By Request: Advice for 1Ls

December is “By Request” month at DennisKennedy.Blog. I’m invite you to ask your questions about legal technology and other issues I cover in this blog, or even stuff I don’t usually cover. I’ll my best to answer them during the month.
Here’s the question:
“My girlfriend is wrapping up her first semester at law school. Any words of wisdom?”
I’m going to assume that you are asking for advice for her and not for you.
I’m also assuming that you are not asking for wisdom about taking law school exams. However, I’ll note that Ashby Jones has a great new article called “What Makes a Good Law School Exam Answer? Law Profs Weigh In” that you might point her to.
I will instead assume that you are asking what advice I might have for a 1L who wants to position herself for a job during and immediately after law school, and a satisfying career after that.
I was at a holiday reception for the St. Louis Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel the other night. I spent some time taking with a law professor from one of the local law schools. I asked if this was the worst job market for law school graduates ever. The professor said that he thought it really was. He also noted that the numbers of people taking the LSAT has gone up dramatically.
Most interestingly, he suggested that the past graduating class and maybe the next one (or more) might lose the opprtunity to ever go into larger law firms.
That’s a thought-provoking comment.
However, if you consider the traditional approach law firms take on new associate hires, it’s actually a reasonable prediction. Larger law firms like to hire directly out of law school and keep associates in their “classes” (based on graduating years) as part of the lock-step process. The hiring process in many law firms struggles with people who take non-traditional routes or don’t fit into this system. In addition, firms often, for reasons that have always baffled me, like to hire directly from law school rather than bring in lawyers with experience. Don’t ask me – I’ve never been able to figure that out.
The prof’s opinion is that when law firms go back to hiring, they will probably cut starting salaries, but they will definitely go back to hiring recent graduates out of their summer programs. The result could well be that a couple of years of law school graduates have a drastically reduced presence in law firms and a large number of current law school graduates might miss out on the ability to join large law firms.
Think about it.
But that’s not what you asked.
The large increase in LSAT takers and law school applications is in no small part due to an expectation that the economy will turn in the next year or two and law students starting now will be perfectly positioned when law firm hiring returns to “normal.” I talked to several people in the last year who are taking exactly that approach.
That, of course, assumes that the legal profession and law firms simply returns to the way things were a year or two ago. It won’t surprise any reader of this blog that I don’t believe that it will. There are fundamental structural changes in the profession in process.
I have one word for law students today. It’s “portfolio.”
I read an article this evening by Alex Aldridge called “The Job Squeeze.” (hat tip to Jordan Furlong for the link) It’s a good analysis of hiring and employment trend inthe legal profession in the UK. I highly recommend the article.
The Money Quote:

Of course, worrying about all of this is futile for students enrolled on law degrees and Graduate Diploma in Law courses. Instead, graduate recruitment partners advise aspiring lawyers to devote their energy to making applications stand out from the crowd.

The article is disappointing in its lack of specifics about this key point. In fact, I don’t think you’ll impress anyone with what the article suggests: “Avoiding gimmicks – we get some awful ones, such as photo collages of applicants – and providing evidence that you are genuinely interested in law as a career. Something that demonstrates you have got a life beyond law helps, too.”
Instead, I urge law students to think in terms of putting together a portfolio rather than a resume. You want to be able to demonstrate your practical skills, your knowledge and your accomplishments in tangible ways, not simply put together a bloodless list of standard accomplshments on a standard resume. I was involved in law firm hiring for many years – most resumes aren’t that different from any other.
Portfolios also inevitably lead to networking. Resumes lead to lists of “references available on request.”
Here’s what I mean by portfolio – tangible evidence that you are serious about becoming a lawyer, assembled in a way to tell a compelling story.
How do you do that, especially in a tough economy, as a law student? Something as simple as a blog reporting on developments in an area of interest can lead, over a year or two, to articles, speaking opportunities and interviews in publications or even radio or TV. If you aren’t working part-time (and developing a portfolio with deatils of the work you do), you want to do volunteer work that is law-related, including ABA or other bar association activities. If you know what area of law you want to go into, look at showing initiative by attending continuing legal education seminars and asking questions and meeting peoiple.
Here’s my point:
You have two candidates for a tax lawyer position. One has the typical top-notch law student resume and a focus on class work and even law review. The second doesn’t have the same class rank, but excels in tax classes, has a blog on tax law developmetns, has volunteered to prepare tax returns for senior citizens, has attended several tax CLEs for practitioners during law school, and has been quoted about a tax matter in the local business journal.
Who am I likely to hire? The one with the portfolio, of course. Portfolio indicates passion.
Actually, if you work hard on building a portfolio, the connections you make will likely mean that the job finds you rather than you finding the job.
I was in law school in the early 1980s, which, until now, might have been the worst time for finding jobs out of law school. What wisdom and advice I might offer is based on what I learned from the many, many mistakes I made. If I had to do it again, especially in the era of blogging, podcasting and other outlets, I’d be think in terms of portfolio all the way.
There are other things, but most of them flow from taking the portfolio path.
Hope that helps. I welcome your comments and questions.
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REMEMBER: It’s “By Request December” at DennisKennedy.Blog. I’ll be answering reader questions all month about legal technology, blogging, social media or whatever topics interest you. Send me your questions.
[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (http://www.denniskennedy.com/blog/)]
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