Best path to your career: make a plan

Where is the path?


In an uncertain market with stiff competition for every posted job, finding a career path often requires carving it out yourself and making your own plan. This is harder than answering every electronic job posting, but you are more likely to get a good result when networking your way toward a job that hasn't been posted.

Best paths


Jobs that are filled by friends, neighbors, and current or former colleagues and others who know you and know your work; or

Jobs that are filled because candidates make plans, work their plans, adjust their plans, and have injected networking (the polite kind) into their DNA.

Detours or Dead Ends


Unhelpful job descriptions ranging from three-word phrases to six-pages of dense text requiring a graduate degree to parse;

Jobs posted on multiple job boards and by multiple search firms will generate dozens or hundreds of candidates who can be sorted by GPA alone;

Impossible job descriptions gently described as “Purple Squirrels” because they seek impossible candidates such as a someone 10 years out of law school with seven years of corporate AND seven years of litigation, or a patent lawyer licensed in USA, Greece, Argentina, and Hong Kong from a Top 10 US law school who is fluent in English and French with an MBA as an additional preferred qualification; or

Random jobs that appear to be filled by completely undeserving people who are hired through no skill or expertise of their own, perhaps through nepotism, blackmail, or lack of due diligence in the hiring system. (NOTE: Sometimes it just happens. I once was part of a team that hired a temp clerical person who filed candidates by their first names. Who would have thought to inquire or train for that?)

A realistic path


Every career counselor knows someone who has gotten a job without dotting every “I” and crossing every “T.” When carefully quizzed, most reveal that the “lucky” candidates were diligent networkers who had built skill banks, taken time to understand the market for their skills, and made it a point to be where they could be found by potential employers.

Make a plan


(1) Begin with self-assessment. Ask and answer three questions:

       a.  What kind of problem solver am I?
       b.  What kind of problem do I want to solve?
       c.  Who can pay me to solve the problem?

(2) Follow with common-sense market-based research: “Wishin’and hopin’ and thinkin’ and prayin’” was on the juke box in my junior high. It is not a research plan.

(3) Embark on a gut-suckingly realistic review of the credentials and behaviors needed to get hired. Ask people you respect for a frank and candid evaluation of you and your credentials. If you don't have what you need and you have an opportunity to add to your credential pile, are you willing or able to acquire them? If you don't have what you need and there is no path to acquiring those credentials, make a new plan.

(4) Understand your financial obligations. The miracles of universal payments "capped at 10% of income" and "forgiveness in 10 years" are good ideas that may or may not be funded in your lifetime.


Why make a plan?

          If I were to give someone $600 plus airfare to the Mall of America and two hours to shop, who knows what she might buy?

          If I give another person the same $600 plus airfare, two hours to shop, AND an assignment (buy a blue suit), what might it look like? Whether it is light blue, navy, striped, plaid, pants-or-no-pants, vested or not, it will likely be an interview-ready garment.

Surprise


          Expect job searches to contain completely unfair surprises such as: Both parties must wear only their Mall of America purchases for their next interview. The first candidate bought an amazing, expensive purse which all by itself would make a memorable interview outfit. The second may show up looking like a 1980's car sales manager in blue plaid, but he will be wearing a suit.

          That’s why you plan.


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Susan Gainen created a suite of training programs for law and other students (Alternative Careers, 2nd Career Law (or other) Students, I'am a 3L...What now?, Job Search Skills Outside of OCI, Job Search Skills = Business Development Skills, and Professionalism Has Attached). She speaks at the invitation of Career Professionals, Deans of Students, Student Bar Associations and other student groups, Alumni and Bar Associations, and Bar Review Vendors. She is also an artist who has taken responsibility for the historic, pre-historic, and whimsical creatures of her hometown, Saint Paul, Minnesota, including the Lost Cave Paintings of Saint Paul

10 Tips for Managing Bar Review


This will all be over soon, and successfully, too, if you follow these guidelines.

1.  Make a schedule that reflects your study habits. If you are an 8-hour-a-day study person, don’t ramp it up to 12 hours. The last four will be a waste.

2.  Mark your study area territory. Minimize distractions, and, if possible, make it a protected space. If you have young children, find a public library with quiet space.

3. Get your study tool box together. Whether you are working from an on-line study system or from books, make sure that you have all of the tools that you need to move from topic to topic without having to worry about batteries or pencils.

4. If you are studying with a group, set out guidelines about the things that matter to you.  Food? Drink? Timeliness? Each party’s responsibilities? Sharing? In what form? Bar study time is no time for study-group drama.

