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Networking is key in job hunt for new attorneys

November 2, 2016
Fryman Fryman

When attorney Benjamin Fryman began looking for his first law job in 2005, he often turned to the classifieds section of the Lake County Bar Association’s newsletter, which included a section for attorneys seeking jobs. That’s where he found an ad for a clerkship with the Lake County courts, a position he took while still in law school.

Later, Fryman learned of an opening at a Lake County firm that had a good working relationship with his co-workers at the court. Based on their recommendation, he faxed over his resume, got a call back within half an hour and landed a job soon thereafter, contingent on his passage of the bar.

Fryman acknowledges that today, the process of finding a job for recent law school graduates is generally neither as easy nor as fast as simply finding an ad and faxing out a resume, but there is one similarity he sees between today’s job hunt and his own a decade ago — the power of networking.

In the same way that his clerkship with the Lake County court helped him land his first post-graduate job at a law firm, Fryman said the careers of today’s law school graduates will benefit most from the connections made through pre-professional experiences, a sentiment shared by law school career development professionals.

Collyer Collyer

The National Association for Law Placement recommends that law students start honing their networking skills during their first semester on campus. The official date that career services advisers can begin working with 1L students to plot a career path is Oct. 15 of each year, said Rachel Dawson, assistant dean of career services at Indiana University Maurer School of Law in Bloomington.

Katie Collyer, a recent graduate of the IU Robert H. McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis, remembers her career coach — a mentor assigned to all McKinney students — reaching out to discuss her future career goals early in her first year as a law student. Collyer knew from the start that she was interested in sports law, so her career coach directed her to the NCAA’s job board, where she learned about different career opportunities, including compliance officer positions and sports law externships that she could participate in while still in school. After graduation, Collyer took a job working as an associate at Church Church Hittle & Antrim, where she now practices sports law, as well as family law, labor and employment, and municipal litigation.

Matching students with pre-professional opportunities that align with their interests is a cornerstone of McKinney’s approach to career counseling, said Chasity Thompson, assistant dean of the Office of Professional Development at the Indianapolis law school. Student interests are varied, she said, so they are encouraged to be vocal about their goals so that the law school can direct them to the appropriate job-search resources.

Sometimes, the best resource for a student might be to log on to Symplicity, an online career database that lists opportunities for externships, clerkships and post-graduate jobs, or other similar online job boards. Collyer said she often visited Symplicity in addition to searching the NCAA’s job board when she was looking for jobs.

But while online job boards are common and widely accepted, most career counselors agree that face-to-face contact with potential employers is the key to landing a professional legal job.

Students can make connections for their post-graduation careers simply by reaching out early in their time in law school, career counselors said. NALP standards allow first-year students to contact potential employers about summer employment opportunities as early as Dec. 1 of each year, Thompson said.

Focus jobs flowchartAt Notre Dame Law School, Vincent Versagli, director of career development, said his office generally advises students that the summer job they take between their second and third years of law school should be directly related to their long-term career goals. Mid-sized and large law firms often choose their future employees through their summer programs, so law students should select their second summer experience strategically in the hopes of being chosen for a job that aligns with their career plans.

Although Collyer’s second-year summer job did not ultimately lead to her current law firm position, she did earn that position through a clerkship there late in her law school career — one that she got through effective networking.

As a 2L, Collyer connected with a Church Church Hittle & Antrim attorney who had graduated from the same high school as her and who shared her interest in sports law. Collyer’s relationship with the attorney eventually led to her being offered a clerkship at the firm in January 2016, and that clerkship led to her post-graduation job offer.

Similarly, Fryman, who is now a founding partner and CEO of Schwerd Fryman & Torrenga LLP in Valparaiso, said the last time his firm hired a recent graduate, that person was selected for the job based on the recommendation of a former employer.

Fryman first hired the new attorney while he was a law student and brought him into the firm to work as a clerk. Although Fryman did not know the law student personally, the two shared a connection — they had both clerked for the same Lake County judge. When that judge recommended the student to Fryman, he decided to hire him, first temporarily, then eventually as a full-time associate.

Similar stories are common across the legal community, but Fryman said many law firms do not have programs in place to help recent graduates transition from students to professionals.

There are some myths many law school students believe that are generally shattered when they enter the professional world, namely that they will be able to go out and find clients with ease, Fryman said. That idea is far from true, he said, so law firms willing to hire recent graduates must also be willing to help them learn the ins and outs of the professional world.

But on the flip side, the Valparaiso attorney also said new attorneys must be willing to put in the extra work to get a better grasp on life as a full-time attorney and land on their feet at their first job.

Some jobs will naturally be out of reach for new lawyers, Fryman said. For example, recent grads shouldn’t expect to automatically slide into high-paying positions at large firms, because those jobs are reserved for attorneys with years of experience. Similarly, some jobs are more grades-centric than others, Versagli said, so a student who graduated closer to the bottom of the class may not be able to impress an employer with only an average GPA.

But those considerations are why networking is so important to the job search process, the career counselors said. A person may appear one way on paper, but it’s up to the new attorneys to show their true talent and potential by putting themselves out there for face-to-face contact with their prospective new boss.•

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