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!


Anonymous said...

Hi, same anonymous person here.

First of all, congratulations. Your story made me so happy, even though I don't know you! It gives me hope that I can someday (hopefully soon) be in the same position as you.

Your story was a little unclear though - so did you work as a law clerk for a year w/o pay, until you were offered the attorney job?

And another question is: how did you explain during your interview that you were willing to take the law clerk job even though you have a law license?

My problem is that when I apply for law clerk/paralegal jobs, it seems that they don't like the fact that I am planning to take the CA bar in February (I currently have a license in another state). They just assume
- perhaps correctly - that I won't be around after that. I read one of your previous entries where you had a similar problem. I'm not sure how to put a positive spin(?) on this.

btw, I'm not in IL. I'm actually in CA. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Oh, and one more thing. How did you find this job?? eg., networking, online site, etc.

A Modern Woman said...

Great questions!

No, I was jobless for about a year before taking this law clerk position. I accepted this position with a clear conversation that it would lead to an attorney position in the very near future. I was clear that I was looking for an attorney position but if they did not have one available right at this second, I would gladly work as a law clerk until they DID have one available. Also, remember, this gives flexibility on BOTH ends. Usually, if you are a good employee, no firm will keep you as a law clerk for long because they know you won't stay for too long!

The second question was definitely something I was asked by a different partner from the one offering me the law clerk position. What he asked me was "So why do you want to work as a law clerk. Aren't you an attorney?" My answer: "I would rather work as a law clerk at a firm I like, practicing exactly what I want to practice, than an attorney elsewhere, but of course I hope to move into the attorney position in the near future."

It is especially hard if you are internally unsure about the law firm. You need to search for attorney jobs or law clerk jobs where you do HONESTLY intend to stick around, and then your confidence will shine! Whether it is a law clerk position or an attorney position, make it clear that THAT FIRM is what interests you.

A Modern Woman said...

This firm also had a Spanish requirement, and I was conversant, but not totally fluent. When asked about my Spanish speaking skills, I responded in Spanish so they could see for themselves. Honesty is what shines. You want to make sure that they accept you for who you are and what you know, and both sides will end up happier.

I found this job through craigslist. But networking gave me all the confidence. I asked all of the questions you are asking and many more. One person I networked with, gave me an invaluable resume tip that ended up getting me more interview calls than before. So keep talking to everyone and get a clear understanding of immigration law and of the practitioners in the area you want to be in. It will give you unbelievable confidence in job interviews because you won't be going into them unsure or blindly.

Anonymous said...

wow, thank you for such a great answer. May I ask what that resume tip was, if you don't mind? It's totally fine if you rather not share.

Quest said...

same anonymous person:

btw, I used to blog for a bit here.

A Modern Woman said...

I was a bit hesitant about posting the resume tip because it varies so much depending on the individual resume. For me, I had a lot of legal law clerk experience, but my only experience in immigration law was the CLEs I attended when I was waiting to retake the bar. I didn't know where to put the CLE stuff.

I was only mentioning it in my cover letters before, and one immigration attorney I spoke with said to put it squarely in the middle of my resume under the heading "Immigration Law Experience" even if it makes the resume go to two pages.

Bottom line, you need to have immigration law experience on your resume for immigration jobs, even if it is simply CLEs or other seminars you have attended.

Hope that helps. every bit of networking will help you, believe me on this!

Quest said...

Thanks, MW. I thought of leaving an email address in case you didn't want to write about it so publicly. But that's a good point. It just reaffirms what I read - that you should personalize even your resume to the place you are applying to.

Thanks for all the great advice!

Quest said...

Hi, MW

How's work. I got the book you recommended, and I really wish I had it in law school! It would've given me so much more confidence and guidance while going through school and job search and more. Thanks, and hope to read an update soon.

A Modern Woman said...

You got it! How have you been??