Posted by Charles A. Volkert on Thursday, May 14, 2015 - 08:00 | Follow me
According to research conducted by NALP (National Association for Law Placement, Inc.), it’s still a “scrappy and competitive job market for new law school graduates,” although the organization reports signs that employment prospects for first-year legal professionals are improving. And in a recent Robert Half Legal survey, nearly one-third of lawyers interviewed said their legal organizations plan to increase hiring of entry-level associates in the next 12 months.
Yet despite these hopeful employment indications, it’s still crucial that students do what they can while pursuing their law degree to strengthen their employment opportunities upon graduation. It makes sense for students to start developing skills and professional experience for their legal resume long before they apply for their first legal job.
Here are five tips that law school students can use to ramp up their resumes to enhance future legal employment prospects:
1. Use courses of study to explore practice areas. Choosing an area of legal specialization is an important decision, one that will serve as an essential foundation to one’s career in the legal field. Students should use their law school years to explore various practice areas to see which ones may best match their strengths, background, personal interests, and passions. Taking courses that focus on various aspects of law can help students not only learn what particular skills are required in specialized legal fields but test the waters to decide if they have an affinity or intellectual curiosity in those areas.
2. Keep tabs on legal trends. Client demands, marketplace pressures and many other factors continue to impact and shape the legal profession. So it’s important to monitor legal trends, including changes in how legal services are delivered, emerging legal practice areas and what specialized legal expertise is required. Based on legal trends, law school students may want to direct their course of studies to increase their chances of landing a position in a busy and robust practice area coming out of law school.
3. Find a mentor. One of the first pieces of career advice that first-year legal associates are often given is to find a mentor who can offer job and career advice and direction. But why wait until your first legal assignment to find a mentor? An experienced legal professional can serve as a valuable resource to help guide law students in their educational pursuits and career direction as well as in the development of essential skills and networking connections. I was fortunate to connect with a mentor during law school who offered valuable guidance in many areas, including helping me decide which practice area to pursue. I would chat with him about the legal marketplace and the legal community. And he served as a reference for my first legal position after law school.
4. Gain firsthand legal and business experience. Students should take a strategic approach to gaining marketable skills and experience while in law school to start building their resume. Search out jobs, internships, clerkships, workshops, clinics, and volunteer opportunities to gain practical skills and knowledge in the legal field. A broad range of such engagements can also help students decide which legal area of specialization might best match their interests and career aspirations, as well as providing valuable professional network connections and references that may be helpful in future job searches.
And beyond legal skills and experience, legal hiring managers are increasingly looking for candidates who possess exceptional interpersonal and communications skills, are comfortable with technology and have strong soft skills, for example, in the areas of project collaboration, conflict resolution, problem-solving, and critical observation. When reviewing resumes, hiring managers are asking themselves: Can this person be a strong partner? Can they bring in business? Are they tech savvy? The ability to demonstrate on a resume that you possess such interpersonal and business skills, that you’re multidimensional, can be a real advantage when applying to future legal positions.
5. A diverse background counts. A diverse set of skills and experience pays off when it comes to seeking your initial legal jobs out of law school. There’s no question that how well you did in school makes a big difference, but legal hiring managers want to see resumes that show that applicants did more than just excel at textbook learning during law school. For example, when I was interviewing for my first job as an associate, being able to demonstrate my participation in a broad range of activities and a diverse set of capabilities during my college and law school years —participation in sports and music, leadership roles on campus and community service, jobs that helped me pay my way through college made me more marketable to prospective employers.
Learn more about current trends that are impacting the legal profession in Robert Half Legal’s complimentary Future Law Office report: “Client Dynamics Driving Change in the Legal Profession.”