I landed exactly zero offers during the OCI season; in fact, I didn’t even land a single interview opportunity. Cover letter after cover letter fell on deaf ears, and at the time I felt completely disillusioned by the entire law firm recruiting process. Though my lackluster grades were likely the culprit, it seemed as if only the second coming of Christ would have even an acceptable candidate for the prestigious firms to consider. The entire process would test my perseverance and wits, but it ultimately forced me outside of what is perceived to be the “normal” process by which a law school student starts his or her career. It was an invaluable learning experience, the most salient elements of which are summarized below:
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket
You’ve likely heard this before, but the number of law school students that land summer employment through the OCI process is small… very small. Don’t bank on OCIs and exert all of your energy in the fall semester; it will distract you from other opportunities and could cause you to burn out. The job I currently hold traces its roots back to an interview that took place in March of my 2L year, well outside the OCI window. My first day on the job was the following month, and I’ve been employed by the same company ever since.
Don’t shoehorn a square peg into a round hole
I came to Santa Clara expecting to study and practice intellectual property law of some sort. That’s what the school was known for, and that’s where most of the jobs seemed to be. I quickly realized that I neither understood nor enjoyed the subject matter, and abruptly took a left hand turn to study business/corporate law… going so far as to enroll in the JD/MBA program. It was a far cry from my original plan, but plans are meant to be broken. Don’t forgo your true interests and settle for an area of law that doesn’t inspire you; build your own curriculum and tailor your elective to fit your interests, and yours alone.
Step outside of your comfort zone
Networking has unfortunately become a somewhat trite buzzword, but its importance cannot be overstated. The people you meet will be the biggest source of opportunity for the one introduction, the one coffee-shop interaction, and the one informational interview that could launch your career. Set reasonable expectations, however. The vast majority of encounters and networking events turn out to be dead ends. But, in-line with the theme of this post, it only takes one.
Most law school students are either too shy to network effectively or too arrogant to know that they don’t know everything. My biggest challenge was physically getting out of my house to go to networking events, time after time, even after most ended up with a bunch of business cards in my recycling bin. Be dogged, persevere, and put yourself out there. It takes a certain level of confidence to go up to a complete stranger that is in a (perceived) position of power and introduce yourself, but doing this time and time again will allow you to overcome your fear and perfect the art of having a meaningful and memorable conversation. Don’t always talk about law school, the person’s career, or how to get a job at their firm… ask about their social interests, their hobbies, or the A’s playoff hopes. Maybe you both have black labrador retrievers or both enjoyed a recent hike in Lake Tahoe… whatever. My point is that firm representatives at networking functions are often responding to the same questions over and over again, so break the stereotype. A networking event will not land you a job on the spot, but it may land you a next encounter in a more personalized setting where the rubber can really hit the road.
A word about social media and networking: use it, but don’t abuse it. LinkedIn, et al. are great resources to make connections and display your employability, but they can all-too-easily be used as a crutch or a security bubble. Social media simply can’t replace a solid handshake and a face-to-face conversation.
A final thought
When I first started law school, I assumed all lawyers worked for law firms and represented clients in a courtroom like Perry Mason. Go ahead – laugh it up. Looking back on it all, my ignorance was pretty hilarious. If I continue on my current career trajectory, I will never set foot in a courtroom to practice law. I haven’t used LexisNexis or Westlaw once since I graduated, haven’t since written a memorandum of points and authorities, and haven’t a clue what any of the hearsay exceptions are. Make your legal career your own, and don’t be afraid to break the stereotypical-attorney mold.
Chris Stanley is the General Counsel and Chief Compliance Officer for Loring Ward and its affiliated entities, which include a registered investment adviser and broker-dealer based in San Jose, California. He also serves as the Chief Legal Officer and Chief Compliance Officer for the SA Funds – Investment Trust, a mutual fund family advised by Loring Ward.
Stanley is an attorney, admitted to the State Bar of California and the District of Columbia. He also holds FINRA Series 7 General Securities Representative and Series 24 General Securities Principal licenses. He received both a Juris Doctor and Masters of Business Administration from Santa Clara University, and a Bachelor of the Arts from Boston College.