Creating Legal Experiences
Working full time at a stressful job, attending law school in the evening, and having a personal life can leave you with virtually no time to gain legal experience. There is no way you are going to leave a job that pays your bills to work as a low-paid law clerk; nor will you take a leave of absence to work during the summer as a well-paid clerk in a big firm, or to do an Externship for credit.
So, what can you do to make contacts in the legal world, gain legal experience and to keep up with areas of practice that are of interest to you? The following list is by no means comprehensive, but is designed to give you a starting point. As always, you should make arrangements to come to the Career Services office for an appointment or schedule a telephone appointment to receive more directed information tailored to your personal situation, as well as to take advantage of additional resources.
Find Out About Law Firms
Most evening students at the Law School intend to stay in Oregon, or the Portland metropolitan area, after graduation. If this is not the case for you, please make an appointment to talk with the Career Services’ counselors as soon as possible, as we have some very specific, additional information for people seeking work in other locations. Before you can even think of contacting firms, you need to know what’s out there. There are some excellent resources for researching law firms and obtaining basic information on size, areas of practice and contact persons. These, and many other legal, corporate and government directories, are available in the Career Services Office or can be accessed through the Career Links on our website.
Identify and Enhance Transferable Skills
Virtually all evening students have some type of work experience, ranging from odd jobs during undergraduate school to long-term high level professional careers. In either case, it will be important to identify the skills you have that are transferable to the legal field. Some examples of transferable skills could include the following: writing, publishing, contract review, customer service, policy analysis, marketing, advertising, negotiating, interviewing, mediating, organizing, training, etc. Legal employers value these transferable skills - your task is to make the connection for the employer between your past work experience and how those skills translate to the legal field. The two most important things you can do are to:
(1) Draft your resume and have it reviewed by Career Services.
(2) Prepare a “skills database” that contains a detailed list of the skills you use, or duties you have, for each of the jobs on your resume. By no means will this be distributed to anyone; rather, it will provide a valuable tool for identifying the skills you can re-configure into a legal resume, with the help of Career Services.
Identify and Use Your “Network”
Finding Out Who You Know. Often, evening students do not have time to participate in student activities, especially those that are offered on campus during the day. Therefore, it is very important that you identify, then develop, a group of people with whom you can network. The vast majority of students and alumni obtain their jobs through people they know. The first step is to identify those people you already know, who may include people from the following sources:
*Undergraduate school alumni office
*Undergraduate professors, colleagues
*Family, friends, church/sports associates
*Business & former business associates
*Customers, vendors, suppliers, clients
*Social acquaintances, neighbors
Think about any of these people who may have legal experience or contacts within the legal community.
The next step is to begin expanding and building that network of connections, particularly those in the legal community. Career Services can help you by providing you with contacts and ideas.
Once you have identified people within the legal field that you want to talk to, be sure to use your Career Services Handbook, and other publications in the Career Services Resources Library, and talk to a Career Services counselor, for ideas on informational interviewing and networking.
Networking Ideas for Busy People. Networking does not just involve informational interviewing and talking to people. It also includes a host of other things, depending upon your background, interests and experience. There are several groups in town that are geared specifically to attorney networking. Career Services can help you identify professional organizations in your areas of interest and can assist by providing specific names and contacts. Remember, many networking activities involve only a few hours a month and can often be done during evening or weekend hours (such as attending board meetings or lunches, agreeing to write an article, etc.) This “networking” should be woven into your daily schedule, and not be treated as an “extra duty” to be taken on.
