Finding Your First Legal Job

Finding Your First Legal Job
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Legal recruiters typically only work with lateral attorneys; however, we receive calls and emails from new graduates looking for guidance on finding their first job. Here are a few suggestions for those looking for their first position as a lawyer.

Finding Work Is Your Full-Time Job for Now

Treat your search like regular full-time employment. Though the hours and dress code may be different, to be competitive, you will likely need to invest a similar amount of time until you find the right fit. It is work, but it is worth the investment. Keep detailed notes of contacts you make including dates and status updates.



Know What You Want

To best market yourself for your first legal position, you need a clear vision of the position you want. Hopefully, you know what you’d like to do upon graduating law school. We find, however, that many new attorneys struggle with identifying the type of work they want. If you fall in that camp, do some research. Law school placement offices, recruiters, alumni, and legal blogs are good places to start.

Talk to attorneys about their jobs and the legal market. There are pros and cons to every practice and you can find attorneys in every type of practice that love – or hate – their job. When speaking with attorneys, ask specific questions. You want to get good information to make an informed decision. If you are interested in a type of practice and think it could be a good fit for you, try to find someone in that area that enjoys their work. Ask them about the pros and cons of their practice.

Do’s and Don’ts: Networking With Other Attorneys

We find most attorneys want to help new attorneys be successful. However, keep in mind that one of the most important resources for attorneys is their time. Be respectful of time constraints. If someone takes the time to talk to you, express gratitude by sending a thank you note or email.


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If you speak with someone, do your research before you meet. Keep your requests appropriate. Be careful about asking someone directly for a job or a recommendation. They don’t know you, so asking for a recommendation to their firm is inappropriate. If they recommend you to their firm/company and the relationship sours, their job and/or credibility could be at risk. If you ask too much too soon, people will begin to feel defensive and avoid you. It is OK to ask for advice on your search, ask if they know of any positions available, or if they know anyone you should talk with. If they offer to recommend or hire you for a position, that’s great!

If you are approaching someone you don’t know, let them know why you are contacting them and what your expectations are. For example, “I watched your arguments before the Arizona Supreme Court and I was impressed with your training and preparation. I respect your work as a litigator. As a new graduate with an interest in litigation, do you have any advice for me? Is there anyone you recommend I speak with?”

The Résumé

In the heading of your résumé include your name, address, cell phone number, and personal email address. Keep your résumé to one page. Begin with your educational background, including dates and locations. Keep scholastic awards and activities to a minimum. Include professional memberships and licenses within or right below your education section. Employment history should be listed in reverse chronological order, including dates, after your education section. Don’t go back too far on your employment section. You don’t need to include that pest control job that you worked during the summers back in college.

The Cover Letter

A cover letter is your sales pitch. Its importance should not be underestimated. Like any effective sales pitch it must be tailored to the “prospect.” Make sure your message does not appear to be mass-marketed. Don’t use jargon, too many abbreviations or overly complicated language. Keep it short and simple. Spell check and proof it – twice.


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The first paragraph should state the position you are applying for. If someone has referred you, include that person’s name. A second paragraph can contain additional information not found on your résumé. You can also highlight some part of your background that will make you a particularly good fit for that position. Your closing should thank the addressee for their consideration, request an interview or a meeting, and list the best way to reach you.

Looking for your first legal job is a challenge, but it is also a great opportunity. There are many wonderful lines of work in the Arizona legal market and you will be the one to decide where you go and what you do. If you invest the necessary time, attention and work, we are confident you will be amazed at the results. Natalie Thorsen

Natalie Thorsen

Partner at Phyllis Hawkins & Associates LLC, Natalie Thorsen practiced eminent domain law prior to joining the firm and has owned and operated a successful professional development business.

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