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Second Cities, Standing Out and Other Advice for Law Students Seeking Jobs

Though the pace of law firm layoffs may have abated since Black Thurday back in February (with 800 jobs lost in a single day), the aftershocks keep coming. Law firms have been deferring start dates for new associates to avoid outright downsizing, and now at least one firm -- Morgan Lewis & Bockius -- is canceling its summer program to avoid having two classes of first-year associates start in 2010.

So what's a law student to do? Advice, if not jobs, abounds. Bloomberg reports that Harvard Law School is advising students to consider casting a wider net by exploring jobs in second cities such as Baltimore or Richmond, Va., if they're interested in Washington D.C., or Milwaukee or St. Louis if they want to work in Chicago.

Harvard counselors are also encouraging students to build their skill sets. But it's not clear how students can compete for job opportunities with licensed lawyers who are willing to work for free. Back when I was in law school, state and federal attorney general offices were prime spots for law students who couldn't find work at a firm, provided that they'd work for free. But in a down economy, even those offices can have their pick of volunteer JDs. Consider the New Jersey Attorney General's office, which is putting out the call for lawyers to work 20 hours a week, unpaid.

Other schools are taking a different approach to helping students. The Long Island Business News reports that Hofstra Law School is teaming up with Nassau County Bar Association to sponsor a series of speakers who can help students find jobs. One recent speaker was Ari Kaplan, author of "The Opportunity Maker: Strategies for Inspiring Your Legal Career through Creative Networking and Business Development." Kaplan encourages students to be aggressive in building relationships and creative in finding common connections.

One way to do that is to set up Google alerts. Searching on a contact’s name will bring up media announcements, blog posts, Tweets and press releases, revealing what is going on in their personal and professional lives.

For instance, Kaplan said he is running a 5-kilometer race in Hudson, N.Y., next week and someone he met would know that if they set up an alert in his name. That person could then potentially send him an e-mail wishing him luck. That e-mail is something Kaplan said he would remember.

“That's a starting point,” Kaplan said. “It's a free and easy tool that people don’t realize is out there.”

Kaplan reminds students that they should also capitalize on existing connections through alumni groups or former law firm colleagues.

The article also quotes Jim Weller, a hiring partner in the Jericho, N.Y., office of Nixon Peabody, who says that any kind of unusual writing or practical experience will help students stand out. Weller says doing volunteer work can also help give students an edge. Though again, the question is where can lawyers work for free with so much competition?

Finally, there's this interesting suggestion from Matt Homann's [non]billable hour blog: Use Facebook to help employers track you down. The post goes on to describe how a recent college grad posted a Facebook ad with a caption "I want to work for Disney." It didn't help her get the job but it did result in numerous contacts and ideas for other potential employment opportunities.

What's your advice to lawyers still looking for work? Post your ideas below.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on July 16, 2009 at 03:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

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