being told there was plenty of work available and meeting the partners was just a formality, I was then told after the interview by the firm’s managing partner “ I hope we can be in touch soon with a few projects.” “Soon” never did come, as I was never contacted about available projects and subsequent e-mails from me were completely ignored. (Full Post)

Small Real Estate Boutique, NY (.10 Point)After applying to a post that required 3 years of substantive experience (which is more than I have), I was called to come in for an interview that day. My suit was being dry cleaned so I scheduled the appointment instead for early the next week. I was called the very next day and told the position had already been filled and there was no need to come in after all.

2nd Appellate Department, NY (.50 Point)- After completing a customized, quite lengthy, and complex writing sample I was invited for an interview before a panel of supervisors only to be told: “I hope my secretary informed you there aren’t actually any positions at this time.” (Full Post)

Most of these experiences have been explored in detail elsewhere on the blog, but for those who aren’t avid readers, these 4.6 interviews came only after a great deal of elbow grease and desperation.

I signed up for legal specific job boards (both pay and non-pay), I scoured craigslist regularly, I spammed every person I knew that in any way shape of form had some connection to the legal industry (and even many who didn’t). I went on informational interviews, I contacted my career services office, I worked with recruiters, I attended networking and alumni events, and I attended bar association events. And all of these efforts led to the 4.6 dead-end interviews I listed above.

To say the least, this whole process has a tendency to discourage. I know many of my readers are going through similar struggles day in and day out and are getting worn down. Right now the job search process, more so than ever and especially the legal job search process is arduous and tedious. But at the end of the day, this is still the process that eventually leads to positions. It is imperative to stay active to continue submitting your resume to continue reaching out to contacts in whatever way you can. I know at times it feels as though these efforts are futile—especially when thousands of resumes are submitted and not even a simple confirmation is received let alone any inclination that an offer to interview may be on the way. The truth is 99% of the time your efforts probably are futile, but perseverance is the key it only takes that 1%.

During November however, I decided to beef up my efforts, to work on what I considered weaknesses in my approach and to give what I considered a last ditch “surge” before the beginning of the New Year.  My “job search surge” was actually a huge success. I kid you not, during the month of November I received more interview offers than the 8 months of unemployment prior to this time.

I would like to say that I believe this indicates a loosening in the legal markets, unfortunately after speaking with others in the same boat– they have not been having increased luck. However, every day positions are being obtained and interviews are being granted– yes they are in smaller amounts, and more competitive than ever but this means the more attention you put into presenting yourself as a complete impressive package the more it will payoff.

I received 6 NY offers to interview in total.

Breaking down the interviews: 2 were for branch offices of large nationally ranked AmLaw firms (ELF firms, if you will), 1 was for a boutique commercial litigation boutique, 1 was for a small mass torts/civil rights firm, 1 was for a medium sized firm specializing in health care law, and one was for a 1 year full-time IP “internship” for experienced lawyers, with NBC.

Of the 6 interviews offered I went on 5 of them (so far), of the 5 interviews I went on I received a second round interview with 4 of the firms. All in all over the past four weeks I was interviewed by 19 attorneys. (Given this recent interview blitz I have had occasion to reflect on legal interviewing questions and skills, stay tuned for my next post which will be on lessoned learned for legal interviewing.)

And where did these 6 jobs Interviews come from you ask?

For those interested of the total 10.6 jobs I interviewed for this is where the postings came from.

For now though, I would like to focus my attention on my (tried and true) tips for how I created a successful legal job surge.

1- Cover Letters Should be Short and Sweet

First, I shortened my cover letter drastically to 128 words (6 sentences) including the greeting and salutation. In my first two sentences I explained that I was applying to position “X” and listed very generally what in my background led me to believe I would be a good addition to the firm’s team. In my third sentence I explained where I graduated law school and where I was previously employed. In my fourth sentence I briefly listed three high-profile cases I worked on for my previous employer. In the fifth sentence I stated what I was attaching to the e-mail and in the sixth I thanked the recipient for their consideration.

Prior to this I was using a cover letter that was typically 500 words that went into much greater detail about my job history, law school activities, grades, etc. This letter, although well-written, was long and cumbersome- I believe now, that it did too much reiterating of my resume and probably turned the reader off when they were exposed to its length. I know it is hard to cut content from a cover letter, but unfortunately, as I have come to learn, 80%-90% of this material, despite what you may tell yourself or want to believe, is not going to be read. So by, creating a short and very to-the-point cover letter you assure that a much greater percentage of what you do write will be read. I know for instance that even someone skimming my new 128 word cover letter, because of its compactness and spacing, will get nearly the same effect from the letter as one who reads it word for word.

