Ann Israel is the legal profession's Dear Abby. A New York legal recruiter since 1979, Ann is a past president of the National Association of Legal Search Consultants. Advice for the Lawlorn is updated every week.
Q: I am having trouble finding a position. I have eight years of experience and passed the California bar on the first attempt. I attended a small law school in New England. Despite my legal achievements, I am discovering that recruiters and law firms will not speak with me because I did not attend a supposed top tier school.
I always believed that where I attended law school matters less as I gain more experience. How can I overcome this stereotype of being less qualified simply because I did not attend a top 10 law school?
Dear Stereotyped: I don't think you have been stereotyped nor do I think you are less qualified. I simply think, to paraphrase, you are looking for law in all the wrong places.
After eight years of practicing I would think that you would be a bit more confident, especially since you did go to a law school that is not well known on the West Coast and you passed the California bar on the first try and have clearly had no problem working ever since.
There are other reasons aside from where you went to law school that are preventing you from finding a new opportunity at this time and keeping the recruiters from knocking down your door.
Yes, your school is not going to be attractive to recruiters unless you graduated in the top of your class with honors or you are carrying around a nice book of portable business. But that is a minor reason, in my humble opinion, at this time and place.
Have you taken a look around at the job market lately? The opportunities for 8th-year associates are not exactly plentiful. Even in the best job market it is always difficult for senior associates calling a recruiter because, as I have explained in many past columns, law firms do not generally hire senior associates (especially with a fee attached to the hire) when they already have a number of them already in their ranks hoping to be elevated to the partnership.
If you think the best route to finding a job for you personally is going to be with a recruiter, then you are going to continue have a very difficult time finding a position. Your work is cut out for you to begin with, since you are a senior-level associate and the law firms -- when they are hiring -- look to hire at the junior level or mid-level much more frequently than at the senior level.
So, what should you do? Everything and anything you can to cover the job market, wherever and whatever it may be. Make sure you are checking every legal classified ad there is, whether it is in print or on an Internet job board. Send out your resume to every one of those ads if your experience remotely relates to it. Go to every bar association event that you possibly can attend and network with everyone you know. Get your resume out there -- you never know which contact might be the one that leads you to the perfect job.
Looking for a job in a way is a full-time job in and of itself. It's great when you can find a recruiter to do the heavy lifting for you and then all you have to do is show up for the interviews. Unfortunately, that is not the case for you. And in this job market don't limit yourself to just law firms. You need to open yourself up to any in-house jobs that might be out there as well. As a senior-level associate, you need to be open to any and all opportunities. You do have some issues working against you in that tough California market, but they haven't seemed to work against you so much for the past eight years. So buck up and start pounding those proverbial sidewalks. Best wishes!
Ann M. Israel
President, Ann Israel & Associates
P.S. Last week's column seemed to confuse some of you (really?). SFA stood for Search Firm A; SFB stood for Search Firm B. Nothing more, nothing less. There was no hidden meaning, folks. My fault for not spelling it out; I didn't realize that I needed to do so. It won't happen again. Really (really?).