5.  Manage yourself. Eat right, get exercise, and get regular sleep. The Four Food Groups are not “sugar, fat, salt, and caffeine.” Exercise is more than opening the door to the pizza delivery person. Sleep is not 15 minutes between jolts of caffeine.

6.  Manage friends and family. Explain (over and over) that the Bar Exam is the huge mountain you must climb before becoming a lawyer. Sound both sad and disappointed that you won't be able to take off two days to celebrate July 4 with your pals. Promise (and keep your promise) to show up to family dinners and events after the exam. If you do not yet have a job, everyone will be quivering with anxiety on your behalf. Let them know that you are doing appropriate job search activities while studying, and promise to keep them up-to-date after the Bar Exam.

7.  Manage your test days. Have you registered to type the bar exam? Do you have a place to stay that is near the test center? Have you made a trial run from where you will sleep to where you will take the test? Do you have emergency cab fare? If you are taking the bar exam in two states in three days, do you have a Transportation Plan B.

8.  Caring for content. The Bar Exam will not contain nuclear physics questions. Do not get rattled when you encounter issues that you have not studied, or questions that could have more than one answer. Grads of 1984 are still confounded by a question that could have been about privacy or about search and seizure, and by a question that required knowing The Rule in Shelley’s Case -- not that the Rule was abrogated in all 50 states, but the substance of the Rule itself. Focus on the subjects that you studied.

9.  Review the advice from the Board of Law Examiners, which probably included some or all of the following:
              a.           Set out a time for answering each question beginning 12 o’clock. Beg, borrow, but do not steal a reliable wrist watch for this.
b.           Read each question at least twice. Stop and think before you write or type.
c.           Follow the directions, which might ask for a letter to a client, a memo to a partner, a pleading, or another document. Give the readers what they want. (NOTE: They prefer complete sentences, too.)
d.           Your test will be scored against something that looks like a very complete model answer. You get points for everything including that noting that something is “A Constitutional Law Question involving state action.”
e.           Mind your manners. Do not freak out, loose your cool or get snarky in your bar exam writing. Bar exam graders are authorized to refer candidates for another level of review by the Character and Fitness committee, and consequences may include delaying and denying admission.                        
              f.            Leave your cell phone at home.  Should it ring in some jurisdictions, you and the phone will be removed instantly. You will then take the February bar.

10.   Stop talking to test takers two weeks before the exam. They will remember things that that you have never studied or they will remember things that you know are incorrect. Stay focused on what you know.

Additional reading


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Susan Gainen created a suite of training programs for law and other students (Alternative Careers, 2nd Career Law (or other) Students, I'am a 3L...What now?, Job Search Skills Outside of OCI, Job Search Skills = Business Development Skills, and Professionalism Has Attached). She is also an artist who has taken responsibility for the historic, pre-historic, and whimsical creatures of her hometown, Saint Paul, Minnesota (Lost Cave Paintings, Wild Parrots of the Winter of 2013, Tiny Wild Hummingbirds, Pandas and Frogs from the Hidden Bamboo Forest of Saint Paul, and Saint Paul's Backyard Roosters' Haven.) She speaks at the invitation of Career Professionals, Deans of Students, Student Bar Associations and other student groups, Alumni and Bar Associations, and Bar Review Vendors. 

Single-minded sprint to finals? Maybe not

After Spring Break.

After spring break, finals loom on the horizon, leaving students with choices at two extremes:

  •   Hunker down now. Up the ante on studying. Finish, tweak, and  memorize outlines. Outline the note cases. Listen to recordings of every class for which there is a record. Take practice exams daily.
  •   Double down on job search until two weeks before finals. Then, proceed with #1.
As in Star Wars™, there is another. Another way, that is. 

Count your time.

Count the number of weeks until finals. Be honest with yourself and count the number of hours each week that you devote to studying and to job search. 

Create a schedule: keep panic in check.

If  you are a reasonably diligent student, you need not make radical alterations to your study habits. If you are an eight-hour-a-day person, there is no point in trying to put in 15-hour days. Within your comfort zone, create a sliding schedule, front-loading job search in late March and early April. Gradually decrease the job search hours and increase study hours. If you make a plan and work the plan, you may be able to control your time and keep your panic level in check.  

Spring Job Search Bonus Alert!  

