Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Three keys to discovering your dream legal job -- part two

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I'd like to welcome back Adam Gropper, founder of and the author of “Making Partner:  The Essential Guide to Negotiating the Law School Path and Beyond, for the second part of his two-part series.  If you missed last week, check it out here! It's all yours, Adam!

This post continues to elaborate on the three steps for discovering your dream legal job.  The last post provided information on step one, picking a law “major.”  This post discusses the second and third steps --  networking with a plan, and practicing persistence.  These two steps will need to be practiced twice -- once for discovering your dream job and again later when ultimately looking to obtain that job.

Network (with a plan)

Lots of people emphasize the importance of networking and the practice is crucial.  However, you need a thoughtful plan for reaching out to people who can actually help you achieve your objectives AND for whom you can provide worthwhile ideas.  The key to this step is discussed
under the heading How below.

Think of networking in two bites.  First, you will meet with people to help you determine what type of law you want to practice.  Later, you will meet with people who can be help you obtain a job.  There may be some overlap but generally they are different people.  The information below covers who, how, and goals for networking with the purpose of discovering your dream job.

Who — Identify items you have in common with alumni (touchpoints) such as same hometown, same undergraduate school, same major, similar backgrounds, etc. and ask your Career Services Office (CSO) to print out lists of these people who have agreed to be contacted.  Focus on people that are doing something in which you think you may be interested.  So, if you have no interest in being a prosecutor, do not reach out to that person even if you share lots of touchpoints.  Also reach out to professors who teach a class in which you have excelled or at least one in which you are interested.  Professors can be invaluable as far as contacts and helping you think through different majors.  A third group to reach out to are lawyers at places in which you may want to work.  For example, you attend a panel presentation covering a practice area for which you have some interest and stick around after to request a meeting with one of the panelists.

How — Channel your inner entrepreneur and think about ideas that could help the people you have identified with similar touchpoints.   Be creative here.  Perhaps you can help a specific partner or associate alumni  by providing him or her an idea to write or speak about or some helpful advice regarding the clients or industry he or she represents (i.e., what to advise client if a pending case comes out adverse to the client’s or the industry’s interests).  Dig deep such that you can really provide some really valuable ideas to the person.  Ask professors, CSO folks, or others for help brainstorming.

Once you have three or four ideas, e-mail the person with two of them and request to meet for coffee to discuss your other ideas and learn about their career path.  The request to meet should be for coffee and not lunch which is much more time consuming.  Do not put a time limit because not much can be accomplished in five, ten or fifteen minutes but saying coffee at least gives a hint that the meeting will be brief.  Most important, state upfront that you are not looking for a job.  That statement is true and it will put people that are not hiring at ease and make them more likely to respond.

Goals — The two most important goals when networking are:  i) to listen (more than talk), and ii) to obtain additional contacts. 

One of the most helpful items you can learn about at these meetings is the decision making process that led them to that practice area and place.  You may not want to be a tax lawyer but their thought process of how they ended up choosing tax could help you decide you want to be a securities major.  Ask for permission to keep in touch with the person and update them on your progress.  If they are open to the idea, you have a future contact for your next round of networking (when looking for a job).  Also, ask the person for the names and contact information of two people they think may be helpful for you to contact.  Thus, even if the current meeting is not going well, one of that person’s contacts may end up being the most helpful person you meet.

Practice persistence

This part may sound cliché, but it is the most important.  To be successful both in discovering your dream job and eventually obtaining a job, it is helpful to have the long view.  The entire process has ups and downs but if you put in the necessary time, you will generate strong results in the long run.  There are at least two ways you can practice persistence for purposes of determining what type of law you want to practice.  First, be rigorous in your networking scope.  Starting with the CSO lists, plan to target 30 or more people and know that lots of people will not respond or will not be willing to meet no matter how strong your free ideas.  No problem.  Keep at it until you have a decent size list of people (say 5-10 people) that are willing to meet to discuss your ideas for them and their career path.  In other words, try again if you do not hear back from someone the first time.  What is the harm?  Second, once you meet with these people, follow-up with them from time to time (if they gave you permission to keep in touch in response to your request) and make sure to follow through and contact the people whom they recommended you contact.

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About the author:

Adam Gropper is the founder of, a website that provides practical advice for law school students and law firm associates.  Adam is also the author of “Making Partner:  The Essential Guide to Negotiating the Law School Path and Beyond,” recently published by the American Bar Association.  

Adam is a Legislation Counsel on the staff of the non-partisan Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, assisting Congress in developing and drafting tax legislation and legislative history.  Previously, Adam was a tax partner at Baker & Hostetler LLP where he spent ten years handling tax controversy and planning matters. 

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