If you’ve graduated from law school and you don’t have a job, well, you’re not alone. A 2013 study by the National Association for Law Placement found only 64.4% of the class of 2012 had jobs requiring bar passage by nine months after graduation.
What can you do? If you're an unemployed law grad, here are five suggestions.
Is the Law for You?
It’s also worth thinking carefully about whether you truly want to practice law. If the answer is no, it’s far better to realize that now – before you’ve committed several more years to develop an increasingly specialized skill set. The decision not to practice can be a challenging one to make, but there are lots of contented ex-lawyers in the world (in fact, 24% of JDs who passed the bar in 2000 are no longer practicing law), and you can ultimately be one of them. Law school sharpens a very specific skill set, and these skills are transferable. If you’re having doubts, now is the time to explore your other options.
If you’ve made the decision that you do not want to practice law, an important thing to do is decide how to market yourself and your skills. Were you part of a law review? That might make you a good candidate for a writing or editing job. Were you extremely passionate about a certain area of law? You could become a lobbyist in that area. With so many options, it is crucial to know how to frame your law school years in a way that works in your favor.
Pass the Bar Exam
First, and most critically, assuming you might ever want to practice law, do everything in your power to pass the bar exam on the first try!
In some states, passing the bar is almost assured if you study and show up healthy and focused. In others, it’s a huge challenge (Hello, California!).
Regardless, this is the time to get it done.
You know how you learn and study best, and where your strong and weak areas are, so don’t just blindly follow a commercial study program and assume you’ll pass. (Remember: Basically everyone who fails the bar took a commercial bar prep class.) It’s critical to ensure you’re actively learning the material and routinely tracking your progress.
And pay close attention to your physical and mental health – many stories of bar failure start with extreme anxiety, excess stress, insomnia, depression, and physical illnesses.
As you study, schedule in relaxation breaks, exercise, and time to prepare and eat healthy food. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and it’s critical to fuel your brain and body for the grueling task ahead!
Use Time off to Explore Your Career Preferences
It’s easy to panic and put in applications blindly to any job that appears on your school’s Listserv, but it’s ultimately preferable, and more productive and effective, to engage in some self-analysis about your skills, personality, work style, and job preferences.
There are a variety of career assessment tools that might come in handy in this analysis. (And it’s worth thinking about how your personality fits into the legal world.)
It can also be hugely useful to talk with practicing attorneys, not to beg them for a job but simply to find out more about what they do all day, so you can see how different legal jobs align with your preferences. Even if you’re studying for the bar exam full-time, you still need to eat lunch! Setting up one informational interview a week can pay huge dividends going forward (and doesn’t take too much time).
Think About Whether You Really Want to Be a Lawyer
It’s also worth thinking carefully about whether you truly want to practice law. If the answer is no, it’s far better to realize that now – before you’ve committed several more years to develop an increasingly specialized skill set. The decision not to practice can be a challenging one to make, but there are lots of contented ex-lawyers in the world, and you can ultimately be one of them.
Consider Entrepreneurial Legal Paths
If you’re sure you want to be a lawyer, give some thought to opening a solo practice or starting your career as a freelance attorney. Numerous resources exist to help new grads open solo practices and get freelance legal work. Yes, it can seem scary and intimidating to work on your own right out of law school, but lots of people have done it, and it’s not impossible!
If you really want to be an attorney, and no one will hire you, hanging a shingle can allow you to live the dream…and ultimately have more autonomy and control than you’d have working for someone else.
Plan Your Job Search
It’s probably too much to expect that you’ll engage in a full-on job search while studying for the bar exam (and see #1). But you do need to ensure everything is ready to go as soon as you finish taking the bar.
Is your resume up to date? Do you have a basic cover letter ready to go? Are you monitoring job resources to see what’s available? Have you gotten feedback on your interview skills? Are you in contact with your school’s alumni career folks for advice?
Bonus points if you actually apply to some jobs while you’re studying for the bar exam, but – at a minimum – have everything ready to go for after you’ve completed the exam (and hopefully passed).