The Deep End: Life After Law School

the deep end
New attorney Katie Ludwick reflects on unemployment and job hunting and offers pointers.

the deep end

I probably shouldn’t write this.

As a fresh law school graduate, currently awaiting receipt of a Washington State Bar Card that will proudly boast my Bar number, I should probably be redirecting myself towards positive thoughts and productivity — or, at the very least, subtly bragging about my accomplishments (they are many and varied!) to a readership full of potential employers.

But there’s room for truth in this profession, so I might as well own it: I am unemployed. And living at home with my parents. I have been thrown headfirst into the Deep End, clawing my way to the surface while my parents watch. (Strangely enough, the living at home part has thus far been easy. I have access to a fridge full of food, a washing machine that does not require quarters, and cable. My pride may suffer, but I am grateful for the help.)

For all my law school activities (law review and moot court and class president, oh my!) and a two-year clerkship, I still lack that one silver bullet that promises to demolish every iron-clad HR door and get me that coveted interview: experience.

My quest for experience is severely hampered by my lack of a bar number. After my swearing-in, riding high from the passionate speech of Judge McDermott, I returned home, eager to join the King County Bar Association and sign myself up for volunteer opportunities… until I learned that membership requires a bar number. My grand schemes and plans had to wait another two weeks while the Supreme Court made the final ruling on my minimal competence.

Which brings me to the theme of life after law school: It’s a whole lot of waiting. Waiting is the one thing we’re not taught in law school, yet it can prove invaluable. In fact, law school is devoid of a lot of useful lessons that can go a long way in the Deep End. Sure, we get the basics: Dress professionally for an interview; send a thank-you card; use active verbs on your résumé. But if living with my parents has taught me anything, it’s that those headliners aren’t the whole story. The following are a few pointers I wish someone had told me.

Define yourself outside unemployment.

Not having a job can feel a lot like failure, and it’s easy for that term to worm itself into one’s daily vocabulary and self-talk. But being a lawyer is not the only way to identify oneself. There are plenty of things to be good at in life, and when unemployed, it’s time for those hobbies and activities to jump front and center.

For me, while I can’t necessarily measure success in the employment arena, I can measure it in the gym. The Bar wreaked havoc on my waistline, so I might as well use this lull to prep for a half-marathon. My fitness is one of the few things I can control in my life, and I can do it relatively cheaply. Plus, there’s the bonus of having an excuse to not drink, and that spark of approval in my parents’ eyes when I tell them I managed five miles today. Running allows me to set personal goals that I can accomplish every day.

Dress for stress.

I sweat. A lot. I have known this since I had to wring out a T-shirt after a half-hour of dodgeball in gym class. Yet this is a fact I always seem to forget when dressing for interviews, especially when it comes to my favorite pair of light gray wool pants. I have had to awkwardly clamber up from an interview chair and somehow casually swing my purse behind me to cover my sweaty posterior as I walk down the hallway to the elevator. Not my finest moment.

Interviews are for putting forth your best self, so dress for the worst-case scenario. For me, this means considering how much I’ll start to sweat when I’m still stuck in traffic minutes before an interview, or how far I will have to walk when the cheapest parking is eight blocks away. Plan for stress: dark colors, comfortable shoes, loose but fashionable tops that will be slow to show sweat stains.

Pump your professors.

These people had lives before taking up the mantle of the Socratic method.  Make the most of it. My Secured Transactions professor was easily the best on campus, thanks to his enthusiasm and easy-to-grasp methodology. After law school, I shot him a quick email, attributing my bar exam success in part to his way of thinking. He offered to put me in touch with his friends in Seattle who could tell me more about their commercial-based areas of law. Suddenly, my short list of contacts got a bit longer.

Don’t be afraid to revise your résumé.

In law school and immediately following, I treated my résumé as though it was set in stone. I always made an effort to tailor my cover letter appropriately, but my résumé usually stayed the same. My epiphany: I could use the buzz words in the job posting to guide the tone of my résumé. Suddenly my résumé felt fresh, pertinent, and completely relevant to the job opening at hand. We’ll see whether prospective employers agree.

9 thoughts on “The Deep End: Life After Law School

  1. Stella Edens Pederson

    While studying for and after I passed the bar exam, I took temp jobs through an agency. The agency sent me to several firms in King County as a receptionist. While it was at times demoralizing to be doing the same work I had done in high school, I got to know people in law firms and they learned my work ethics and capabilities. One of these positions turned into a permanent associate position with a solo practitioner, and I was on my way!

    Good luck.

  2. Joann L. Pheasant

    You should post your contact information here. There may be opportunities that come to you based on this article, whether it’s a short term assignment, a temporary job or a permanent job. I have hired law students in the past to work on briefs; there may be other attorneys who need some help as well. Smaller law firms often can’t hire another person but you might get some valuable experience to add to your CV.

  3. Barbara A. Peterson

    Try to volunteer in the Prosecutor’s Office if they still do that. You’ll gain invaluable experience, civil and criminal, and they’ll get to like your great personality. Best of luck and don’t ever apologize for “living at home”!! Be with your parents as long as you can, they won’t always be there!

  4. Kimberly Loges

    Good luck Katie! You’re not alone! Get involved as much as you can. You’ll find that volunteering is great experience.

  5. Allison Peryea

    What an entertaining piece! I love your honesty and quick wit. Good luck on your job search!

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