Job Search Obstacles: Questions and Answers

Job applicants at every stage face obstacles that they must overcome. Read how our experts' advice on how to deal with these challenges.

How Can I Overcome Regional Bias Against Certain Law Schools?

Q: I am a 2nd year student at Univ. of Maryland School of Law (Top Tier ranking), and I will be relocating to New Jersey after I graduate (family reasons). During my search for a summer position, I've found that most of the well-respected law firms in the Philly/South Jersey area either hire from Top 10 schools or local schools (Rutgers, Villanova, etc.), with few exceptions. I've done well at law school (top 10% of my class & Law Review), but I'm afraid that the regional bias will work against me. Is my assessment correct? If so, how can I make myself more marketable in order to overcome the regional bias? Thank you.

A: You may be correct about the regional bias. But I would not let this stand in the way of an aggressive search for a summer position. In your cover letter, I would cite briefly your connection to the Jersey region. I would pursue an aggressive telephone and email campaign. I would also prepare to spend some time in the Jersey region, offering to visit law firms on an informal basis, to develop a network of contacts. Maintain your sense of purpose and your clear vision of finding work in that geographic area, and with your academic record, I expect you will succeed.

Is it Appropriate to Consult Attorneys within a Firm to Get a Feel for the Corporate Culture?

Q: I am a first year law student. I will be interviewing with employers this fall. Would it be appropriate to ask to speak to other lawyers with kids to figure out how they most effectively manage their work schedule and family?

A: The issue of life/work balance seems to come up at this site often in readers' questions. Speaking with other lawyers is a good way to gather information as to how others cope and deal with the demands of the profession. Does it vary in different practice areas or in different size firms??

I wouldn't however, wait till your interviewing to ask this question. Try to get some information interviews out of the way before you actually job interview. Asking that at an actual job interview could be risky, you might be appearing as not sure and it may raise some doubt in the mind of the interviewer as to the fit.

Now, if after the result of informational interviews you decide you would only like to work a certain amount of hours you should be able to get an idea as to how likely that might be to actually obtain. Then, if you're committed to a certain position, you can inquire about responsibilities at the job interview stage.

How Can I Spin My Current Job Title?

Q: After working us a staff attorney, I took a job as a paralegal specialist in a company for which I wanted to work. Since they knew I was an attorney, I was given many "attorney" assignments. Two and a half years later, I was promoted to the attorney position and have been in that position for 3 years. I would like to work for another company. In my resume, I put my current job title for the entire time I have been with this company. Is that deceptive? If so, how can I address both positions? I am afraid if a prospective employer sees "Paralegal" in there, he/she won't hire me. What should I do?

A: I don't think it is deceptive to list only your current job title at the company where you work. I think it is cumbersome to list different titles that have changed over time. Most relevant is the title you have now. I would just rely on that.

Getting Insurance Companies to Hire Me

Q: I have been an insurance defense personal injury lawyer in a small community for nine years. I have recently gone out to open a solo practice. I had good relationships with the clients, adjusters and claims specialists, but they don't want to jump ship from the firm they are with. How do I go about getting insurance companies to hire me to defend their clients?

A: Boy, that's the million-dollar question in today's law practice environment. In fact, many large law firms spend $10,000 a day or more to have experts teach them the fine art of effective marketing to business clients.

The good news is that you've already taken the most important step -- nurturing good relationships. The second part of the equation, though, is that the relationships must be with those people who have the power to hire. Do the clients, adjusters and claims specialists you know have that authority? If not, your next step is to get to know the general counsel, or any other executive with the power to enter into long-term relationships with outside counsel.

But even developing friendships with the right people won't necessarily translate into business. Hiring new counsel is disruptive to the organization. You'll have to offer something more than competent representation to get them to make the switch. That something is probably the same quality at a significantly lower cost. And there's the rub. Insurance defense law firms have been undercutting each other to the point where many firms lose money on every case. Dont make that mistake.

Job Search Advice for an Over-Qualified In-House Counsel

Q: I am over 45, and an over-qualified in-house counsel. I have faced a huge amount of resistance from business employers (almost all below 300 employees total, almost no responses from megacorps, even through networking) for law or non-law positions. Only positives are from financial services firms that want me to sell their products. But I'm in a financial services firm now and I hate it. Securities and insurance sales are worse than law. As of today I've made 176 networking calls, have had 16 informational interviews, etc., only six real interviews, all for financial sales. Any ideas?

A: As I stated often throughout Judgment Reversed, the key for anyone seeking employment is to show value to the prospective employer. You state that you are over-qualified, so I assume you must have a definable skill set. My initial advice is, before you interview or even make a networking call, determine what you will bring to the table for the person at the other end of the table or on the other end of the telephone line. Secondly, you do not seem to have a clear idea as to whether you want to exit law and enter the business sector. My experience is that those in business are somewhat suspicious of defecting lawyers. They feel that if the applicant comes across a good attorney job, they will jump back to the other side. Again, as I state in Judgment Reversed, you must first convince yourself of where you want to be. This will make convincing a prospective employer much easier.

Proving conviction and value is an important step for everyone in the job search process. However, it is extremely important for the over-forty, male set. You face the stereotype of being a dinosaur looking for a place to die. Be sure to project energy, optimism, and enthusiasm. You are not looking for a new job because you hate your current one, you are looking for a career that will challenge and expand you. Your sun is still rising, not setting. Finally, take note of your appearance. Update your wardrobe so that you make it more difficult for a prospective employer to stereotype you.