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Back to the Real World, for a Moment Anyway

This week was trial week.  The verdict came in yesterday. A verdict for my client.  I was so proud of the result I achieved for them, and even more proud of how I felt when I tried that case.  I had worked hard.  I prepared thoroughly.  When I got in that courtroom, I was ready to go. Trying a case is a lot like taking a big exam.  If you’re not well prepared, it’s frightening.  If you are well prepared, it’s exciting. You just want to get in there and show everyone what you can do.

After the trial came the crash.  Several long days of preparation last week followed by three straight days of the trial RUSH is exhausting.  I did go to work today, but didn’t make it all the way through.  I left a little early, and at home crashed into a nap for several hours.

I start another trial in 11 days.  I’m excited, not stressed. Trial is what this job is about, after all.

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Making the Most of Your First Legal Job Search After Law School @thelegalintel

My latest Young Lawyer column for The Legal Intelligencer:

You’ve graduated law school, passed the bar, and are raring and ready to go into practice.  Unfortunately, the job market has not been kind to its newest members.  Recent statistics show that only about half of new law school graduates have secured full time legal employment.  Qualified candidates abound, and it is essential for you to distinguish yourself from the competition.  Now that bar prep is behind you, you can take advantage of some newfound time for your job search as well as complementary activities.

Get Involved in Your Local Bar Association

 Many bar associations offer free memberships to lawyers in their first year of practice, and it is well worth the money (and more) to take advantage of this opportunity.  With far more candidates than there are open positions, networking is key. 

 Most bar associations offer committees and divisions for every possible interest, and all are equally valuable in networking opportunities.  By establishing yourself as a leader within the young lawyers division, you can make friends with other young lawyers who can give you a heads up when their firm is hiring, and maybe put your resume in the right hands.  Becoming involved in practice area focused committees will introduce you to more seasoned practitioners who may personally be making the hiring decisions.

 There is no one division of the bar that is better than any other in terms of networking potential.  Regardless of how you choose to associate yourself, assuming a leadership role is essential.  Show initiative, dedication, diligence and above all, friendliness, and you will stand out when a colleague learns of an open position. 

Pursue Pro Bono Projects

 Pro bono representation provides a valuable community service and is the ethical duty of every attorney.  It can also serve as a teaching ground for the nuts and bolts of basic practice.  Pro bono representation in conjunction with your local bar association is frequently covered through the bar association’s malpractice policy.  There are diverse opportunities for pro bono involvement, including serving as counsel in protection from abuse hearings, drafting estate documents through a local Wills for Heroes project, or preparing expungement petitions.  The pro bono committee or coordinator of your local bar association can point you in the right direction for these engagements.

 Pro bono practice is also a good entre into getting to know other local practitioners.  If you confront a legal issue with which you are unfamiliar, do not be shy about reaching out to more senior practitioners and asking for their thoughts.  Bouncing legal theories off a more experienced practitioner will increase the quality of your representation.  It also will not hurt that a more experienced colleague will get to know you and get a sense for the quality of your legal abilities.

   Publish! Publish! Publish!

 Legal newspapers, blogs, and bar association publications are continuously seeking high quality articles for publication.  Publishing articles on an area of law you are passionate about can help guide your job search.  For example, if you long to be a litigator, a well-worded article on a change in local procedure will catch the attention of attorneys in that field.  Changes in substantive law or procedural rules, new legislation, and noteworthy court decisions all make for useful, attention-grabbing articles.  Do not get hung up on the academic.  An article that makes the reader’s job easier—by concisely identifying the legal issue and giving practical advice for dealing with that issue—will best catch the attention of other practitioners.

 The guidelines for submitting an article are usually easily available in the publication itself or on its website.  You are better off authoring the full article ahead of time instead of just a pitch.  You can always put together a quick abstract later if the publication requires it.  You should only pitch your article to one publication at a time.  However, if the article is not picked up by one publication, feel free to pitch it to another.

 Be aware that local and small industry publications generally do not compensate their contributors.  The value in publishing is developing your own research and communication skills, and attracting the attention of other local attorneys who can help you in your job search, or possibly offer you employment themselves.

  Catch up on your Community

 The world is much larger than the practice of law, and your efforts toward legal employment should not be exclusively focused in the legal community.  Use this time to get involved with your community at large. 

 Nonprofits of all stripes are always seeking volunteers.  Arts organizations and charities need volunteers to solicit contributions for benefit events.  Better yet, most benefit events need volunteers for the event itself.  As a volunteer, you will forego the steep ticket price, help out an organization in need and have an opportunity to mingle.

 With time to spare and elections on the horizon, it is also an ideal time for you to canvass on behalf of your favorite political figure.  Young professionals’ organizations are also ideal for making connections, both in your job search and for long term business-building purposes.  It is hard to go wrong with community involvement– pick an interest and run with it.  You will better your community and make invaluable connections.

Meet People, Make Friends

The best opportunities are often happy coincidences.  “Networking” can be a dirty word, suggesting self-interest and shallowness.  Think of your job search as a time for meeting people and making friends.  While you will hope that they can keep you in mind for employment opportunities, also think about what you can do for them.  Respond “accepted” to as many events as you can and offer to help out the host.  Attend alumni events for your university.  Participate in “town hall” community meetings concerning local issues.  When folks hear you are a lawyer, they may well call you about legal advice that you as a job searching new graduate are not yet capable of giving.  Build up your relationships with other lawyers so that you can provide appropriate referrals, and you will receive thanks from both the lawyer and the client.