2- Get access to as many School Specific Job Boards as you can

Just because a position is posted on a specific school’s job board that does not mean the employer will only consider graduates from that school. Knowing about the posting is half the battle. By tapping into the vast resources of several different school specific job boards you will greatly enhance the quantity and quantity of your job search. Since school job boards are not powered by user fees, a desire to sell advertising, a desire to generate a commission or even employer posting fees. There is no incentive for those running the board to inflate the number of posts available, to open up the service to recruiters, to create fraudulent posts or to perpetuate expired ones.

In sum school specific job boards are a unique breed of job posts and by expanding your reach of these types of posts you will put yourself ahead of the game. Reach out to friends, friends of friends, family and friends of family to try to accumulate access to as many of these job boards as possible. If you are finding it difficult to locate others who are willing to share their log-in information—see if they are willing to search the board for you (say once a week or once every two weeks?) and send you postings that fit your experience and geographic specifications.

3- Find an Ally Within: Try to Avoid Apply Directly to a Posting

Once you find a handful of postings that describe positions of interest to you. Research the firm’s website for any alumni from either your undergraduate or law school alma matters. If there is a partner or senior level attorney you can find that matches, reach out to them either with a call or e-mail. Ask them for career advice during your “transition” and inform them that you have located a position that interests you within their firm—ask if they have any advice for applying. The same is true if you have any personal friends at the firm, or even any other prior co-workers, reach out for their advice on how you should approach the application before submitting any materials on your own. Often times they will know the person that handles the hiring, and they can either forward the resume along for you or at least give you the name of the right person who should receive it.

Of course you will find that this is not possible at every firm, or even practical. The smaller the firm is the more likely this approach will not be effective. However it is a powerful tool to use when you run the risk of having your resume added to a pile with 1,000’s of others. Of the 6 positions I applied to I was able to use this strategy on 2 of them.

4- Mind the Gap

Something looks better than nothing. In fact, anything looks better than nothing. Try to fill your resume gap in any way possible when applying for new full-time positions. Are you doing contract work? Freelance work? Volunteering? Attending trainings? Or working Part-time? Whatever you are doing to fill up your time, if it is in any way legal related find a way to incorporate it into your resume to bridge the unemployment gap. Of course we are going through bizarre times and most employers will understand the gap, you still want to do everything in your power to minimize the effect of the gap and to show how you are keeping your legal skills fresh during this down period.

From time to time I worked on little projects for a friend’s law firm that he started on his own, although this work was sparse I was still affiliated with the firm. I was also hired to do free lance work by a Professor that I TA’d for while in law school. I also attended pro-bono training sessions provided by the local bar associations and was recently admitted to the veteran’s bar. I made sure to include all this information on my resume in the best light possible, as to allay any concerns about how I was keeping busy during my period of unemployment. Do not utilize over the top puffery, or misrepresent your experiences but do highlight every legal related experience you have been occupying your time with in order to address, head-on, the resume gap issue.

5- Have your Resume Reviewed (and Re-reviewed, and re-reviewed again)

During the process to choose a reviewer for the service I had all potential reviewers work on a test case, and evaluated their performance on this “test case” before advancing them to the next levels or the evaluation. The test case was in part my own resume. Despite how polished I thought my resume was, the reviewers presented me with alternative organization, and phrasing that I felt really added immediate strength to the presentation of my resume.

For instance, since I was seeking a litigation position, one of the final reviewers, suggested I subdivide the job explanations into more detailed categories under each of my prior employment descriptions: “discovery” “research and writing” and “pro-bono” and then to carry these sub divisions through all job description where they applied. I also decided based on the reviewers suggestions to include and list my achievements from the first law school I attended (as I transferred after my first year), and to leave off my GPA for both schools. I was very pleased with the final version of my resume after I incorporated these changes, and although I do not know for sure have a suspicion this was one of the driving factors in my new found job search success.

Whether you use the resume service provided here, another service or you have a confidant, colleague, consultant or career counselor edit the resume for you. Have your resume reviewed regardless of how well put together you think it is- chances are it can be improved. Please don’t get me wrong, having your resume reviewed isn’t going to be a panacea for fixing your unemployment woes… but having a polished, well-organized resume, that displays the right information and does so for maximum impact, when used in conjunction with my other tips, will certainly enhance the job search process.

6- Be Proactive With Addressing Weaknesses

I knew that being laid off has been, since day 1, a huge encumbrance to my candidacy. I have written about this before but despite the economic times we are in, despite a 10% unemployment rate and a 20% true unemployment rate being laid off will always carry with it undertones of  being “damaged goods.” It is a question that will be raised, without fail, in every post-lay off interview. After a layoff there is an unspoken heavy burden of increased explanation. Difficult questions will always linger. Like what criteria did the firm use? Why do you feel you were not included in the group that was not laid off?

