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March 24th, 2015:

How to Get a Job at a Small Law Firm

I had the pleasure of participating in my law school alma mater’s Small Firm Week. One of the activities was an event featuring eight small firm lawyers who each had had table and a small group of students got to have lunch with them. It was a great way for students to meet local lawyers and learn about what it’s like to work at a small firm. For those of you who don’t know, I gave up my solo practice to become one of nine lawyers at Venjuris. I only use Carter Law Firm for professional speaking and writing.

One of the students at my table is interested in bankruptcy law and he asked me what he should do to try to get a job at a small firm. Here’s what I told him to do. This is also what I wish I did more of when I was a law student:

Social Media Camp 2009- Social Media for the Job Search by Dean Meyers from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Social Media Camp 2009- Social Media for the Job Search by Dean Meyers from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

1. My law school’s career services office maintains a list of all the law firms in Maricopa County (where Phoenix is located) that includes each firm’s practice areas and how many lawyers work in the local office. I told him to get a copy of this list.

2. Go through the list and find all the bankruptcy firms. Then do some research on the lawyers who work at each one and try to identify which ones might be people that you would want to have as your professional friends. I actually told him to look for lawyers that he would want to hang out and drink with. Networking is all about building your professional social circles.

3. Reach out to the lawyers you want to meet and asked them to lunch or coffee, or even just a 20-minute meeting in their office. (Lawyers are busy.) Ask them what it’s really liked to work in their practice area and if they have any tips for getting a job.

Notice I didn’t say ask them for a job. They will probably ask you if you have a summer job lined up or if you have secured a job for after you graduate. It’s a given that most law students are looking for a job. Unless a firm is advertising a job opening, asking for a job the first time you meet somebody is like trying to sleep with a person on the first date. It’s too forward and aggressive. I’ve heard some lawyers don’t go to the networking events with law students because they don’t like being hit up for jobs.

4. Instead, you want to foster relationships with the people you hope will be your friends when you graduate and pass the bar so they will think of you when they hear of a job opportunity. There are many firms that never advertise when they’re looking to add an associate. They just ask their network if anybody knows anyone who might be a good fit.

At the end of lunch I asked the students at my table for their cards, and I was surprised that none of them had business cards. Every law student needs a business card. You may be able to get them through your law school or there are plenty of places you can get them online. It just needs to have your name, your email address, your phone number, your school, and when you’re graduating.

I have a terrible memory when it comes to remembering names, but I use a contact database where I keep track of everyone I meet and where I meet them. Had the students given me their cards, I would have added them and they could have been on the list of people I would look up and recommend if I heard of a job opening or internship. But they didn’t give me their cards, so they’re not in my database, so unless they send me an email I will probably never have contact with them again.