Saturday, October 18, 2008

Interviews and confusion


So today I am going to write about a tricky situation I have landed in. The employer who had called me in and never showed up called back and invited me in for an interview. After a couple of interviews on different days, I did not hear back for a couple of weeks. I followed up, but did not get a response to the follow-up call.

Then suddenly I got a call to meet some clients at the office of the employer. I went, but was confused as to why I was being called to meet clients when I had not been offered, nor had I accepted, a job with this employer. However, I met the clients, and talked with the employer some more. I got a feeling that the employer was pleased and perhaps wants me to start. But I have not heard anything about the salary yet. Meanwhile, I got two other calls for interviews. How do I respond to the interview calls and how do I communicate to this employer that although I am interested in the firm, I cannot begin unless there is an agreement as to the terms of employment...and that agreement has to come soon or I will be blowing off other interviewers who *are* serious about the position?

Lost is me today.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

On my Own?!

So as I struggle through this painful process, my well-meaning uncle suggested something to me: "Why not go out on your own?" "Sure, uncle, but the problem is, that I don't know this area of law well enough!" "Can't you learn from reading materials and attending bar association seminars?" "Yess...but...."

Hmm...well, the thought is planted. In truth, there is much about immigration law that can be learned. And I know how to litigate bond cases. I have done a few of those already with no training. If I can litigate with no training, then can't I at least take simpler cases on my own? Self-teach for 6 months and then go out and make money? No more dealing with stingy, rude employers!

So, really there are a few issues I really need to think deeply about before I make this huge decision.

1) Am I willing to make this kind of investment right now with little to no savings?
2) Can I learn the law sufficiently well to go off on my own with no one to fall back on?
3) Will I be able to handle the rough times that may come along with a solo practice?

Until I answer these questions in the affirmative, I cannot proceed to ask the more detailed questions that will invariably surface.

However, here is what I will do to prepare for this decision if it should need to be made. I will go out and learn on my own in addition to job search. I will make myself as competent as I possibly can and make contacts along the way.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Attempt at an Interview

So, I am writing this update shortly after my previous post. I think I will start writing more often. The problem with writing regularly is that sometimes the job prospects look so terrible that I don't want to remind myself of what I am going through by writing about it. However, I think I will go through that pain if it helps someone else out. In light of how little I knew about anything law-related prior to choosing law as a profession and in law school, I think the more prepared someone is, the more they read real people's real experiences, the better he or she will handle the tough times.

So I had emailed my resume to someone yesterday and received a call within 5 minutes requesting information. As I was outdoors, I said I would call back in 10 minutes once I came home. I did that and she was too busy at the time to talk, so we emailed back and forth and scheduled a meeting today evening. I showed up at the scheduled time and the firm door was locked. I rang the bell and someone came outside to inquire what I wanted. I explained that I had communicated with the attorney via email and she had asked me to come at this time for an interview. I was told to wait outside in the lobby. A minute later, the receptionist asked again whether I had an appointment because she didn't have me scheduled and the attorney was trying to meet a deadline. I said I understood and would be happy to return at a later time if she thought that would be best. She then went back inside to ask and came back and asked me to come in. I was greeted by stacks of files and papers everywhere. That is not a surprise to me because I have worked at small firms before and not all are too organized. The receptionist/secretary moved some files and made a place for me to sit on a chair. I could hear the conversation inside the office. The attorney scolded the secretary for not printing out the email I had sent. The secretary started printing it out. Then I heard the attorney discuss matters that were related to her project for a few minutes. I offered again to come back at a later date since I did not want to interfere with an important assignment. I was told "The attorney will try to meet you." I waited for about 45 minutes. I could hear some work related talk and then I heard something like "Well, she is not important right now. She can come back tomorrow or Monday." I waited some more....and then without bothering someone else again, I left the office.

I emailed the attorney a polite apology and informed her that I needed to leave and did not want to bother them during a busy time, but would be glad to re-schedule a meeting at a more comfortable time.