I decided to tackle this issue head on. I was fortunate to have an excellent relationship with the recruiting director at my previous firm, I never burned any bridges and was gracious and polite during the whole process despite what was being done. This paid off. I reached out to some of my acquaintances at my old firm. They were more than happy to root for me and speak on my behalf. I provided them with a list of the places I had submitted a resume and the contact individuals for each. I had them place unsolicited calls in advance, addressing the layoff procedures and my work product.

I know the fact that these calls were made helped my candidacy because they were specifically mentioned in 4 of the interviews. I was told that such support really says something about my character and all of the interviewers were impressed with this effort of others on my behalf. I suggest you reach out any of allies you may have at your prior firm and call in whatever favors you can. You’d be surprised but they probably genuinely want to help you.

7- Be Creative with References

I created a separate document with the contact information of 4 references (2 supervisors and 2 professors). I had called upon these references earlier to write LLM recommendation letters and clerkship recommendation letters.

I felt that the effect of these recommendations were not being used to their full potential. I wanted every potential employer to see these statements not just those that had specifically requested recommendation letters. I realized that although some of the statements were specific to the letter that was written other comments were general accolades that applied to all situations.

Since the reviewers were kind enough to send copies of their letters to me to review. I extracted 4 or 5 key quotes from the letters they wrote and listed them on the references page in a box directly under each individual’s contact information. I explained the origin of these quotes in an introductory paragraph at the top of the page and encouraged reaching out to the references listed if any clarification was desired.

I felt this was an effective way to parlay the stellar comments made in a specifically tailored recommendation letter to general employers who would nonetheless be interested in assessments of my work product and ethic as observed by past employers.

I believe this method paid off as I was told by the partner of a prestigious Texas mega-firm that my presentation of the references was a “great idea.”

Of course, there are no givens in the current market, but you are hearing right from the horse’s mouth, from the Jobless Lawyer that tried it all—these tips, they worked for me!

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  • blinky

    I just stumbled upon this post today after Googling “sample attorney resume.” I enjoyed reading some of the posts. Yours is one of the very few that manages to remain upbeat. Plus, it's well-written. Keep your spirits up! Hey, is it too late to go to med school? :)

  • Spiro Michals

    Really appreciate your web posts. Not only entertaining but quite informative. Please don’t leave us in a lurch by getting a job and not letting us know. Keep up the good work and god speed.

  • Spiro Michals

    Great job on web posts. Keep up the good work.

  • tb1

    “1 from a Response to a Craigslist Ad (as offerree)”

    I guess those clowns never responded.

    Did you try to talk to anyone at the App. Div. again?

  • lalaw

    Have you had any experiences with job listings in Bar Bulletins?

  • LonelyPhillyJD

    Did you get any JOB offers?

  • guest

    Hi, I’m an occasional reader of your blog (and also a fellow jobless lawyer) and I have to commend you on this post. The strategies you’ve used are both creative and pragmatic, especially how you asked your former coworkers to advocate for you in advance of an interview. Thanks for the solid advice and great work.

  • DVE

    Still using I was intrigued by your recommendation since your criticism of other resume/employment services seemed spot on (I recently ditched theladders and monster).

    I am already on lawcrossing, and is another one of their (many) affiliated sites. I’m apprehensive after reading just one press release from that was riddled with typos and seemed to have been translated from English to Portuguese and back a few too many times.

    Great site by the way, tons of good content.

  • Jobs In Dubai

    just wanted to share this 5 tips on how to get the job you want… is it true that now a days it is quite hard to find a job but if you will just learn the 5 tips being mentioned on the article I shared you can surely be hired

  • Lorin Mask

    I find your post ammusing only because you write well. I will share your blog with clients. Your tips are good. One networking tip is to make sure one trys to figure out how to help other. Many (not you) go to networking event hoping someone will hire. Not good. Try to build relatioships and help others. They will remember you for this.

    You haven’t posted since Dec 1 and I hope it’s because you got hired.

    Best of luck I’m going to follow your posts, should you post anymore.
    Cheers, Lorin Mask

  • shilpa4

    i upvoted this post

    DUI Attorney

  • cbj259

    So, any update on how things turned out from the “surge” or any interviews since then?

    Market looking any better?


    What happened to you? Did you find a job?

