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October 31, 2006

A "writing test" may be part of your job application

FROM NALP EMAIL -- We recently asked finalists for one of our divisions to turn around a writing exercise in 48 hours, which we found extremely helpful in distinguishing between several excellent candidates. Having the opportunity to compare and contrast the writing samples knowing that our candidates all had the same timeframe within which to do the work was extraordinarily valuable.

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This is part of a (mini) tidal wave from employers who are trying to discover what kind of skills their candidates have before wasting valuable time in interviews. I have heard of this with both law firms and judges.

Law Firms The first law firm to do it was a Chicago litigation boutique which spun out of a Giant Law Firm. The always-helpful-but-extremely-expensive publication OF COUNSEL explained that the firm planned its growth around cherry-picking junior laterals from Giant Law Firm Litigation Departments. The boutique’s managers assumed that laterals with the credentials good enough for Giant Law Firms could actually write. After finding that assumption to be flawed, those managers instituted a writing test before the first face-to-face interview.

Judges Many judges will put their candidates in a room with some documents and a laptop and ask that they write a bench memo that becomes part of their application package.

The main work of most law-trained people is reading, writing, talking on the phone and going to meetings. Most of the reading and writing is done somewhere between in-a-hurry and shriekingly-close-to-the-statute-of-limitations. Asking students to provide a time-limited writing sample that is unambiguously their own work provides employers with good preview of their candidates' skills and provides those of us in career development an opportunity to remind students and alumni of the primacy of legal writing.

October 30, 2006

Should I take the Patent Bar While I'm Still in School?

When you take the patent bar exam while you are in law school:

1. Sometimes passing the Patent Bar can give someone with not-so-great grades just the boost needed to get hired. Note that passing the Patent Bar does magically not turn a BS in Biology into a PhD in Computer Science. Patent practitioners are almost always hired because of their underlying degree(s), and The Ever-changing Market Rules on which sciences are "hot" and how much grad school is preferred.

2. The timeline for racking up patent experience can begin the minute you pass the patent bar and start work as a Patent Agent. You are able to bill at a professional, not-a-law-clerk rate.

3. You have to pay for bar review and the bar exam and your future employer may not reimburse you.

When you take the patent bar exam after starting work as a lawyer:

1. Employers pay for the bar review and the bar exam. Sometimes candidates are sent to fancy hotels in New York to study for this exam.

2. Some IP firms prefer that that their attorneys take the patent bar after they work in the office for a bit. What happens, then, if you want to change jobs before passing the test? Your marketability is somewhat diminished because you been a patent clerk, not a patent lawyer. When asked "How long have you been a patent lawyer?" and the answer is "I'm not one," you may have hit on a deal-breaking conversation killer. Or, perhaps not. There is no way to predict this with certainty.

3. You have to take the exam on your employer’s timeline.

Your Privacy and Your Job Search: You're fired!

You think that you have absorbed all of the 21st century Electronic Personna lessons by:

1. Scrubbing your MyElectronicSocialFacebookSpace sites for inappropriate material;

2. Persuading your pals to eliminate your name and face from their sites; and

3. Recording a professional message on all of your phones.

And yet, your electronic calendar at work contains all of the details of your personal life, including your job interview information. What's the problem? It's your personal calendar, after all.

Whatever gave you that idea? Your employer paid for both the hardware and the software, and can "audit" your electronic activity at any time.

After discovering that you are looking for a job, an employer may fire you, so that you may continue to search full time.

Please add the following to your 21st Century Electronic Personna checklist:

4. Keep private information out of your employer's calendar.

October 20, 2006

Public Service Resource: PSLawNet

PSLawNet, NALP's Public Service Law Network Worldwide, is a network of over 170 law schools and more than 11,000 law-related public interest organizations in the U.S. and around the world.

Through its online database, PSLawNet provides a comprehensive clearinghouse of public interest organizations and opportunities for lawyers and law students. Users can perform customized searches of public interest opportunities around the world, ranging from short-term volunteer and paid internships to full-time jobs, fellowships and pro bono opportunities.

PSLawNet facilitates a sharing of public interest resources and expertise by:

* Sponsoring the NALP/PSLawNet Public Service Mini Conference, an educational meeting for law school public interest advisors
* Appearing on and initiating a variety of panels and programs on public interest issues at other conferences nationwide
* Presenting annual Pro Bono Publico awards to formally recognize law students for outstanding pro bono commitment
* Publishing an annual edition of The Comprehensive Fellowship Guide - The Ultimate Resource for Lawyers and Law Students, containing the most extensive information available on post-graduate fellowships
* Providing information on a wide variety of public interest events, job fairs, and other resources through links on our website.

