Q: I am a recent law school graduate who is admitted to the Bar in my state. Despite my high grades in law school, I do not seem to be able to find a position as an attorney. All firms require one or more years of experience. I am hoping to work as an IP attorney. What am I doing wrong?
A: You may not be doing anything wrong. This is one of the worst legal markets in recent history. During the boom time, firms were looking to find positive attributes of potential candidates in order to make them offers. Nowadays, it seems that firms are looking to find faults to pass on someone, despite the candidates strong credentials. Certainly, having a strong academic record is a prerequisite to gaining employment in this troublesome legal market, particularly with prestigious firms. Unfortunately, graduating at the top of your law school class does not guarantee you employment with a firm in this uncertain period. The most important thing for you to do is to eliminate all possible obstacles that may prevent a firm from seriously considering hiring you.
You should start with your resume. Make sure it does not contain any errors. Tailor your resume to each job opening you are applying. If the job opening seeks someone with an IP litigation background, highlight any relevant experience you have that would make you attractive to the law firm. Also, consider listing any honor grades you received for law school classes that are relevant to the job opening. Then, have someone you trust review your resume prior to sending it to a firm. Perhaps you can ask your law schools career counselor or your favorite professor to critique your resume.
It is equally important for you to include a flawless cover letter with the resume that addresses two major points: (1) explain why you are qualified for the particular job positing; and (2) give reasons why you want to join that particular law firm. The cover letter should serve as an enticement for the person reviewing your resume to be interested in asking you to come in for an interview. In addition, if there is any issue that is evident in your resume that you believe would lead the firm to automatically disqualify you from further consideration, make sure to address it in the cover letter. Be succinct, however, and try to address all issues within one page.
Capitalize on Personal Relationships
Before you send out your resume and cover letter to the firm, find out whether there is anyone at the firm you know or if you know someone who can introduce you to a member of the firm. Note that many recent graduates get positions through their own personal relationships.
Try to identify firms within your desired practice area that are not necessarily well-known firms. Most boutiques are great places for someone who wants to assume greater responsibility and get more in-depth experience. Casting your net as wide as possible will increase your chances of getting a position.
Once you submit your resume, follow up with the firm after a week or so. Some firms may not like it, but being aggressive sometimes pays off. Landing an interview in this market is an accomplishment by itself. If you do get an interview, make sure to prepare thoroughly. Firms are very selective and they will be considering more than one candidate for each position they are seeking to fill, so make sure to put your best efforts forward.
In summary, the reason you have not been able to secure a job is probably attributable to the weak market condition, but make sure you are not giving the firms any reason whatsoever to disqualify you because of your written submissions or your presentation at an interview.