  • warrenpeace637

    Thomas Edison couldn't have said it better himself, “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up, the most certain way to succeed is to try just one more time.” I just stumbled on your blog and I must say, I really enjoyed reading it as well as how you put to light situations which some may even call “dire” in such a humorous way. The part about self-esteem is really important for all job seekers — confidence is a really big plus because without it, you won't look as effective as you actually are. Anyway, hope you find a job! I will be looking forward to your other posts. Mind if we swap links? I have a blog of my own as well which is all about employment (or the lack of it) too.

    Good luck!

  • Kris

    It’s rough and difficult to even give it away at the moment. I thought I would be able to pro bono my way to a different type of practice – but I’ve waited months to get a crack at a couple of places. In the meantime, my local, rough and ready law centre had an opening for a woman solicitor (attorney) and I grabbed it – it had half the competition of the other positions.

    Now that I’ve got my foot in the door, it’s been easier for me to get involved with their other clinics. The benefit to me is that it keeps me fresh and does take me out of my comfort zone. The Saturday ladies’ legal problems aren’t confined to one or two areas of law.

    Thanks for your post. it’s easy to feel like the lone ranger.

  • Kelly

    Are you going to be posting anymore?

  • probatur

    Where’ve you been? Does this mean you got a job? Hope you find a way to tell us that story (as well as interview tips!)

  • Sallie Mae’s Servent

    ” I provided them with a list of the places I had submitted a resume and the contact individuals for each. I had them place unsolicited calls in advance, addressing the layoff procedures and my work product.” – Interesting approach

    Whom did you have them call?

  • iggy429

    yeah good luck loser

  • Kris

    is iggy429 a Hadley High School drop-out?

  • Brooks

    A better idea, though non-conventional. Find a job you want, and realize that they will be receiving 200-300 resumes for the posting. This means you need to either have a personal relationship with someone there, or other personal connection. Your goal is to get in front of the hiring partner, before screening by nay-sayers.

    Here is how to do it: First, find out who the hiring partner is. Ask for his or her hourly rate, and tell his secretary that you need his input on a legal matter, and will bring an hour's worth of his time with payment for the initial consultation. Tell them it is a complex legal problem, that you would prefer to discuss in person. The partner will think you are a potential client.

    Dress well, and when you meet with the partner, hand him a check for the consultation at his hourly rate. Explain that you understand that he has successfully established a practice, and tell him you are paying him for his professional career advice. Ask him to review your resume (tailor it to the position you want), and ask him how he got started. He will probably be flattered that you are paying him $300-$400 just to meet with him for advice. Don't even mention the opportunity at his firm–tell him that you know he interviews a lot of candidates, and you want to know what hiring partners at prestigious firms (whether or not the firm is well-known), are looking for, and that you found his firm through Martindale-Hubble and noticed that they were AV rated, had a great client list, and they practiced in your area of specialty.

    Let him talk about his own career as much as possible. Don't overtly flatter him, but ask about career advancement/client development strategies that have worked for him. Take copious notes, and ask follow-up questions on how he built his practice and ask him “If you were to give a commencement address to recent graduates, what would you tell them?”

    Ask him if he has any additional ideas that come to him later, to please call you, as you will be happy to pay his hourly fee if he thinks of anything else, or hears of any open opportunity from colleagues from local firms that might fit your profile.

    At worst, he will consider you a “go-getter”, and may become a valuable contact/reference/advocate for your search. At best, he will seriously consider you for the open position they have that you pretend you know nothing about and never mention.

    Beats the hell out of emailing resumes to firms who receive 300 applications for one job, with no face contact for 290 of the applicants

  • Rob Shattuck

    Unemployed lawyers should consider applying to BP Fund administrator Kenneth Feinberg for a job. Total attorneys' fees to be paid from fund could be upwards of $5 billion. Make the argument to Mr. Feinberg that those could be greatly reduced, maybe by 80%, if he structured the program so that all legal work was done by lawyers who are compensated on a salary basis.

  • Hoda

    Interviews are a nightmare, I had to go on at least 20 before I landed my job.

    Also on an unrelated note, whatever happened to Surge soda? It was all over the place when I was in middle school. Kind of like the precursor to modern energy drinks, but now has gone the way of betamax and the soon-to-be-dead-due-to-piracy music/movie industry:

  • Hoda

    Interviews are a nightmare, I had to go on at least 20 before I landed my job.

    Also on an unrelated note, whatever happened to Surge soda? It was all over the place when I was in middle school. Kind of like the precursor to modern energy drinks, but now has gone the way of betamax and the soon-to-be-dead-due-to-piracy music/movie industry:

  • Michael Sander

    This is a bit of a shameless plug, but for those who are looking for attorney positions, I would recommend that you check out It’s a new site that helps you search for law firms and easily send them your resume and cover letter.

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