Guest Post by Eliza Steinberg and Cheyenne Somers of Griffiths Law PC
For law students, finding employment is usually a highly competitive and often stressful endeavor. Now, COVID-19 has forever changed what we deemed “normal” and students must adapt or risk having employers overlook them. To avoid being left behind, here are the top five questions every law student has about getting a job in the wake of COVID-19. Here to provide their insight are Eliza Steinberg, a Denver Law alum and the hiring manager at Griffiths Law PC, and Cheyenne Somers, a 3L part-time student at Denver Law and full-time paralegal at Griffiths Law.
Question 1: How has the hiring process in the legal profession shifted due to COVID-19?
Somers: Although the legal services market wasn’t impacted as much as others during COVID-19, moving forward, law students must adapt their typical strategies to find employment. Finding an employer who can commit to hiring law students upon graduation will likely look different than “normal.” For example, most companies won’t attend conduct in-person interviews or attend On-Campus Interviews in person. If your school is hosting them at all, these interviews will likely be done virtually. Additionally, shifting to an honors/pass/fail grading system will require law students to find other ways of separating themselves from the pack. Law students can no longer rely as heavily on their grades and class rank to secure coveted internships and employment offers.
Steinberg: We are conducting all first-round interviews via the Zoom platform. Zoom interviews are less time consuming and easier to coordinate because people can interview from any location. This shift is opening the door to more out of state applicants and allowing employers to conduct more first-round interviews. The applicants for jobs right now are diverse. We are seeing applicants from all backgrounds with varying levels of experience. COVID-19 definitely shook-up the legal profession, and we are seeing many lawyers shifting their practice areas to adjust to the changes. While the legal industry has not been as affected as others by COVID-19, many firms have put in hiring freezes, and it can be very difficult for new attorneys to find jobs in this competitive marketplace.
Question 2: Should I take a lower-paying job to get my foot in the door?
Somers: While unemployment levels are high and companies are in a holding pattern to maintain their current staff, it is more important than ever for law students to find creative ways to get their foot in the door. Law students entering this job market must maintain perspective and patience in finding employment. If an employment opportunity presents itself, but it isn’t quite the position or salary you wanted, you should seriously consider the offer. Many times, part-time jobs or unpaid internships can evolve into full-time employment. Every law student will enter “the real world” and getting your foot in the door is the most crucial first step you can take. Just because it is your first step, doesn’t mean that it will be the path you stay on forever. If you find difficulty getting into the legal market, you should consider alternative practice areas and legal jobs, where you will be surrounded by successful individuals and gain experience. Even if the position initially provides less money or seemingly less prestige, these opportunities can provide invaluable experience, mentorship, and references for your career in the future.
Steinberg: The uncertainty in the legal profession created by COVID-19 will pass. However, during this uncertainty, you need to demonstrate to potential employers that you are a resilient opportunist that can make the best of a bad situation. If accepting a lower-paying job is the only way to get your foot in the door, take it. If a position outside your A-list presents itself, take it. Employers typically ask about gaps in employment on resumes. Employers like to see self-starters who demonstrate a good work ethic. Take advantage of opportunities that build your resume and give you marketable experience even if the pay is less than you hoped for.
Question 3: What is the best way to build a professional network during a pandemic or economic recession?
Somers: No doubt, COVID-19 has encouraged everyone to shrink their social networks. This contradicts the standard advice that law students should rapidly expand their professional networks. I would challenge law students looking to grow their professional network in the wake of COVID-19 to focus on creating meaningful connections with a few mentors rather than making many acquaintances. Students should think about their current network and find someone they admire professionally but just never had the time to invest in the relationship before. If law students don’t have any existing connections, I would encourage them to contact professionals in their field of interest to offer to assist on projects. COVID-19 has thrown a wrench in many legal professionals’ daily lives, and many could use an extra hand. Law students could get their foot in the door by assisting other professionals in writing articles, blogs, or conducting legal research. Once you get your foot in the door, they must be mutually beneficial to both the mentor and the mentee to maintain mentorships. In a market such as this, law students will need to help their mentor first before asking for mentorship in return. The path to an outstanding mentorship is most certainly a two-way street.
Steinberg: Although it may seem like social gatherings are on hold—they are not. There are no shortages of CLEs, award celebrations, board meetings, conferences, and happy hours—they are just occurring in the virtual world. Find an organization that you are interested in and attend their events. This is a great way to build your network. Focus on a select few organizations and show up to their meetings and events. If you do this, you will get noticed. There are many non-profit legal organizations, bar association sections, and other volunteer organizations that would love to have you get involved.
Question 4: what can you learn about a company/firm by observing their response to COVID-19?
Somers: This is a crucially important time to be observant of the leaders in the legal industry. Be especially attentive of any specific companies or firms you have your eye on as a potential employer. Ask classmates, friends, and mentors about how their companies and firms responded to COVID-19. Be sure to consider the following: Were they in a financial position to maintain their staff? What was their marketing presence like during the outbreak – did they cover emerging topics of law? Did they have sufficient technology to transition to a remote environment easily? Were they flexible and accommodating to their staff? How did the company’s leadership respond? How companies and firms react in tumultuous times should speak volumes to anyone looking for future employment.
Steinberg: You can learn a lot about a firm’s ability to adapt to changes by observing its response to COVID-19. For our firm, we had to adjust to working from home. We began conducting trials and meetings in a remote setting and ensuring that clients received the same excellent service level as they did pre-COVID. Implementing safety measures to ensure that employees and clients feel safe from a health perspective is also critical to success during COVID. Our office has been able to keep its doors open throughout the pandemic due to the safety precautions followed by all employees and the protective measures implemented by the firm. These safety measures included having glass barriers in all conference rooms and at the reception, as well as adding hand sanitizing stations throughout the office, offering sterilized/packaged pens for clients, following the mandatory mask requirements, and exercising social distancing at all times.
Question 5: What should I do right now to put myself in the best position for my professional life after COVID-19?
Somers: The best way to promote yourself as a future employee is to become an expert with emerging technologies. Many firms rely on their younger staff members to be proficient in remote technologies, such as Zoom, conference calls, WebEx, etc. Also, use this time to update and revamp your resume and cover letter, remembering that employers will be looking at more than just your grades to see who stands out. If you are worried about finding employment and are considering extending your degree to add a tax LLM or a certificate program, this may be a good time to do so. Finally, if you are returning to school for another semester, continue to work hard in classes, irrespective of whether the classes are pass/fail, as you will need the education for the bar and in life. Stay healthy, study hard, and set yourself up for success.
Steinberg: Don’t put your professional development on hold because of COVID-19. The professional world is not on hold, and you will stand out as a candidate for employment if you can demonstrate that you maximized the time during COVID-19 to improve your skills, resume, and overall employability. Sit in on a virtual trial, attend a Zoom happy hour, and volunteer to help a non-profit with fundraising. E-mail some attorneys and see if they will sit down with you for coffee (virtually or socially distanced). Demonstrating your ability to persevere and improve your professional development despite a global pandemic will set you ahead of the pack when it comes to getting a job after law school.