I am not sure what to make of the deal. On the one hand, of course attorneys are busy and things come up. On the other hand, if there was a deadline, why would I be asked to come at that time? If I came and if they were not able to meet me, shouldn't they be more gracious or apologetic than what I heard?

As a new attorney, it is very difficult it seems to keep my head up and expect basic civility and fairness at a place of work. Perhaps the only option would be to start my own practice. Had I known all this before law school, I don't know if I would have attended. . .

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

End? Every end is a new beginning!

So my previous entry was about my search coming to an end. In truth, I am back in the market. The reason? Well, I had accepted the previous position with a conversation that the law clerk position would transition into an attorney position. Well, what happened? The law clerk position DID transition into an attorney position; in fact, after only a week! BUT the pay remained the same... and I was told that the pay would increase at the end of August. So I slogged through cases without any training and fought and even won several immigration cases! I was showered with praise by a few of my clients, all the while still trying to manage on my own (stay afloat) with absolutely NO training and a law clerk's salary.

At the end of the month, the time came where my salary would catch up to my workload. Instead, I received the "well, we want to wait another month" talk because I had missed a couple of "office policies" like checking out a file before removing it and I had ended up coming in a little late on two occasions. Never mind the fact that I always stayed hours later, and I had an hour and half commute with buses and trains and could not perfectly time my entry every time. Well, I suppose I should take it more positively and more as a warning sign that I should *never* be late if I can help it, regardless of how hard I work on my cases, how I do in court, and how my clients feel about their representation, I should still pay attention to details and maintain the same professionalism as I would on a job interview.

So what would happen had I waited another month? Would my salary still remain at the law clerk level and would I receive the same "we want to wait yet another month" talk or would I finally get the rate which other attorneys with similar responsibilities were already making starting out? Worse yet, what if after 3 months of working as an attorney on a law clerk salary, I am told to leave? What if. . . .? There was no guarantee with this job especially with someone postponing what I believe is not a "raise" but salary that is already earned.

I don't know if I did the right thing in the end, but I decided to leave that firm and look for a full time attorney position. So I gave a week's notice and informed my boss that I could not stay at a law clerk's salary for longer especially since I was already doing attorney work. I left on good terms and wrapped up my case load as much as I could, and trained a new attorney who is starting on a law clerk's salary.

So today I had another interview. This interview was with an immigration firm similar to the firm I left (worse, but probably with better pay). I felt a funny feeling in my stomach about this firm. When I received the interview call, they wanted me to come in the next day at a specified time. I asked if any other days or time were available or if that was the only one and I was told that it was the only time available. I took it. I did not make that mean anything more than "they are busy." After the initial question or two and a quick glance through my resume, I was asked how many hours I worked at my previous firm. I answered honestly (9.5-10) as I always do. I was quickly told that this had a high turnover rate and expected attorneys to work a minimum of 12 hours. I only responded with an "okay." I was told that attorneys were expected to work on hundreds of cases at once and had a very high stress environment. Again I nodded that I understood. I was then questioned on my caseload at the previous firm and the type of work I did. At that point, I discussed my work and pointed out my writing sample, which was a brief I had written at the previous firm. The interviewer, who was not an attorney, scoffed and asked what basis I had to prepare this Waiver application (I-601), "children?" "No," I responded, "physical and mental health issues." I know through some work on this waiver that waiver applications prepared using children rarely succeed (legally, the only hardship that is considered for this waiver is on the petitioning spouse), but I did not mention it. He proceeded to poke a bit more into the waiver and scoffing immensely each time. Then he said only 5 such applications had ever been accepted. This is something I know to be false, but I did not mention it, and instead lightened the atmosphere by laughing and saying "I am glad I did not know that when I prepared that application."

To top it off, when I got home, I called the receptionist to ask if I could have the email addresses of the people who interviewed me so I can write a thank you note. I wanted to email a note so that it reaches them faster, and I wanted to convey that I was confident that I was going to be able to meet the firm's job requirements just in case they had suspicions based on my neutral response to their statement of the work requirements. As soon as the receptionist gave me the email addresses, she said "wait. hold on" and then asked me the purpose of the email, which I informed was to write a thank you. She said "because, they said it needs to be pre-approved in order for you to email them.