The working world does not stop because you are studying for finals, so don't stop applying for jobs and don't abandon your networking. More jobs are posted in April than in any other month. Why? Employers who are  focused on getting client work done, are tipped by their kids' upcoming summer camp schedule to think "It must be time for a summer law clerk." Thus, there are jobs posted during finals. Don’t get cranky. Be prepared with a freshly dry-cleaned suit, a clean shirt, and polished shoes.

Interviewing during finals.

It happens. Be glad that you got the call. Employers may not be willing to wait to conduct your interview until after finals, however, they are usually willing to interview around your exam schedule.

Go to the interview. Knock it out of the ballpark. Get back to studying.

___Susan Gainen created a suite of training programs for law and other students (Alternative Careers, 2nd Career Law Students, I'am a 3L...What now?, Job Search Skills Outside of OCI, Job Search Skills = Business Development Skills, and Professionalism Has Attached). She is also an artist who has taken responsibility for the historic, pre-historic, and whimsical creatures of her hometown, Saint Paul, Minnesota. At her Small Friends' website, find Lost Cave Paintings,  Wild Parrots of the Winter of 2013, Tiny Wild Hummingbirds, Pandas and Frogs from the Hidden Bamboo Forest of Saint Paul, and Saint Paul's Backyard Rooster Haven.

How can my letter to a search firm get noticed?

Writing to a search firm is a crap shoot

Even if a search firm is working on a specific assignment, your application letter is a gamble. Getting a job through a search firm is like winning the lottery, it is not a comprehensive a career planning strategy. If you understand where search firms fit in the hierarchy of job search strategies, you can manage your expectations. 

Casting a wide net

Unless a search firm is working from a specific, detailed job posting, its advertising casts a wide net. Despite the wide net, the filters are narrow: whatever is perceived as “good grades, good schools, good experience.” The filters are generally hard-and-fast because it is what clients request from headhunters. There are exceptions, and they often can be found in very specific experience that a candidate may have that would trump the grades/school "requirement." 

The tricky part for candidates is knowing what might make their experience exceptional. The tricky part for search firms can be extracting meaningful specific information that they can use to source the candidate with exceptional experience.

The subset of the wide net is the search for the Purple Squirrel which has impossible requirements. 

Why can’t I write the best letter?

The best cover letters show that you  know the industry and its problems and that you are ready to help to solve those problems. Search firm advertising is likely to be too obscure to let you write a correct and compelling letter. Manage your expectations by keeping them low.

Consider the hierarchy of job search sources

  1. Connections that you have. These are people who you have enlisted in your Career Development Team. They are personal and professional connections, including the person who cuts your hair who can only tip you toward employment if you tell her what you want.
  2. Connections that you make, including direct contact made by search firms to you, personally. Headhunters don't make random "let's chat" calls. They call people whose credentials and experience match a specific client's job order or those who they believe might be helpful in finding marketable candidates. In the very late 1980s I conducted a pre-internet search for a 4th year Big Law Corporate Associate who spoke Polish for the people who were trying to buy the Gdansk Shipyards. My strategy? I used the paper version of Martindale Hubbell (this link has a very nice photo of the hard-bound volumes) and called every lawyer in Chicago and Boston whose last name ended with "ski." Using the telephone (that’s what we had in the Olden Days), it took six weeks to find the guy, and then the deal cratered. I was grateful to everyone who returned my calls.
  3. Referrals from #1 or #2 are not necessarily for jobs, but may be for connections to opportunities (barber's brother-in-law is the mayor of Left Elbow,MN, see #4)
  4. Opportunities that you identify by staying current with local and business news (new start up incubator opening in Left Elbow, Minnesota? Jump on it!)
  5. Job postings (a) on professional organizations' websites, twitter feeds, and LinkedIn posts, and (b) in general publications or on-line. Postings from actual employers are likely to have specific information about job openings. Armed with the name of the employer, you can conduct business/industry research which will help you write a good letter.
  6. Ads from search firms. Lacking the transparency of a posting from an identifiable employer, you are left to create documents that will seem unfocused and random. The remedy? Provide meaningful specific information about two or three best examples of your problem-solving experiences. Hope -- yes hope -- that your specific experience is what an employer is seeking.
___
Susan Gainen created a suite of training programs for law and other students (Alternative Careers, 2nd Career Law Students, I'am a 3L...What now?, Job Search Skills Outside of OCI, Job Search Skills = Business Development Skills, and Professionalism Has Attached). She is also an artist who has taken responsibility for the historic, pre-historic, and whimsical creatures of her hometown, Saint Paul, Minnesota (Lost Cave Paintings, Wild Parrots of the Winter of 2013, Tiny Wild Hummingbirds, Pandas and Frogs from the Hidden Bamboo Forest of Saint Paul, and Saint Paul's Backyard Roosters' Haven.)

