Throughout your life, no doubt, you’ve heard people advise you to “be true to yourself.” Even Shakespeare admonished, “To thine own self be true …”
From Shakespeare’s Elizabethan era, fast forward to now, April 2011. I’ll bet that the following description sounds familiar to many of you:
• You’ve graduated law school, even passed the Illinois Bar Exam.
• You’re looking for a job in law that will provide sound footing to begin your career
while also helping sustain you, your landlord, and your lender(s).
• You’ve sent out a ridiculous number of resumes, each with its own custom crafted
cover letter. (You don’t care to count how many.)
• Like so many of your law school friends, you haven’t had one response -- not even a
“Thank you, Mr./Ms. _________. We have received your resume, and you will hear
from us by _______ ..." Nothing.
I take pride in a similar demoralizing experience I had as a 2L, back in the day. I was active in a Chicago-based civil liberties organization. This organization was honoring a man who had once served as a past president and who, in my eyes, changed the world as I knew it. This man, high upon my pedestal, was also a name partner in his own Chicago law firm.
I wrote this nameless partner a congratulatory note for being honored, and he subsequently invited me to his firm to get acquainted. As we discussed the state of the legal profession back then, in the Dark Ages, he explained to me that I would never stand a chance of being hired at his law firm. The reason: I wasn’t good enough. I had not attended Harvard, University of Chicago, Northwestern or Stanford as an undergrad or as a law student. Simply put, I wasn’t in “The Club.*”
While I truly didn’t meet with him to prospect for a job, I was rather startled and somewhat offended. Okay, if you go to law school, you have to be able to withstand blows of this sort. So I did just that. I picked myself up off the floor, smiled sweetly, looked him straight in the eye with appreciation for his time, and started putting one foot in front of the other again.
My point is this: we’ve all been kicked in life and in our job searches. No doubt, no one is getting kicked more than the graduates of recent years.
The key is: How are you going to handle being kicked around? Will you become a tougher, bolder person? Or, will you become a tougher, more calloused person?
It may be extremely difficult, but if you do nothing else, take some comfort here: Attorneys who approach me for help with their job searches have endured many blows. I hear these stories repeatedly:
- How new attorneys and law students spend time crafting e-mails to lawyers, asking for
informational interviews. Even if there is a connection through family, friends or law
school, often, these requests asking for only 10-15 minutes of non-billable time, go
- About recent graduates sending time-consuming, customized cover letters and
resumes (x 3.14) in response to posts of available jobs. Responses of any kind are rarely inspired.
- How graduates sign on for temporary assignments to start on a date certain. The coordinators for these projects string along their temporary hires week after week, explaining that the project continues to be delayed. As a result of these attorneys’ loyalty and keeping of their word, they have missed out on 4-6 other temporary assignments. Needless to say, these folks fear their landlords and their loan officers.
I repeat, take comfort here.
What I’m suggesting is that the legal world’s pendulum is off its center. If you are reading this, nodding your head in agreement, you are the victim of simple oversupply v. no demand economics. You’re smack dab in the middle of a lopsided scale of justice.
You knew this already, but here’s what you might not know: You’re not crazy.
Hopefully, you can look yourself in the mirror and know that market forces have taken over; what you’ve got is the mirror on the wall, your own good reflection and your gut telling you that this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be.
My advice amidst the madness is, try to stay true to yourself. Try to think about the reasons why you went to law school in the first place. Put yourself above the imbalance, if possible.
While you’re out there pounding pavement, during or post- law school, know that it will not always be easy to hold fast to who you really are. Today, you are considered fortunate to have a potential employer simply read your resume. If you get a written response via snail mail or email, that’s huge (even if you were not accepted). An interview? An exceedingly rare event!
If you’re out there looking for work, no doubt your head has been lost in this familiar breeze of a pendulum-gone-mad. You are probably accustomed to it. Accustomed to no responses … Accustomed to being strung along …
Sadly, it is inevitable that job seekers today might lose a part of themselves in an unbalanced market runneth over. If this sounds familiar, don’t do it. Don’t forget yourself. Don’t forget why you aspired to study law, even though the law school-to-profession model changed in the middle of the game. This still isn’t the way it’s supposed to be.
In life, you have learned to be bigger than this. You learned it in kindergarten, when you were admonished, “When you go out in the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together.**”
The lawyers in our lawyers club, riding the supply-side pendulum, don’t seem to be watching out for us, holding our hands or sticking together. There is no tattling, and no teacher is present.
Later in law school, the very core of the Socratic Method taught us to toughen up. We have all learned how to take an intellectual beating in front of our peers. As a result, we then showed up to class better prepared. We also became more analytical, and eventually, better lawyers.
Job-seekers, you’re not crazy. Don’t ever grow accustomed to the silence following the submission of a job application. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be.
Even for those of us who never made it to the Ivy League, we lawyers belong to a very fine club. This is true despite the lack of recognition I received from a once-highly--pedestalled civil rights honoree. We’ve earned our membership. We’re in, no matter how the pendulum happens to swing.
*Back to that name partner. Funny enough in the following year, the hiring committee of this man’s very own firm ironically extended me an offer to work post graduation -- summer stipend, bar review course tuition and a raise-before-I-even-walked-in-the-door, all included. (This guy was obviously not on his own firm’s hiring committee.) For other reasons, I did not accept this offer. Again, it was market forces causing the firm to break old rules and change the way the game had to be played.
**All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum.
Published with approval from the Law Bulletin Publishing Company's Chicago Daily Law Bulletin and the related blog, Attorneys in Transition. Nancy's blogs are also published on the web site of Ms. JD, www.Ms-JD.org.
Nancy Mackevich Glazer is Manager of Legal Launch LLC.
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