The following is a non-comprehensive checklist of ideas to help you get started:
*Join a professional organization especially a Bar section or legal-related or specialized attorney group (eg., Oregon Women Lawyers, Oregon Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, Oregon Trial Lawyers, etc). Most information about these groups can be found in the front of the Oregon State Bar Directory or on the Oregon State Bar website
*Volunteer to help plan a CLE, help at a CLE, edit CLE materials
*Talk with your company’s lawyers (either in-house or law firm)
*Get an attorney mentor through the Career Services Mentor Programs
*Do on-line networking by participating in list-serves or usenet bulletin boards. There are over 20,000 of these, and you can do everything from chat to posting resumes on line. There is more detailed information about this in the book It’s Who You Know, The Magic of Networking In Person and On the Internet, published by BookPartners, Inc. and available for check out from the Career Services Resource Library.
*Create a personal web page and market it to specialized groups, areas of practice, especially if you have a skill lawyers may be interested in
*Go to career and job fairs. Often, these are held on Saturdays.
*Attend a variety of bar and attorney group events. Many of these activities take place downtown during the lunch hour once a month. If you don’t want to go alone, take a friend, your mentor, or talk to a Career Services counselor - they often go.
*Conduct informational interviews. Set up a before-work breakfast meeting, coffee break, lunch or after-dinner drink with your contact. The Oregon State Bar offers a New Lawyers Referral List, an informal mentoring program designed to help young lawyers and law students establish connections with Oregon attorneys who work in their field of interest. The attorneys on that list have volunteered to be contacted by anyone who desires advice and counsel on a career path in the law.
Gain Legal Experience
Actually gaining practical legal experience is the most difficult aspect of the job search for any evening student. The good news is, there are several ways to do it and still work full time - the down side is that every one of these ways takes time. One of the best approaches is to implement some of these strategies, especially any legal volunteer work, only in summer, so as not to overload your already busy schedule. Be sure to contact us for assistance in setting up the following:
*Contact your company’s in-house counsel or law firm about projects you can work on. Sometimes you can arrange with a professor to get credit - e.g., independent study, for work on special legal projects with in-house or outside counsel.
*Participate in the pro bono honors program by performing some pro bono legal work for any agency you are interested in. There are legal organizations that cover just about every area of interest, and many times you can perform legal research by e-mail. To find a local opportunity, email the Lewis & Clark Public Interest Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org, who can work with you to find an opportunity that will fit your interests, background and schedule. For a database of opportunities and organizations nationwide, check the links under the Public Interest/ProBono Links from the Career Links section of our website.
*Sign up for the Ad Hoc list in the Career Services Office. We keep a list of students and alums who are willing to take short term legal research projects for licensed attorneys. When attorneys from the community call in with projects, we connect them up with students from the list. Performing contract legal research is an excellent way to gain experience. You must re-register to participate on the first of each month.
*Sign up for as many practical skills courses in law school as you possibly can: Legal Clinic, clinical internship seminars, moot court mock trial, etc.
*Sign up with a legal temp agency in the summer to take on short-term law-related assignments.
Transfer Legal Experience to Your Resume
As you gain this legal experience, do not put it under the “Volunteer Activities” section, or “Education” section of your resume. Your resume presumably will contain your most recent relevant non-legal experience under your “Experience” section. Therefore, create a new section, entitled “Legal Experience” and list your legal experience to date. If it is classes (such as moot court or clinic) be sure to identify them as such; they are experience nonetheless. As always, you should have your resume reviewed by Career Services to make sure you are using this information to your best advantage.
Making the Transition to Legal Practice - Finding the Jobs
Although nearly all the statistics will tell you that most people get jobs through personal contacts, there are still many good resources for posted jobs. You should use postings to supplement your proactive job search strategies. The following are just some of the sources for posted attorney and law-related jobs:
*Career Services Job Postings
*State bar association or local bar association newsletters or publications
*On-line job search & resume banks through Career Services (check the Career Links section of our website)
*City, county, state and federal agency websites (check the Career Links section of our website for some listings)
*Trade publications, such as the Oregon Business Journal
*State government employment websites
*State judicial department websites
*Sunday Newspaper help wanted ads (under “A” for attorney or “L” for legal)
*Career Services specialized job posting binders (there are several job posting binders in the Career Services Office that contain postings not posted on the website).