The Deep End: Life After Law School
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.