10 Tips for Moving a Small Practice



(Based on a comment posted to a lawyerist.lab post.



Telepathy is not a practice management tool

Ten tips for moving a small practice can get you started. Use this guide to start your list and get to work.

Harness school connections 

1.   Contact your law school career office. Its staff may be familiar with alumni in your new area. They should be delighted to make introductions because they know that introductions may lead to new job connections for current students and other grads.

2.   Ditto your law school development and alumni relations offices. Those professionals know that contented grads may make donations.

3.   Ditto your undergraduate school's career and alumni professionals. Graduates of these programs may not be lawyers, which is a good thing. Never forget that you are looking for clients.

Harness personal and professional connections 

4.   Announce your move in every paper and electronic publication associated with any part of your personal and professional life. Don't forget your high school classmates who you have found on Facebook. Unless you have been paying close attention, you won't know that the person with whom you shared a frog-dissection experience lives in your new location.

5.   Tell everyone you know including the person who cuts your hair. You can't know that your hair cutter's brother-in-law is the mayor of your new location unless you share your news.

Take action: choose volunteer activities wisely

6.   Join and become active in bar associations in your new area. Whether you join local or state bars or specialty bars, choose wisely so that you can make a real contribution to the organization.

7.   Find a civic organization that you can support with enthusiasm.

Recreate referral sources

8.   Because you are moving an existing practice (or traveling with an existing skill set), you know your target clients and referral sources, or at least you know where they hang out. For example, an elder law practice benefits from giving presentations in nursing homes, houses of worship, meetings with bankers, social workers, etc. You know your referral sources. Find them and connect.

Welcome people into your new space

9.    Announce the opening of your office in the local newspapers (paper and electronic versions.) Host an open house.

10.  Opening a physical office? Find a local arts organization and offer wall space to artists on a rotating basis. Art openings = visits from potential clients.  

Graduating 3Ls: Take the July Bar (No excuses)

Mid-February is the time when some 3Ls begin waffling about taking the July Bar. Waffle no more! Sign up for a bar exam.
           

Good excuses for skipping a July bar

        Donating a kidney.
        Having a baby.
        Caring for family members in crisis.
      

Not-so-good excuses for skipping a July bar

       I don’t know where I will practice.
       I'm tired of studying/I need a break.


I don't know where I will practice.

If you don’t know where you will practice, sign up for the least expensive bar that you can find or the bar exam that many of your classmates are taking.You will never care more about Torts and Contracts than you will just after graduation. Taking the bar with your law school pals allows you to wink at your pals when someone from another law school is clueless about something that you all learned in ConLaw. Thank your first year profs.  

Strategize with the ABA Section on Legal Education & Admission to the Bar’s extremely helpful and detailed Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admission 2014. Some bar examiners allow you to apply multi-state scores from a recent bar exam, although you may be required to have been admitted. Read this document closely.

Note: This recommendation also applies to trailing spouse/partners of professionals whose locations in September 2014 are as-yet-unknown.

Push-back. “It’s a waste of time and money to take a bar exam for a place where I might not practice.”

If you take and pass a July bar, you will be a lawyer by November or December 2014.

If you wait to take and pass a February 2015 bar, you probably won’t be admitted May 2015, half a year behind your class. Should you fail a February 2015 bar and take and pass a July 2015 bar, you will be a year behind your class in your attorney job search, possibly unable to call yourself a lawyer until October 2015. What will you do in the meantime?

Interview issue: 20 seconds or 20 minutes?

Prospective employers expect that you will have taken and passed the first bar exam after your graduation date, and you will be quizzed closely about anything that is out of pattern. The unarguable kidney-childbirth-family-care takes 20 seconds; anything else may take more of your 20-minute screening interview than you can afford to waste.

I am tired of studying/I need a break.


Having chosen to become a lawyer, you have signed up for lifelong learning. If you really need a break, take it after the bar exam. Enjoy that time, because it may be the last long vacation that you have for a very long time.

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Out of 30 years of experience in boom and bust economies in a variety of volatile businesses, Susan Gainen has created a suite of programs for law and other students that can be scheduled by career professionals, admissions or alumni relations offices, or student groups. (Alternative Careers, 2nd Career Lawyers, Job Search Outside of OCI, Job Search Skills = Business Development Skills, Professionalism Has Attached, I'm A 3L/What Now?) In addition to lecturing, she provides individual career counseling, resume review, and business development training. 

