As the economy slows, law students have every reason to be worried about their job hunt, but Vermont Law School 2L Andrew Delaney is not too concerned. He says he has already secured multiple job offers from small firms in Vermont, the office of the state attorney general and a firm in California, where he may want to move after graduation. And not because he spends all of his time in the library. A punk rock guitarist in his spare time, Delaney is a leader in his school's Phi Alpha Delta chapter and co-chair of the Sports and Entertainment Law Society. He is also a member of the Vermont Law Review and has written two articles on entertainment law in the past year.
Delaney has been following a career-building strategy that's more important now than ever: creating opportunities that connect law students with prospective employers or future clients and make them memorable.
"Any time the job market is cycling downward, you have to do more, because employers are not reaching as deeply into the classes," says Kimm Alayne Walton, author of "Guerrilla Tactics for Getting the Legal Job of Your Dreams." "Getting out and being yourself is the best thing that will sell you."
While firms look for students with strong academic credentials, they also want to see strong communication skills and "fire in the belly," says Robert Cote, managing partner of McKool Smith's New York office. "Those intangible factors can make a difference, especially if the academic credentials are not as strong." What follows are some strategies for making a lasting impression.
• Start expanding your network by calling or writing alumni and requesting a short meeting over coffee. Alums are, generally, pleased to help students by sharing perspective on their careers. Most are also happy to make referrals and stay in touch.
"Developing connections with alumni in your law school and keeping those connections is important," says Cote, who suggests that students attend alumni events and participate in alumni organizations. He recommends that students contact their school's placement coordinator to identify graduates who have a history of encouraging prospects.
• Writing, blogging and podcasting are ways to both develop your network and show your strong interest in a particular practice area. For example, you could profile a lawyer for the alumni magazine or write a more practice-specific piece for the Web, a student newspaper or a bar association publication. (Your new alumni contacts may offer some story ideas.) The article can provide an occasion to interview more lawyers whom you wish to meet and to speak to them about their work.
"Engage in the world beyond your torts book," says Susan Gainen, career director at the University of Minnesota Law School and a founding editor of the Career and Professional Development Blog.
• Keep in touch. Many people send holiday cards to former internship supervisors and teachers, but try for more frequent contacts. Sending handwritten thank-you notes -- and even remembering birthdays -- is a good start.
When Delaney made law review, he e-mailed his college professors, some of whom are prominent practitioners in Vermont, to thank them for their encouragement. "If anyone shows interest in me, I try to show appreciation for that by sending a note," he says.
Create an e-mail list so that, as you meet people, you can easily add them to your network and maintain contact.
Most students worry that contacting an individual they met once is annoying. On the contrary, the lawyers you meet often want to know about your progress, even if they don't respond to every message.
Before Ben Gross graduated from the University of Arizona with a J.D./MBA in December 2007, a classmate encouraged him to contact one of her colleagues at Honeywell Aerospace in Phoenix to discuss job prospects. The two met and chatted. The contact courteously advised Gross that not only was he unqualified for a job in his particular division but that there were no positions available at the time.
Gross moved to Atlanta after his last final exam and began contacting prospective employers there. He also remained in touch with the lawyer at Honeywell by e-mailing him regularly with updates on his job hunt. He never heard back -- until, months later, the Honeywell contact called him to say that a job had opened in another division. A week later Gross was the company's newest senior export compliance officer. He later learned that it was his regular, unrequited e-mails that kept him on his contact's mind. "It is vitally important to keep people up to date," Gross says.
• Create your own inner circle of advisers.
Gross regularly turns to a select group of five people for advice and counsel -- his personal advisory board or "train," as he calls it.
By creating a deeper connection to a smaller group of trusted, experienced individuals, you can build the foundation for a network of people who will watch you grow and succeed over the course of your career.
"Any lawyer who has been successful in his practice takes great pride in mentoring and trying to assist young lawyers," says Cote.
Gross suggests treating these individuals with a different level of respect than a mere circle of friends. "My train is something I manage and maintain," he says, noting that he spends some time each day thinking about the people on his train and how he will make contact again. "[The follow-up] does not have to be elaborate, just capable of generating name recognition," says Gross. "I try to relate my life to my train because those cars are driving my career."
Ari Kaplan is the author of "The Opportunity Maker: Strategies for Inspiring Your Legal Career Through Creative Networking and Business Development" (Thomson-West, 2008).