- Delays in bar exams and firm start dates amid the ongoing COVID-19 crisis are upending law career paths.
- Business Insider spoke with legal recruiters on their advice on how recent graduates and career-changers can keep their skills sharp and leverage opportunities to advance their prospects in law.
- Finding pro bono work and clerkships, as well as developing your network are some of their top tips.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to throw wrenches into career plans, many would-be lawyers are stuck in a state of limbo.
Bar exams are being postponed, and a number of top law firms are delaying their fall start dates, leaving recent law school graduates unsure about how to fill up their time until they begin work — if they have a job lined up — or how to go about looking for one in an already unstable economy, if they don’t.
Business Insider spoke with four recruiters in the legal industry about how to keep your skills sharp, leverage relationships at law schools and law firms, and navigate this period of uncertainty.
Here are their top tips on staying on top of your game:
1. Engage in pro bono work
The most popular advice among experts was to find pro bono work, either through the law firm you’ll be working at or through a non-profit organization in your area.
“There’s really no shortage of pro bono work out there,” said Jacqueline Bokser LeFebvre, managing director at the legal recruiting company, Major, Lindsey & Africa. “It’s a mutually beneficial situation: It’ll allow recent graduates to develop and hone their skills, and it allows underserved portions of society to get legal representation.”
She also gave some good news during a time of uncertainty over the country’s bar exams: Would-be lawyers don’t need to pass the bar exam before doing pro bono work, as long as they’re working under the supervision of a licensed attorney.
In fact, some states’ bar admissions, like New York’s, have a pro bono requirement. “So getting pro bono experience only helps in the admissions process,” said Bokser LeFebvre.
During the last economic downturn in 2008, many law firms leveraged their pro bono clients to get their incoming associates work, according to Thomas O’Donnell, division director of Parker + Lynch Legal.
“It’s something that helps them build experience and helps them get exposed to areas of law that perhaps they wouldn’t have otherwise been exposed to,” he explained. “It also helps build relationships both with the firm and with their pro bono clients.”
Read more: Top law firms like Kirkland & Ellis and Jones Day have delayed their first-year associate classes. Here’s everything we know about new start dates, pay, and benefits so far.
2. Pursue clerkships, short-term work, or an LLM degree
A clerkship, work opportunities in other niches, or a master’s degree in law (LLM) would not only bridge the gap in time before finding or starting full-time employment but also help advance your career.
“I think it might be a good time to pivot and think about an alternative trajectory as a kind of a stepping stone,” said Bokser LeFebvre. “This might be a really good time for individuals to maybe consider an LLM program, or, if they want to focus on a particular niche like tax or bankruptcy, for individuals to pursue a clerkship and get substantial government experience.”
For those looking to get into a corporate law firm, O’Donnell told Business Insider that some law schools have programs to connect students and recent graduates with entrepreneurs who may not have enough funding to hire a law firm. That way, they can get the transactional legal experience they need to go into corporate work.
Finding shorter-term work is useful if you don’t have a job lined up right now, said Erica V. Cesaro, the attorney search director at Parker + Lynch Legal. “If you’re frustrated with the lack of movement in a certain direction, apply to positions that allow for contract or temporary work in a legal role, and that can sometimes give you a foot in the door.”
Read more: Some young lawyers taking the bar exam online could see their scores canceled if they touch their face, fidget, or twirl their hair
3. Double down on networking and soft skills
Now is a great time to build your network and develop soft skills, like finding mentorship, that will help boost your career — especially since lawyers are likely to be more responsive while working from home, said Nathan Peart, managing director at Major, Lindsey & Africa.
“For those that are lucky enough to have a job, be in constant dialogue with your department, the partners at the firm and get their ideas to see whether that’s going to affect your livelihood,” advised Cesaro. “And if you’re looking for work… I would start to try to put feelers out there.”
When networking virtually, Peart and Bokser LeFebvre recommend using LinkedIn.
“Connect with everyone you meet virtually, including other people in your class, alumni, etc.,” advised Peart. “Start a group, share experiences, engage with content, and ask questions. Ask people to spend time on a virtual coffee/call to understand their experiences and get their tips. Be super proactive even if it feels awkward.”
And, with the uncertainty caused by delays to bar exams and start dates, it’s also important to keep tabs on developments both in firms and in the larger legal industry.
“You want to make sure you’re involved and have your voice heard to expedite your becoming a licensed attorney,” Cesaro said.