Job Seeking in an Economic Downturn

A few weeks ago, PDO hosted a panel discussion on job seeking in a time of economic downturn.  The panel included Professor Ralph Mabey; 2009 Quinney Alums Anna Nelson and Alison Adams; and Christensen & Jensen’s hiring shareholder (and 1993 Quinney Alum), George Burbidge.  Read on for some of the tips these panelists offered to students–both those who are just beginning law school and those who are about to enter the job market.

All panelists recommended that students make every effort to get real world legal experience–whether paid or unpaid.  Getting experience in a field in which you want to practice shows initiative, will get your name on work product, and will expose you to more people in the legal community.  Do great work, whether the work is paid or unpaid, since you never know who is noticing.  Nelson recounted that after graduation, she had not yet landed her dream job.  She decided to do some short-term, part-time work at a local litigation firm which was not seeking to hire permanently.  She immediately got great trial experience and was introduced to other lawyers.   Within a few weeks, she landed a job at another downtown litigation firm, in large part because they were aware of her good work at the first firm.  Simply put, getting real experience helped her to network.  Adams, who currently works at Utah Legal Services in Ogden, suggested that newer students do clinics or participate in pro bono legal work as a low-pressure way to get experience and meet people.  Such work may also show your dedication to both public interest and the area of law in which the clinic is focused–something that is critical if you are job seeking in government or public interest fields.

The panel also suggested that students broaden their horizons in their job search–both in terms of practice areas and geographic locations.Your legal career will be long, and assuming you keep working towards your long term goals (whether it is a certain employer, location, or field), you will likely switch jobs multiple times.  Although it is not a good idea to take a job which you are truly uncomfortable with, either ethically or because  it really makes you miserable, it may be advisable to take a reasonable job even if it is in a different area than you ever thought you would practice.  You may pick up skills, a new specialty, and may work with people who will want to hire you in the future.   You can continue a job search if you don’t end up loving your job, but it is a lot easier to do from a place of employment!  Burbidge recounted that, like Nelson, he was not working in his dream job upon graduation from law school.  He did some short term work and eventually landed at a very small firm.  He did great work there, and first met the attorney from Christensen & Jensen who hired him when they opposed each other on a case.  The attorney was impressed with Burbidge, and he was eventually hired.

Finally, the panelists urged that job seekers must be organized and make a job search part of a daily or weekly routine. This should at least involve checking muliple job posting sites on a regular basis, applying for jobs at firms or employers even if they have not posted a job, and scheduling lunches with other attorneys or classmates.  Do not be embarassed that you are looking for work–your friends and contacts will want to help you!  The bottom line here is to avoid being complacent, and to treat your job search and networking like a part-time job.

As far as “hotter” practice areas, the panel agreed that litigation seems to remain a busy area, as well as bankruptcy and family law.