 Submitting resumes alone will not find you a job.  You need to approach this search period as a full time commitment to making broad but meaningful connections.  The job market is in employers’ favor right now, and it is in your best interest to set yourself apart as a candidate.  Leadership, enthusiasm, and developing a positive reputation in your community are all positive steps to distinguishing yourself in that next interview.

Reprinted with permission from the March 7, 2013 issue of The Legal Intelligencer.  Copyright 2013 ALM Media Properties, LLC.  Further duplication without permission is prohibited.  All rights reserved.

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Trial Day. Better Luck Next Time.

I didn’t post yesterday because I finally reached that point of tiredness where I was too tired for blogging. For me, that’s a big tired.

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Today we had our trial. I lost. I’m not happy about that. I had learned my lesson from day 1 of trial college. I prepared hard for this trial. I worked hard. I practiced. I even took it upon myself to pick to be responsible for the parts of trial that are the most challenging for me (opening, direct exams) and took on those tasks.

The judge who was assigned to my trial had very positive things to say about my partner and I. In fact, the only criticism she had of our our trial performance was that I was a little late with one objection. We put on a darn good trial. But we lost. I guess you just have that sometimes, but it’s extra frustrating when you are being taught and putting into action skills specifically designed to be persuasive (even when the facts are not great), and then you don’t manage to win over 5 brooding high school kids.

I’m definitely glad I went to trial college. I learned so much. The teacher’s pet in me loved hearing that I was on the right track, and even that I had a good handle on several “advanced” trial skills. The eternal student in me loved hearing the constructive criticisms, so I know where I need to work harder and grow more. My only regret in addition to not winning the trial) is that trial does not come up all too frequently, so it will probably be a while before I can put these skills into real life practice. Now it’s back to the real world, back to the writing and thinking, and back to the assignments that have piled up in my absence.

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Here’s a gunner, there’s a gunner, everywhere a gunner gunner

We’ve reached the point in the week where I’m too tired to find an appropriate graphic for this post.  We’ll go for the tried and true lolcat. Obviously.

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The only people who willingly spend the first week of the year in trial college are gunners.  There’s no way around it. And I’ve come to admit that I, too, am a gunner.

For those of you smart enough to have foregone law school, this is the definition of “gunner” (courtesy of UrbanDictionary):

A person (usually a medical or law school student) who uses over 3 different colored highlighters, tabs every page in their notebook, and raises their hand after every question asked by their professor, regardless of if they know the correct answer or not. Gunners like to hear themselves speak. They use complicated words to make themselves sound smart even though they have no idea what’s going on in class- they pretend they do. They are trying to intimidate you and eliminate competition.

The foolish thing about being a gunner at trial college is that there really *isn’t* competition. Sure, there’s a mock jury who picks who wins, so I guess there is a win/loss aspect, but the overarching purpose is to improve your trial skills.  That being said, and despite trying to keep my obnoxiousness under control, I admit that at times I totally caved to the “ooh pick me! pick me!” behavior.  But so did everyone else. That’s what you have here.

Most of my colleagues are in study rooms gearing up for their trials.  My trial isn’t until Thursday morning, so I have a little more time to prepare.  I also believe in the law of diminishing returns.  I worked darn hard during class hours from 8:30am-5pm today.  I worked through lunch.  I discussed and focused and gave it my all.  Then instead of spending my evening holed up in a study room with my trial partner, I went to yoga class. Hot hot hot yoga class.  And I think that change of scenery was just enough to enable me to structure my thoughts, so that now I think I have a pretty darn good opening statement prepared.  Sometimes a break really is worth its while.

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Trial College Brain Mush

As the days of trial college roll on, I become less and less capable of forming coherent thoughts in the evening time.  I’m so darn tired, my thoughts turn to mush.  Tonight after dinner, I somehow found myself in a shopping center, and blasted through $200 on pants and celebrity magazines.

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MINE! ALL MINE!

We only have one lecture session left, then it’s trial prep and TRIAL. We’re trying a personal injury/insurance coverage dispute. The topic gave me a shot of courage, it is right in my wheelhouse. Now if only we could try this case according to Allegheny County rules, then I’d be golden.

I feel like I’ve made big steps in just 3 days.  On day one, I was a little sheepish and afraid to ask the wrong question, or afraid I’d look foolish by saying the wrong thing.  But now that I’ve been up in front of the class several times, I’m feeling more comfortable.  I’m not so worried about saying the wrong thing.  I’m ready to say something and see if it works.  I’m lucky to be in a great class. We’re all 4-7 years in, we have similar trial experience, and there are no gunners (or, if there is a gunner, it’s probably me, but I’m trying to keep that obnoxiousness in check).

Opening statements were the most difficult part of the class for me, and I wish we had a chance to do them again in a classroom setting.  I guess I’ll just have to study up, take a deep breath, and get ready to open on trial day.  Wish me luck! (and wish me sanity!)

Esteemed counsel shocks and thrills the jury with her brilliant argument!

Esteemed counsel shocks and thrills the jury with her brilliant argument!

Unrelated: (maybe?) I keep trying to make a joke about how someone here is totally Ignatius J. Reilly.  Apparently I am THE ONLY PERSON AT TRIAL COLLEGE who has read a Confederacy of Dunces.  More book nerds at trial college, plz.  At least I think I’m funny.