For many lawyers, summer brings a long-anticipated sigh of relief.
There is finally reason to be outside and away from one’s desk.
The air is warmer. The mood is lighter. The atmosphere is more festive.
Generally speaking, the legal community slows down. Judges, partners in law firms, in-house counsel, and yes, even associates, take vacations. Bar associations, law schools and networking organizations all tend to turn their attention away from the legal world and slow down. Summer becomes a time of regeneration.
In the glory days, when firms actually filled their empty offices with summer associates, the mood was always lighter during the summer months. Today, despite operating drastically different entertainment budgets, law firms’ summer psyche does remain the same.
While most 2011 law school graduates are refocusing their energies and hitting their Bar Bri manuals, many licensed 2009/2010 grads continue to pound a softer law firm pavement.
What happens in the summer season for job seekers? If you are an attorney looking for your next opportunity, here are a few suggestions for your summer
“To Do” list:
1. Be ready to hit the ground and run on September 1st.
Make sure your resume has specific descriptions of what you did as a law clerk or intern/extern. This means that you have included (a) the specific subject matter area(s) and legal issues about which you are now an expert, and (b) your quantifiable successes, i.e., you detail how your research and your written brief helped convince the judge to dismiss X number of counts of the plaintiff’s complaint or strike Y number of your opponent’s jury instructions.
If your resume generically states that you drafted complaints, motions, and discovery, you are failing to separate yourself from the crowd. You need to tell a prospective employer what you exactly know how to do, what legal subject areas you understand, and what skills you have mastered. Your goal is to add value to an employer’s practice and make her look good. The more a prospective employer knows about your exact skills, the less she has to train you. In today’s competitive market, that’s a huge advantage.
2. Gain legal experience.
Volunteer. While some legal organizations are spread to capacity with volunteer attorneys looking for more legal experience, some can always use more help. If you are interested in litigation, John Marshall Law School runs a first-rate Veteran’s Legal Clinic to train you and help veterans advocate for benefits. If you like estate planning, volunteer to research and update the planned giving materials for a non-profit’s web site. See if they can enlist a seasoned estate planner to bless your work. If you know how to mediate, offer your services to a neighborhood housing organization. If you would like to learn to mediate, the summer might be a great time to be trained and certified.
3. Continue to keep every door open.
If an opportunity comes along and it’s not exactly what you are looking for, be open-minded. Gaining experience in another area (in a down market) may not be the worst thing. The key for you is gaining legal experience. That’s not to say that you must stay in an unfavored position for the long haul.
4. Check out areas of law where there actually is demand.
Are you interested in health law? Have you considered healthcare compliance work? Have you noticed how many compliance positions have been posted over myriad pharmaceutical web sites? If you are a stickler for following rules and regulations, this may be a great area of law for you to pursue. The demand is great and only continues to grow.
There are other kinds of compliance as well. Investment and brokerage firms must always be in compliance with SEC regulations. As most attorneys are not clamoring to this area of law, the chances are good that demand for these skills is quite high.
5. Take a break.
Even though I’m making suggestions about how to land legal work in this competitive market, I am also going to talk out of the other side of my mouth. Take a break from your search. Put this on the “To Don’t Do” list. You must acknowledge to yourself that finding legal work is stressful. Summer is a great time to be kind to yourself. Finances depending, take a break, get away, and regenerate.
We all know how quickly the days of summer fly. There are so many more activities available to fill our time. Perhaps, just getting out there under the warm sun, meeting people and enjoying outdoor life is one of the best networking avenues we have. Do what you love, and don’t even call it “networking.”
There are about 92 days of summer. Please pass the lemonade.