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Jobs in the Time of Corona: How Can You Highlight Your Awesome-ness Without Grades?

July 17, 2020

by Devra Sigle Hermosilla, Assistant Dean of Career and Professional Development

In the light of the sudden pandemic conditions the world found itself in last spring, most law schools adopted some form of credit/no-credit grading system last semester. One of the biggest questions law students and graduates have expressed about this circumstance is how they can demonstrate their academic aptitude to employers as a prospective candidate. Many employers have relied so heavily on the grading structure to weed through applications that the pandemic has, as in many other areas of our lives, thrown a wrench in their hiring system’s ability to measure applicants.

In addition to relying on your prior academic record, the following are ways that law school students and graduates can demonstrate their academic and experiential value to employers in lieu of spring grades:

A Stellar Writing Sample. By far, alums and employers have indicated that they will rely upon an applicant’s writing sample as a distinguishing factor. A writing sample should be selected to demonstrate your ability to apply legal analysis and writing style. Make sure your writing sample is as perfect as you can make it. Here are the answers to some of the most common questions our office receives about writing samples:

  • If you are relying on an older piece, update it with your more recent understanding of legal writing and technique.
  • Excerpt out 5-10 pages of analysis from longer samples and use a cover page (that matches the heading of your resume!) to place the piece in context. See the Career Services website for samples of how to do this.
  • Get permission to use real-world samples and scrub all identifying information from the document. 
  • It is acceptable to use a sample from a different area of law than the position for which you are applying, but if you happen to have one that is related, then update and use it.
  • And finally, have a second writing sample ready just in case the employer asks for one.

Actual Legal Experience. Internships, externships, clinical experiences, and even legal volunteer work will set you apart from your peers. How you highlight these experiences and the skills you developed from them in your resume and cover letter matter. Avoid vague language like “researched and drafted legal memorandums” and get straight to the specifics of the work you performed. What kind of legal research did you conduct and how was that research used? What legal documents did you draft? What courtroom experience, client contact, or even billing experience did you have? Use tasks, skills, and language that mirror the job posting. Your cover letter should be treated as the first writing sample you will present to your prospective employer!

Professional Recommendations. It is more important than ever to connect with your network, your professors, and prior employers to make sure you present professional references and even letters of recommendation specifically and deliberately demonstrating your academic and legal abilities. Select references who can give examples to future employers of how well you participated in class or represented their clients. References from the position’s practice area can sometimes differentiate you from a candidate without such connections.

Extra-Curricular Activities. Law Review and moot court competitions are ways to distinguish yourself and demonstrate academic writing and oral advocacy skills. It is surprising how often we find that students and law graduates inadvertently leave these important activities off of their legal resumes and cover letters. And while not at the same level for academic and skill demonstration, meaningful involvement in student groups and other organizations can demonstrate subject area interest, leadership, and the ability to network and build business.

Candidate Skill Tests. As the industry re-imagines the hiring process under these pandemic circumstances, be aware that more employers may begin to include a sample post-interview project for candidates to complete - such as a research and writing project or an oral advocacy presentation video. It will be important to be prepared for these projects and to complete them to your most professional level possible.

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