October 2, 2015
With today’s abysmal job market, finding gainful employment is something on nearly every law student’s mind. And while having thoughts about finding a job after graduation, law students almost always ponder what they can do to maximize their chances of landing a job in the legal field after receiving their J.D. and passing the bar exam.
Below for your consideration are the four factors—within your control – that have the greatest impact on your employment prospects post-graduation.
Perhaps one of the most important activities in which you can partake to maximize your chances of securing employment after graduation is networking. Why? Because, more often than not, people will hire who they already know. And if someone looking to hire knows you, you have a pretty good chance of getting hired.
The thing is, you often don’t know who will be hiring at any given time in the future, so it’s best to cast the net wide by making and maintaining connections with a large assortment of individuals, such as classmates, practicing attorneys, professors, and judges.
And this networking doesn’t have to be anything too elaborate; it can be as simple as meeting for coffee to discuss subjects professional and non. The point isn’t to be asking for a job, but rather to be cultivating a relationship so that when a professional opportunity arises of which this person becomes aware, you are in the front of his or her mind.
Of course, your personal connections can only get you so far (albeit, that distance can be quite far in some cases). The rest of the way must come from you and your demonstration of your abilities. And one of the best ways to both establish your legal competence and build up your own professional skill is through obtaining practical experience while you’re in law school.
Traditional law school curriculum is notoriously short on providing students with applied learning on the actual practice of law. In fact, most practicing attorneys would tell you that they learned most of what they need to know to practice law from experiences outside of the law school classroom.
As such, seek out any opportunities to gain practical knowledge. Although it would be ideal to receive law school credit for these experiences, failing to obtain either credit hours or financial compensation for your time should not dissuade you in any way. After all, this experience is for your own benefit.
Extracurriculars are somewhat a combination of the first and second activities above. Beyond those, however, extracurricular activities offer something unique, in that they can help to distinguish you from the rest of the proverbial pack. That is, the sorts of activities that you choose to engage in as extracurriculars may by themselves make statements about your interests and values and what kind of path you hope to take in your professional life.
In short, your extracurriculars may set you apart in just such a way that you may land a job because of them. However, it’s important to understand that there is no objectively “good” or “bad” extracurriculars to participate in to improve your job prospects. True, some will appeal to a larger number of employers than others, but others – perhaps those often overlooked by the majority of law students – may give you just enough of a leg up over the competition to secure gainful employment. As such, you should pursue those activities that interest you.
Finally, we come to the factor that is widely assumed to be the most influential in whether a law student lands a legal job after graduation – and for those competing to be in the top 5% to 10% of their class, that assumption may well hold true.
For the other 90% to 95% though, your grade point average isn’t going to be nearly as important as the other factors mentioned above. To be sure, academic performance is an important consideration in any employment decision. But unless you’re in the top echelon of your class, most employers aren’t going to care terribly about a few tenths of a point on your GPA, at least not as much as the other considerations mentioned already.
This isn’t to say that you should strive to perform the best that you can academically, but that you should be aware that classroom grades aren’t really going to matter as much as some other activities that you could be doing in law school.