October 18, 2006

Cover Letter Writing Strategies

Kimm Walton, in her book Guerrilla Tactics for Getting the Legal Job of Your Dreams, suggests there are three basic types of cover letters for potential legal employers.

1. 'Personal' Letters - These are letters that you send to people you have met or to "people with whom you have a mutual acquaintance". It is best to begin this letter: " [Mutual acquaintance] recommended that I contact you." Most people get their interviews and positions through the people they know or who they have met.

2. 'Targeted' Letters - These letters are crafted as a result of some research (size of firm, areas of practice, biographies of lawyers who work there, cases the employer is or has been involved in, etc.). In your letter, you reflect what you've learned and how they will be able to use your skills, experience, and interests.

3. Mass Mailers - Walton devotes six paragraphs (pages 181-182) as to why this type of mailing is not encouraged. Frankly, this method is extremely impersonal, misleading, and akin to fishing in the Pacific Ocean without bait and without knowing what you are fishing for. But most important - it doesn't yield results.

A Suggested Format is Offered Below

Walton continues by suggesting that your cover letter include these three parts:

Part 1: Who are you and why you are writing?
Part 2: Why should they meet you?
Part 3: What do you want to happen next?

Finally, your cover letter is typically an employer's first look at your writing. Ensure that it is well-written, professional, and error free. Have someone read it over before sending it out.

For more information, visit https://inside.law.umn.edu/cpdc/resumes-cover-letters Also, feel free to have one of the CPDC staff members review your career development documents.

October 11, 2006

Blogging Has Its Benefits

A recent alumnus of the law school sent us an e-mail this week describing his experience with a potential employer that identified him from his blog. Here is an excerpt of the e-mail he sent to us:

"I just got an email from the general counsel of a rather high-profile digital music startup in San Francisco asking me to submit my resume for an open in-house counsel position. He mentioned that he'd decided to email me because he'd noted my interest in and familiarity with the relevant legal issues from posts on my blog."

"I declined, since I already accepted an offer from [another employer]. But I think it's notable that I attracted interest for what would be a job that's very high on my "dream job" list not because I was a [judicial law] clerk, but because of my blog."

"So if they can use the blog to demonstrate that they are really competent in and passionate about a certain area of law, I would encourage students to consider starting a legal blog. If it's a chore, that will come through, but if the student really enjoys writing about and discussing the subject, that enthusiasm can come through and can have positive consequences."

Not everyone may want to take the time and effort to create and maintain a blog. However, it's interesting to note the potential upsides of a presence on the web. As always, you want to make sure that you monitor your entries and make sure they reflect positively on you as much as possible.

October 9, 2006

Going Federal

Many students express interest in working for the public sector. Perhaps it's the sense of satisfaction that comes with working on behalf of the public good. Or the impression that the lifestyle is more liveable. Or a substantive interest in an area of practice heavily regulated by the government (for example, corporate law and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)).

There are many excellent reasons to consider working for the federal government. To get a broad overview, I recommend starting with the 2006-2007 NALP Federal Legal Employment Opportunities Guide. A copy of the guide can be obtained here (It's a long document, so be prepared to read on-line.) The Guide provides helpful information about the range of practice opportunities, career paths and strategies for getting a legal job with the federal government.

Another often overlooked program for law students is the Presidential Management Fellows Program (PMF). This program enables fellows to work for executive agencies in the federal government at largely non-practice positions. Many of these positions do involve law, but usually as it relates to policy, legislation and regulatory administration. Law students are often sought after by employers in this program, a welcome change from other competitiive legal hiring environments. (Oh, yeah, that OCI thing.) For more information on the PMF, got to the following link:

https://www.pmf.opm.gov/index.aspx

October 5, 2006

Think Before You Hit the Send Button

You know it's happened to you: you quickly fire off an e-mail response to someone and forget to spell check it. Or you include a sarcastic or flip remark in your message. Or you use shorthand terms and abbreviations expecting the recipient to know exactly what you mean. In each circumstance, you have no idea how the reader will interpret what you have written. The beauty of e-mail is that it's easy, quick and cheap. The downside is that the usual 20 seconds of reflection that would normally be taken in composing a letter or making a phone call doesn't happen. Unfortunately, once the message has left your outbox, you have completely lost control of it and its contents.