I don't know why, but I suspect that I may not get that job. If I do, I suppose I am curious to know how much it would pay. However, I am also a bit afraid to get that position because I may actually be tempted if it pays a lot. I am almost sure that it would be a miserable place to work.

Monday, August 4, 2008

And the Search comes to an end.

Dear all,

Very happily I report that I have found a job, and have indeed been working there for the past 3 weeks or so. The job I found started me off as a law clerk and will move me up to an attorney position soon. In three weeks, I am happy to say I have learned a tremendous amount, but first things first.

The interview.

Well, what went differently in this interview was that I was totally comfortable in my own skin. I knew exactly what I wanted, what my strengths were, what my weaknesses were, and why I wanted to work at the firm where I was interviewing. Most importantly, I was in some ways passionate about the type of work the firm does (yes immigration law, but also a few other types of law). And my passion must have shown because when I was hired, I was told that the main partner was impressed with the "fire" in me. I was in no ways desperately looking for "any" job. In fact, I went there with the attitude that I love the work the firm does, and I am excited to learn whatever I can. This shift in attitude is what is extremely hard when you spend over a year without a paycheck, but it is probably the main reason I found a job.

The pay/terms.

So, quite honestly, the position is not a high paying position, and at the same time, it is a LOT of work. In fact, they started me off as a law clerk making *less* than what I was making as a law clerk while I was in law school. To top it off, responsibility keeps piling on as one of the attorneys has recently quit. But at this stage, I do not let the money aspect of it interfere with the quality of my work or my attention to the job. I consider myself indeed fortunate to have a boss that values my learning and consistently gives me opportunities to learn. I like that this is a job that challenges me every day. There is less learning in an "easy" job. I am always awake and ready to go as I enter the office.

Lessons learned.

Here are a few things I have learned:

1) "America's Greatest Places to Work with a Law Degree" by Kimm Alayne Walton has some GREAT tips in the back of the book on what a new associate should do and avoid. Read it over and over and over.
2) Do not underestimate the administrative stuff. It can make life hell or make it smooth as pie, so be very precise with that.
3) ALWAYS prepare before court hearings. Err on the side of more preparation.
4) Do not mistakenly think that a low paying job is a 9-5 job. You may work late and even weekends.
5) Don't be sour. A smaller starting salary does not mean you will never make it big. But being a bad lawyer will severely limit your growth. Sour people are universally disliked.
6) Welcome criticism and take responsibility for the mistake when you can. You will probably get a lot in the beginning. Don't think of it as criticism, but think of it as a friend giving you some honest advice. Thank that person for being honest and make every effort not to repeat the same mistake. Don't make it a big deal either and don't beat yourself up over making mistakes.If you are at a firm where people are hush hush, make an effort to invite criticism/feedback.
7) Communicate! Your boss won't know you have a 2 hour commute each way if you don't tell him/her. Just don't complain about it, but mention things in conversation when you can. Your boss won't know a project is taking longer than anticipate if you don't keep him/her updated.
8) Please, for decency's sake, do NOT get drunk in front of your boss. Not even at a Christmas party. Please, just DON'T. Not even if your boss is drunk. On the same note, DON'T DRINK AND DRIVE! You are a LAWYER, for goshsake. How smart will you look with a DUI? (that last part was a bit of venting).

Good Luck!

Monday, May 5, 2008

Job Search Strategies for Law School Graduates and Students

So Let me just start by being upfront about one thing. I was in the bottom half of the graduating class. I never imagined that this would be the case because of how successful I had been at earlier stages in education, but it happened. And it killed my self-confidence and motivation and creativity and everything else! I think if I had to do it all over again, I would have done many things differently, but that's not the point. The point is that my grades are what they are. I worked throughout law school to try to make it financially and there was nothing I could do about that.

