Key Topics to Cover
- What to do before you leave your current job
- Understand the general post-law school job search process
- Understand job searching while clerking
- Understand various career paths
- Engage in Self-Assessment
- Prepare your job search materials
- Identify Job Openings
- Understand salary considerations
- Consider Your Network
- Interviewing as an alum
- Understand how Legal Recruiters/Headhunters work
- Handling a Layoff
- Reentering the workforce after time off
- Changing practice areas
- Moving to another biglaw firm
- Moving to a small or midsized firm, including boutiques
- Moving in-house
- Law Teaching
- JD Advantage Careers
- Contract/Temp lawyering between jobs
Step 1: Before Leaving Your Current Job
People leave jobs for many reasons, some voluntary and others involuntary. Regardless of your situation, please keep the following points in mind as you think about transitioning to your next job:
- Prioritize self-care. The most important thing with any transition is to take care of your physical and mental health. Make sure you have the proper support systems in place as you embark on a career transition.
- Conduct yourself professionally at all times to maintain good work relationships with your current employer. If you have been fired or laid-off, there is often a runway of several months for you to find another position. Employers generally want to see you land well, and co-workers, partners, and supervisors can be a good source of referrals.
- If you have been fired or laid off, please read Handling A Lay-off.
- If you are reentering the workforce after significant time away, read Re-entering After Taking A Leave.
- Job searches take time—anywhere from a few weeks to many months. Be patient with yourself and with the market. Unlike your job search as a student, where the process occurred in a predictable and timely manner, a “real world” search involves a multi-pronged approach without a set timeframe.
- Find HLS alums and engage in networking and informational interviewing. Most jobs are found through a combination of networking and online applications. If you have not kept up your networking, now is a good time to start. This will involve online connections as well as reaching out to HLS alums for informational interviews.
- Be discreet in what you tell your current co-workers, including partners. You do not know who knows about your situation, and you do not want to be the subject of gossip. If you want to have a conversation with your employer about your career, make sure it is on your own terms.
- Polish your online presence and make sure your LinkedIn profile is current.
Step 2: Understand the Job Search Process After Leaving HLS
- The post-law school job search is vastly different from your BigLaw search during EIP.
- Unlike EIP, there is no such thing as a job search “season;” hiring happens throughout the year with a general slowdown around the New Year.
- While you may be looking to move into another large firm, other considerations include smaller firms, government, in-house counsel, and nonprofits; each of these sectors may require its own strategic approach.
- Finding a new job can take anywhere from a month to 6 months.
- The ease of your search is dependent on the demand for your practice area at your level of experience, the strength of the overall economy, and your own flexibility.
- In this job search, you are expected to know what you want to do, why you are looking at a particular employer, and your professional goals for the short and long term. Your interview skills, including your ability to tell your story and anticipate questions, are of paramount importance. See Interviewing.
- Leveraging your networks through HLS, your undergraduate school, or prior employers, will allow you to become a better candidate and make for an easier job search. See Networking and Informational Interviewing and How to Find HLS Alumni
- Legal recruiters, also known as headhunters, can also be incredibly useful be for helping you assess the market and finding a private sector job, especially if you are a 2nd through 7th year associate or if you come from a sought-after, private-sector adjacent government agency. See Using Headhunters
Understand the Possibilities
BigLaw – Large firm opportunities are some of the most easily identifiable jobs. They advertise in a number of places including their own websites which are then scraped by LinkedIn Jobs and Firm Prospects. Headhunters can also match you with appropriate opportunities although not all firms use them. Be sure to ask a headhunter if they will let you know about openings from firms that are not taking headhunter submission.
- Litigation boutiques
- Plaintiff’s Firms
- In-House Counsel
- Judicial Clerkships
- Small and midsized firms
- Business Careers
- JD Advantage Careers
- Law Teaching
- Solo Practice
- Government, Non-Profit, and other public interest Careers
Step 3: Assess Your Goals
Whether you are looking for a new position due to a job loss, job dissatisfaction, or just looking for a different path, the steps to finding new employment are quite similar.
- Take a beat to think about what you want for your career in the short and long term.
- What brought you to law school in the first place and how have your career goals developed since then?
- What do you like to do?
- What do you want to avoid in your next job?
- What kinds of problems do you like to solve?
- What kinds of clients do you enjoy?
- Now is a good time to engage in a self-assessment and visit some early OCS programs on practice areas.
- Think about your financial needs and goals. What salary you need to live the way you want? What do your savings look like? Consider working with a financial planner to assess your income needs against your fixed expenses such as loans, mortgage payments, childcare, etc.
- You may also be interested in learning about career coaching if you are looking for a new direction. A coach who works with attorneys can be helpful as you set out new goals and work toward achieving them.
Step 4: Prepare Your Job Search Materials
In order to get back on the job market, you will need the following:
- A resume
- A deal sheet or representative matters sheet
- A cover letter
- A writing sample (especially for litigators)
Step 5: Identify Job Openings
Where can I find job openings? There is no one-stop shopping for job postings. Below are the websites which alums have found useful for both the private and public sector. Be sure to use the words counsel, lawyer, and attorney as separate searches since employers post positions using different words.
Frequently Used Job Search Sites
- HLS Job Bank (available only to HLS students and alums)
- Firm Prospects (Register for an account and then click on the Jobs link)
- Go In House (strictly in house positions)
- LinkedIn for Jobs (general search)
- OPIA Guides and Databases (Includes OPIA’s weekly job digest, emailed directly to alums)
- See the full list of job search sites
- HLS Guide to Headhunters (including an explanation of how headhunters work, who they can help, and contact information for various cities)
- HLS Guide to Contract and Temp Lawyering (for an overview of this work and links to resources)
Step 6: Consider Your Networks
Tapping into your networks can make all the difference in preparing for an interview, learning about an organization, and uncovering job openings. More than half of all job seekers use some form of networking to land their next position. Effective networking can be learned. See How to Network for more information. Consider the following email from an HLS alum:
Dear OCS, I just wanted to update you on my job search with good news: I got an in-house job! I’ll be an in-house litigator at ABC Company . . . I used all of your networking advice to get the job. I saw a posting on goinhouse.com, which I was checking daily, and immediately applied because in-house litigation jobs are so rare. I then contacted a very tenuous LinkedIn connection who is not a lawyer but who works at that company, and he was able to put me in touch with a number of lawyers at the company, one of whom was able to hand my resume directly to the head of litigation (and my future boss). I also tapped the BIGLAW alumni network (I was at BIGLAW for four years), and reached out to a lawyer I had never met who overlapped with me at the firm and was now at that company. We spoke on the phone and he also put in a good word for me. I pushed my network about as hard as it could go, leveraging friends, coworkers of friends, and former coworkers to get my name to the top of the list of candidates. I’m so excited to leave the billable hour behind!
Step 7: Understand Salary Negotiation
Outside of BigLaw, salary information can be challenging to find and can range widely depending on the size of the firm or organization, city, industry, and level of seniority. Additionally, negotiating total compensation requires some skill. See Finding Salary Information for more information about rules of negotiation and salary scales.
Frequently used salary sites