JET is a rewarding experience for a number of reasons– it exposes you to culture and language beyond your own. It teaches you adaptability. It teaches you how to deal with being completely unaware of the nuances of the situation around you and yet still able to navigate around it. What it doesn’t do however, is help your personal network. And, the longer you’re on JET, the more damage it potentially does. In the meantime, your future law school classmates are networking and meeting with the people who will be vital in helping them find legal employment. I was on JET for three years — and by the time I left Japan many of my U.S. contacts had gone cold and my network consisted almost exclusively of fellow JETs, rice farmers, and ramen chefs.
This wasn’t the strongest foundation upon which to build a legal career or mount a legal job search in economically tough times. If you’re going to be doing law school right after JET, I am confident you will have the adaptability and the thick skin to handle the rigors of law school. Where you’ll need to play catch up with the rest of your class is in expanding your network.
You’ll also have to do most of this work on your own. Law school does little to develop your personal networking skills, especially if you’re looking to play yourself into the Japanese market. It offers some opportunities, but aside from Career Counselors telling you: “Go out and network,” the actual advising you can take from them is near nil. I remember sitting down with Career Services to discuss local Japanese businesses that might take interns in-house. I got names of two major companies in the area, and that was all. No contact information, no names, addresses, or alumni. All I got from the CSO was just a cursory “Try here, and here.” Better than nothing, but certainly not enough to even have a starting place to really expand my network, let alone seek some kind of employment.
But then I saw something that gave me an idea. Back in February I came across this interesting article, that documented the blatant networking failure of a job-searching third year law student. Not only was his cover letter over the top, but the law firm he thought he had contacted turned out not to be a law firm at all, but an IT consulting firm. A chain of bitter, snarky emails later, the third year walks away with nothing, embarrassed by the experience. The whole thing is worth a read, but this language from the consulting firm from the tail end of their interaction is particularly pertinent:
So now, stop and think: what if, instead of the reply you wrote below, you had said, “Sorry for the misunderstanding—but since you clearly work with lawyers, can you think of any who might be interested in hiring me?” That could have led to a few exchanges between us as to what areas of law interest you the most, and that would have probably led to me either giving you some specific contacts at specific law firms (probably pre-vetted by me) or, better yet, having me forward your e-mail on to those specific contacts.
There are three lessons I took away from this episode:
(1) Make sure you know where your cover letters and resumes are going;
(2) If you get an email back that is not the glowing response you expected, don’t get snarky even if you want to and they deserve it; and
(3) Most importantly, think about networking outside of just contacting lawyers.
It took me awhile to come up with #3, but once it hit me that if that third year student had handled his mistake differently, he could have walked away with names, contact information, and maybe job prospects, I thought I’d give it a try. I did a Google search of: accounting, Japanese business, and the area I live in, and came up with a number of hits. Amongst the hits included an accounting firm that claimed to do quite a lot of accounting business with Japanese companies in the area. I sent out a short, inquisitive email expecting nothing, or at most an “I’m not a lawyer, go away.”
I got much more than that. After a short email exchange, an accountant and I agreed to meet after he finished tax season and I finished final exams. After meeting last week for lunch, I walked away with a new great contact and a master list of the literally 180 Japanese businesses in the area, complete with addresses and contact information.
Long story short: Networking outside of attorney channels can work for you, if you do it right.