One year out of law school and I still don't have a job. I have gone through phases of hopefulness versus hopelessness and feeling like I should apply for unemployment benefits. But overall, I am in a very good place right now. I have realized that the mass mailing services like Legal Authority just didn't cut it for me. What I really needed to do was do some soul-searching about what type of law I want to practice, and then network! The one thing that I had been truly avoiding throughout law school and afterwards and it seems like the only avenue left!

So I have settled on practicing immigration law, or at least working primarily with immigrants. Even though my law clerk experiences are all over the place from real estate to IP/Copyright, immigration really lights me up. I actually enjoy reading the literature on immigration law and like the idea of having primarily immigrant clients. Another bonus is the fact that I never have to take another bar exam regardless of where I move! How did I decide on a field? I went to the CLE seminars on the topic. I joined the local bar association groups. I called people in the practice and I got off the computer! I volunteered with organizations that practice immigration.

So I have only been networking for about a month. It has been fantastic just to know the field, even though I have still not found a job. I somehow feel that I am closer to it than I ever felt before. Still crossing my fingers!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

ReTake of the Illinois Bar: What I did Differently

So I finally retook the Illinois bar this February after a long wait and fruitless job search. I don't know the results yet because they come out in April, but I had a better feeling going into it. This is what I did and when the results come out, I will let you know if it worked or not.

1) I paid for Micromash software for the MBE subjects. I realized that I had not done nearly enough questions the last time and needed more practice with the MBEs so I called the Micromash people.
- Here's the scoop: You can purchase JUST the software. This is not advertised, but when I called they allowed me to purchase just the software for the MBE without the books for a much cheaper rate. I did about 34 questions a day and read through the explanations. What I did not do, but wish I did, was make flashcards based on the answer explanations early on in the studying regime.
- I rate Micromash a B. It helped me because I could do it from home or library, but taking questions on the computer was a little difficult at first. My scores ranged from 35-80%.

2) I joined the Minority Legal Educational Resource (MLER) program. This program is very reasonably priced ($200 or $250 depending on how late you register) and is NOT just for minorities. Yes, that's right. Anyone can join MLER and many non-minorities do!
- The greatest thing about this program was the sense of community that forms because of small group sessions and the opportunity to get real help based on your individual struggles with the bar exam. The program was also wonderful at fleshing out the amount and type of studying that needs to be done for a complete preparation for the IL Bar.
- The program focuses on essays mostly and does a fantastic job breaking down the step by step organization of the bar exam essays.

3) I made a study buddy. This helped me stay on track and keep motivated. Very highly recommended! We didn't always study together, but we asked each other questions about points of law that were confusing or called each other to talk about some new nuanced points we discovered.

As for the Barbri books, I used the essay book the most to highlight points of law and made flashcards from those. I also did the advanced drills timed on all the subjects. I hadn't used the essay book much last time and I realized that you can't familiarize yourself with the essay writing style unless you read a lot of the sample essay questions and answers and become very familiar with the format of answering them.

What I should have done more of: I knew that the MBE topics were being tested as essays this time, but I did not adequately prepare for that. I think it is important to prepare to be tested in essay format on the major issues in each of the MBE topics.

I also made sure I got plenty of rest each day before the exam.


This year, we were not allowed to bring a timer, so I took a large watch with me. This was essential because for the first couple of hours, no clock was visible in the room. The proctors then managed to make a clock available for the test takers.
I tried to be very meticulous about time. If I went over the time on an essay I tried to catch up immediately. This was very difficult to do and I did end up winging a full essay.

For the MBEs, I made marks on the question sheet of the place where I should be every half hour and kept very close to that time. Every minute was essential and I know that if I had relaxed on the time requirement, I would have missed several questions like last time. I ended up changing 4-5 of the answers in the morning session, but did not have time in the afternoon.

I guess in April I will find out whether my preparation was adequate. Stay tuned if you want to find out. Next weekend, I will post a big update on my job search.