What's the answer? Think before you hit the send button. You should expect that every e-mail you send has the capacity to end up in places you would never expect to be read by people who were not the intended audience. Don't send in haste and repent in leisure. Take time to make sure that your e-mails, whether to friends, law school colleagues, professional contacts or prospective employers, are as professional as possible. Because you may never have a chance to explain yourself, you want to ensure that whatever you do is the best representation of you and your thoughts.

Moreover, some employers complain about poor e-mail etiquette from new lawyers. Older lawyers may not be used to e-mail as a standard method of communication. They may resent messages that seem too informal or poorly thought out. Furthermore, you want to be known as someone who can be trusted with important client matters and responsibility. If you wouldn't click chewing gum in a business meeting, why commit the same mistake by sending an e-mail that is the electronic equivalent?

October 4, 2006

ASK for what you want...

Sales professionals -- people who live and die by their results -- know that you have to "Ask for the Order." Job searching and networking are no different -- you have to ask for what you want.

Interviewing and Job Searching -- When 7 out of 10 people walk out of an interview leaving the interviewer with no idea whether the candidate is actually interested in the job. Don't waste this opportunity to ask for what you want. Look the interviewer straight in the eye, shake hands and say "I am very interested in continuing in the interview process, and hope to work for you in the (next few weeks, summer, fall, or next judicial term)."

Networking -- After slaving over the text of a letter or email explaining who you are, don't neglect to ask for what you want: a 20-minute meeting next week, a ten-minute phone call by the end of this week; a chance to shadow a prosecutor or defender; or an invitation to a bar association committee meeting.

October 3, 2006

E-mail etiquette #767...

When emailing to introduce yourself to a stranger whose career you covet, consider how busy he is and write your email accordingly:

1. Be brief. You are writing to a busy person. Attach a resume, don't recap it in the email.

2. Get to your point quickly -- and ask for what you want. If you want advice, ask for a 20-minute meeting or phone call near the top of the email. Although parents and best friends may read 14 paragraphs from you, strangers may stop at the second sentence.

3. Do not waste valuable email real estate with any of the following:

(a) something she already knows ("You are a distinguished graduate of the U of Minnesota.");

(b) something that a law student is unlikely to know with certainty ("You are one of the foremost practitioners of your generation."); or

(c) something so self-serving that it slithers off the page ("Undoubtedly, you are among the top in your profession in these areas and your input would be enormously helpful to me as I start down my own path as an attorney.")

4. Never send an email with an empty subject line. Many readers delete emails with no subject. Make every word count, making them informative and specific.

5. Create a useful signature block with your name, address and phone number. Listing your phone number invites a phone call. This is a good thing -- don't deprive yourself of this opportunity to make a connection.

An excellent chapter on this subject is in A new and expanded Woe is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better Plain English, Patricia T. O'Conner, Riverhead Books, 2003, $14.00.

October 1, 2006

Tiny things that get noticed -- and not in a good way

Recent reminders from alumni who read applications:

1. Who gets the letter #1 Make sure that the address at the top of the letter (the inside address) and the "Dear Mr.X" match.

2. Who gets the letter #2 When attaching a letter and resume to an email, make sure that the letter is addressed to the email's recipient.

3. Consider the recipient and your message. You may need more than one resume:

(a) The one-page-focused-on-grades resume for out of town Big City employers making the first cut for grades -- one grad said he had a very hard time with his Hiring Committee whose members looked askance at two-page resumes from a 24-year-old law students;

(b) The one-page, tightly-edited greatest hits of your life resume for employers interested in your grades and your writing or interested in your practical skills and experience;

(c) The as-long-as-it-takes resume that covers all of your public interest and public service for public law jobs and fellowships.

(d) The absolutely-everything-you-have-ever-done resume that should live on a secure place on your hard drive and on a flash drive that you will use for bar applications and for the biograply that you'll need to prepare in a few years when you are running for office or nominated for a judgeship. Trust me when I tell you that you will have forgotten your undergraduate honors when you are over 40.

(e) If you are a second-career lawyer, you may start out as a law student with a page-and-a-half, but you will need to tightly edit and condense your pre-legal career unless it is directly pertinent to the work you plan to do. (Accountants and Working Scientists and Engineers should include some professional details.)