She also has a life as a painter, and has taken responsibility for the prehistoric and whimsical wildlife of her hometown, Saint Paul Minnesota. (The Lost Cave Paintings of Saint Paul, The Pandas of the Hidden Bamboo Forest of Saint Paul, The Wild Parrots of Saint Paul, and the Tiny Wild Hummingbirds of Saint Paul). 

3 Steps for 3Ls: Waste no time

Between now and graduation, you have a huge block of time. Don’t waste it.

You may have lost your zest for outlining, and your study group pals are busy with journals, moot courts, clinics, job searches, and pre-graduation frolics. Don’t become a couch potato unless you expect employment from Couch Potatoes International. You have to get up and do what needs to be done.

3 Steps for 3Ls: Get up and go!

      1.         APPLICATION IN PROGRESS: ANSWER THESE QUESTIONS BEFORE THE INTERVIEW

Answer the questions out loud: “Why do I want to be a lawyer?”  “Why do I want this job?" and "Why should you hire me?" Think like the employer before you answer the third question. (What do you know about the business? The industry? The problems facing the employer?) Answer the questions out loud. Practice. Think. Practice. Think. Practice.

      2.     STILL UNFOCUSED? Don't be embarrassed if  you are still unfocused about what you want to do. It's ok that you don't know your path, but it's not ok to KEEP not knowing your path. 

a.     Go to monster.comcareerbuilder.com or other job boards, and spend some time in advanced-search mode with and without “JD/lawyer” as search terms. Surf those sites. Let your imagination fuel your search terms. Find something that’s interesting and explore it.

b.     What would you be doing had you not come to law school? Are you still interested? Find out how you might use legal training to do that work. Explore adding law to the toolbox that runs that job.

c.    Have you ever taken traditional assessment tests? (Myers-Briggs, etc.) Get some career assessment testing through your law career office or your undergraduate school. Do not expect a concrete, linear instruction (“You should be a fire fighter”). With professional review of your results you may get important clues that will serve you well and give you some things to think about. 

d.     What was your favorite class in law school? Do you like it enough to try to forge a career from it? Talk to law career services professionals. Don’t be discouraged when faculty and others say “There is no job in this town for fighting human trafficking.” Note, please:
                                                  i.     you can find human trafficking and and its Evil Twin domestic violence in every town and county in America.
                                                ii.     you can work on human trafficking using the same tools that fight domestic violence, which, mercifully, remains illegal. 
                                               iii.     take the Watergate-Era’s Deep Throat’s best advice to heart (“Follow the money”), and you should be able to find funding for work that looks like fighting human trafficking and domestic violence from a variety of public and private sources. Use your imagination. Brainstorm with others. Don’t sit this one out.

e.      Why did you decide to come to law school? Review your reason (look at your personal statement ), and consider how (if at all) you have changed. You know much more about law and law as a tool for problem-solving than you did when you took the LSAT. How much better prepared are you to pursue your original goals?

           3.     TELEPATHY IS NOT A JOB SEARCH TOOL. 

                 You have to get out of your couch potato comfort zone and talk (yes, talk on the phone or in person) to people who have the jobs that you want. Ask smart questions.
·       Avoid the #1 Dumb Time-waster Slacker Question: “What is a typical day like?” The correct answer is: “Every day is different. Why are you wasting my time? Get out of my office.”
·       Ask questions that get to the heart of reasons for doing a job: the challenges (personnel, budget, time-management), the emotional toll (public defenders’ good result is less jail time; family lawyers’ milieu is constant conflict); the things that keep lawyers up at night; the things that keep them coming back to the work.


Read everything you can about the work that you want to do. Explore it. Examine it. Change your mind. Find a new goal and start again.

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Out of 30 years of experience in boom and bust economies in a variety of volatile businesses, Susan Gainen has created a suite of programs for law and other students that can be scheduled by career professionals, admissions or alumni relations offices, or student groups. (Alternative Careers, 2nd Career Lawyers, Job Search Outside of OCI, Job Search Skills = Business Development Skills, I'm A 3L/What Now?) In addition to lecturing, she provides individual career counseling, resume review, and business development training. 

She also has a life as a painter, and has taken responsibility for the prehistoric and whimsical wildlife of her hometown, Saint Paul Minnesota. (The Lost Cave Paintings of Saint Paul, The Pandas of the Hidden Bamboo Forest of Saint Paul, The Wild Parrots of Saint Paul, and the Tiny Wild Hummingbirds of Saint Paul).