Almost exactly 11 years ago, I walked down Langdell Hall as a newly minted Harvard Law alumnus, with bright eyes, a Biglaw job, and a boundless future. Back then, the resources for new graduates were sparse and advice for succeeding in Biglaw was either uttered through gritted teeth by the disillusioned, or a wide grin by those who thrived in the pressure cooker. It was hard to anticipate what I would need to do to prepare myself for Biglaw and the resources available now would have greatly helped back in 2004. To further help the newest graduates of the class of 2015, I asked our recruiters at Lateral Link to give one piece of advice that they wish they had known when they graduated law school. Just a hint, networking is pretty important.
1) Abby Gordon: LinkedIn is an incredibly powerful networking tool. It’s your best opportunity to market yourself, and it’s free. Spend some time compiling a comprehensive profile. It should be professional (the content and your profile photo!), but feel free to show some of your personality as well. Update your LinkedIn profile frequently and be proactive about Linking In with your classmates while they still remember you, and with other professionals you meet over the course of your career at alumni or other networking events.
2) Matt Ritter: Find an apartment near your office. Seriously, that first couple of years, the difference between waking up at 7 a.m. to catch a ferry or transfer on multiple subway lines and waking up at 8:45 a.m. and strolling across the street to the office will make a big difference on your overall level of mental health. The only downside is that if the partners you work for know you are right nearby, you will be the first call. So bring in a copy of the NJ Star Ledger or something every morning to throw them off.
3) Victoria Holstein: In-person networking: Make contacts in the legal community by reaching out to lawyers working in your area of interest, including your alumni contacts, past employers, and other colleagues. Bar association activities provide excellent opportunities to expand your network and make meaningful connections that can lead to jobs. Bar activities include committee meetings, young lawyer programs, social events, and CLE programs, all of which provide a chance to get your name out there and to connect with people who are in a position to hire you or who, in turn, are “connectors” to those who can. You can enhance your marketability by volunteering for bar association committee work or projects, or for pro bono opportunities, which are great ways to meet other lawyers, demonstrate your skills, and build your own experience.
4) Kristina Marlow: Too often, an associate starts to think about his long-term goals as a mid-level and is horrified to realize that he has the employment equivalent of a “DadBod.” Contacts have withered. Skill sets have become flabby without regular professional development. And the exceptionalism that made him stand out during OCI has faded without publishing articles, speaking at conferences, or otherwise distinguishing himself from the firm’s other associates. How to stay “fit” as a candidate? Resist the urge to rest on your laurels (or the couch) after landing that first legal job. You should always be thinking about what will make you attractive in order to land that next position, whether that is promotion to partner or a lateral move elsewhere.
5) Erin Clarke: Take ownership of your career path. Your partners and professional development departments will be integral to your growth, but don’t wait on them to anticipate and deliver on every single developmental need. Be resourceful and vigilant in looking for opportunities to grow. And remember that your career path is both personal and relational, so focus on technical legal abilities but also tend to soft skills like client development and networking early on.
6) Carolyn Brenner: Decide which friends and former colleagues you want to keep in touch with because you will not be able to keep up with everyone. Make a plan for how often you are going to reach out to them via phone, through social media, or in person. Some people you will want to reach out to weekly or monthly and others every six months. Know where these friends and former colleagues are geographically so that when you are in the area, you can meet them for coffee for lunch. Set a goal and stick to it so that your classmates and former colleagues will remain an important part of your life.
7) Yafit Ferrer: It is never too early in your career to start networking. Even as an associate, networking is an effective way to generate new business, as long as you are viewed as someone that is agreeable and competent. The relationships that you build early on in your career and even in law school can last a lifetime, and can be a wonderful source of referrals and job opportunities in the future.
8) Nick Goseland: Read a sales book. In fact, read 10. It is never too early to learn this skill. If you’d like a good starting list, email me. Your ability to sell will be pivotal to your success whether you pursue a career in litigation, corporate law, transfer in-house, or move out of law entirely. If you want evidence, look to the leaders in each of these areas. You’ll find one unifying characteristic — they know how to sell.
9) Annie Lin: Think outside the box. Don’t limit yourself geographically. Many Am Law firms have international offices in Asia, including China and Hong Kong. Many U.S. lawyers have used their U.S. skills and training to jumpstart successful legal careers abroad.
10) Amy Savage: Be proactive and follow up with your partners to ensure that they are satisfied with your performance. Add value by being responsive, anticipating needs, and by providing a polished work product. You’ll impress your partners and build strong relationships that will prove valuable through all stages of your career.
11) Ryan Belville: When choosing a practice area, interest is paramount. However, it is critical to realize that your practice can also limit or dictate your geography down the line. Examples: A focus on derivatives and structured products might keep you in New York or a handful of other markets. A focus on government contracts or certain regulatory work might keep you in D.C. If you plan on returning to your home state, be sure you have a skill set that is transferable. Is a smaller market your destination down the line? A general corporate practice, real estate, or litigation is your best bet.
12) Scott Hodes: Networking, networking, and more networking. And when you are done networking, network some more. This is critical for both career development and client development. Talk to people, attend seminars and social events, and meet other attorneys. Be friendly and responsive, and always make sure to follow up and stay organized. You never know when the next business opportunity might present itself. And do not think, “What is in it for me?” when you meet someone. Think, “How can I help someone else?” Trust me, it will come back around in the long run.
13) Sarah Morris: Along with firm jobs, in-house positions have also substantially increased in the last year. Many of these positions are obtained through personal contacts (networking), as well as firm clients. In Silicon Valley, for example, many of the most exciting in-house positions are filled through relationships the in-house attorneys have with their law firm counterparts. Thus, if you are having difficulty obtaining an in-house position on your own, transitioning to a firm with a large local client base often ends up being a step in the right direction.
14) Jonathan Birenbaum: I graduated law school a while back believing my true calling was to be the next great litigator. I based my decision on my then argumentative personality, love of logic, and belief that I was an actor trapped inside a lawyer’s body — a perfect combination for adversarial work. One day, I realized that as a partner with an Am Law 100 firm I met with told me, “Perhaps you are more of a solicitor than a barrister,” or, as I feel like I am now, a dealmaker who uses his litigation background to avoid conflict. Had I known when I was 24 that perhaps I should have focused more on the corporate law stuff and not worried so much about moot court, then I might have had a shot at becoming a transactional guy. Really. So, if you just graduated and your inner voice keeps telling you maybe you are more of a barrister than a solicitor, or vice versa, you may, before its too late, want to change your track.