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You've Failed the Bar, and You Want a Job?!

Vivia Chen

September 20, 2010

Fotolia_4121016_XS[1] We are continuing our series of reader questions. Today's guest blogger, Elizabeth Munnell, a Boston-based career coach, tackles this question:

Dear Careerist:

I graduated from law school in 2009. I went back to school after almost 20 years out after having built a successful health care-related business.

For various reasons, I failed the bar exam twice. Thus, I have a JD, but no license.  I would like work for a law firm of any size, or in a law-related job, that allows me to study for the bar again, and obtain my license.

The problem is that firms want either experienced lawyers, or someone with a current license. There doesn't seem to be any kind of opening for a recent grad.

As the months go by, I feel like all of the work I put into law school is for naught. Further, it is very frustrating to not be able to use the skills and abilities I know I can provide some firm/organization.

What suggestions could you give me in this situation?

T.M.

Dear T.M.,

There’s no question that you’re in a tight spot. It will take ingenuity, fortitude, and lots of work to navigate the current job market and tough out the rotten economy, especially given the seismic change experienced by the legal industry since you applied to law school. A few basic facts: You have to find a way to distinguish yourself from the so-called (and stigmatized) lost generation of deferred and yet-to-be-hired lawyers--and studying for the bar while working at a law firm may well make that even harder to do. In any event, most firms would rather hire an experienced paralegal than an unlicensed law school graduate with little “experience."

But you do have experience--as an entrepreneur, in the “real world” and in a growth industry. The average law school graduate has woefully inadequate business skills, a limited understanding of the market and economy, and minimal work experience. You’re different, and your strategy now should be to capitalize on the ways in which you can be more productive, and more profitable, on a faster track, than other law school graduates. Ask yourself what you need to do to transform your image from unappealing drifter to desirable recruit and set yourself apart from other applicants.

Consider these five steps:

1.  Do whatever you have to do to pass the bar. Set aside the time. Get a tutor or coach. Make it happen.

2.  Use your existing network and other resources to find a nonlegal job or internship in the health care industry. It'll help you to deepen your knowledge, develop more practical skills, and build professional relationships. Learn and grow. Prove yourself to those who will one day be your job (and client) references.  

3.  Learn all you can about the Healthcare Reform Act. Understand its practical application and its ever-evolving legal and business implications. Be an expert. You have the advantage of experience--and perhaps you took some relevant courses in school.  Many young attorneys, even those in health care law, cannot speak intelligently about this topic for more than a few minutes. Honestly.

Other ways to stay on top of this field:
•      Join the American Healthcare Lawyers Association (there’s a $15 student rate) and take advantage of the rich educational opportunities it offers. 
•       Audit a course or two at a local college, law school, or school of public policy.
•       Stay on top of current developments via Google Alerts, RSS Feeds, and strategic Twitter follows.  

4.  Engage. Understand the industry: its structure, its people, its culture. Network intensively. Stand out. Build value.
  
5.  Finally, when you’re ready to restart the job hunt, research your opportunities with care. Where are your chances best? What practice areas interest you the most? Who do you know who can help you?

Now you’re ready to revise your resume, cover letter, and interview pitch to conform to a new and vastly more appealing set of facts, one that goes something like this:

"I went to law school to learn the skills I needed to leverage my business knowledge of the health care industry into a career as a health care lawyer.  When I graduated I carefully assessed the job market, the economy, and the condition of the legal profession and concluded that my education was incomplete.

"So I took charge of my career, deferred law practice, and acquired the knowledge and practical expertise I needed to jump-start a promising practice.

"Hire me because I bring maturity, expert knowledge, and a valuable industry network to the table. Hire me because I am sure to be on a faster track to productivity, and profitability, than your other candidates. Hire me because I can take care of myself."

Good luck.

Elizabeth Munnell can be reached at emunnell@munnellassociates.com.

Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? Email The Careerist's chief blogger Vivia Chen at VChen@alm.com.

Photo: Fotolia.com

Comments

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AJ, Thank you for reading and commenting on my guest post. I know that these are frustrating times, and that it is infuriating to face so difficult a market after running up enormous debt on the assumption that you'd have a good job upon graduation.
T.M. faces serious challenges. The "blustering nonsense" part of the paragraph you cite is intended to emphasize the very detailed, "concrete" advice contained in each of the other paragraphs, suggesting ways for T.M. to stand out and to add palpable value on the job, so that he can assure himself the best references possible, and set himself apart from other applicants. But if you have any specific questions about the strategy I've outlined, please let me know and I would be happy to elaborate.
Thanks.

Elizabeth Munnell gives T.M. excellent advice. Yes, first pass the bar exam. And then make yourself into a go-to expert. What a terrific approach!


Let me only warn, as someone who has been working with bar candidates for more than 20 years, that it may take more than coaching for T.M. to get through the bar exam. It will certainly take more than just reviewing the books. A lot depends on last previous scores. How close did T.M. come? What was T.M.'s MBE score?


If those scores were low, T.M. may have to give up working for two months and re-enroll in whatever full bar review course did not work the first time. But this time, hand in all the essays, if that was not done before. Or this time, do the daily quizzes. Or this time, stick to the suggested daily study schedule. Whatever the problems that got in the way before, to make this the last time, T.M. has got to get with the program.

Healthcare Reform Act?
First, it's going to be repealed (Thank God!)
Second, the reason no one can speak intelligently about it is because it was put together by Nancy Pelosi and no one understands anything that comes out of the Hoary Harpie of the House.

Although it's nice to see that the forgotten classes of law students haven't been entirely forgotten, advice like "Engage" "Stand Out" "Build Value" is blustering nonsense that offers no concrete help.

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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