Legal Careers in North America

Advice for Legal Interviews: Be Psychic

Okay, well maybe you don’t have to channel Miss Cleo to get legal employment these days.  But, in addition to the healthy dose of luck you’ll need, the legal career services world has created a brand new buzzword concept through which all prospective employees can be vetted: emotional intelligence.

What is emotional intelligence, you ask?  Emotional intelligence, or as those trying to sound more professional than they really are might call it, “EI,” is the demonstrated ability to show, and practice, professional competence by providing good answers to hypothetical questions and connecting with interviewers. The idea behind the concept is that you are being hired not just for your legal acumen and ability to detect italicized commas in a document of hundreds of pages — you’re being hired to develop and maintain clients. What does this all boil down to?  Don’t be a jackass.

It’s hard to imagine why a new buzzword for an obvious concept like emotional intelligence even merits creation, but oddly enough, a JET alum probably possesses more of it than most law students, especially the rural JET alum.  There’s something about being the sole foreigner in a town that breeds the sort of thick skin capable of dealing with clients regardless of whether those clients are truly deserving of your empathy and advocacy, or whether they, let’s just say, suffer from a severe lack of emotional intelligence. Rural JET life is, in many ways, a true test of your personal “EI.”  It may be true that in  a legal interview you are outgunned by the experience of your interviewer, but at least you’re outgunned in your own language.  On JET, your schools and your community are akin to clients.  Their taxes are your salary at the end of the day, and they’re happiness with your presence is the ultimate determiner of where you end up on the scale of Immortal Super JET Hero, or in Utter Misery.

Of course, completely unaddressed in the article is the fact that law school may actually degrade emotional intelligence.  Three years of having your fate decided by ultimately petty distinctions (LSAT score, narrow grading curves, law journal write-on scores, the list goes on) can turn even the most most emotionally balanced and likable person into a petty, cut-throat monster. Not surprisingly, lawyers lead the professional world in depression and drug abuse. If “emotional intelligence” is going to be a significant factor in legal employment going forward, it might be worth it for law schools to consider whether their curriculum amounts to too much of an emotional lobotomy to ensure their students’ some degree of employment prospects.

Clerking in the Tropics (3): The Northern Mariana Islands

This is a continuation highlighting clerking opportunities outside of the fifty U.S. States available for American law graduates.  The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (“CNMI”) is the third stop in a series on seeking out clerkships in U.S. Territories.  Located just north of Guam, the Judiciary of the Northern Mariana Islands includes Saipan.

The site for the Northern Mariana Islands judiciary is located here, and includes information on the CNMI Supreme Court and CNMI Superior Court.

Unlike Palau and American Samoa, however, I have been unable to get replies from the folks over at CNMI.  Life over there must be just that good.  It is worth noting, however, that also unlike Palau and American Samoa, data on CNMI judges is available on the OSCAR Symplicity site, which is the primary hub of U.S. Clerkship applications.  Any openings, and the means of applying for them, will likely be available there.

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Yes, the Situation Really Can Be That Bad

This site is as much about giving prospective students a clear picture of the legal market landscape as much as it is about anything else.  And, when it comes to law school (or any other graduate level education), knowing what your end game is going to be is critical.  That’s because law school is nothing like your undergraduate years.  It’s three years of high-intensity, high-cost study — and if you don’t know what you’re going to do after that, it can be the road to ruin.

Especially now.

Even with the recession bottoming out, going to law school is more akin to playing the lottery than it is to educating yourself into prosperity.  Of course, if you lose the lottery, you don’t wind up in triple-figure debt.  If you lose out in law school, different story.

Although the economic collapse hit in late 2008, the legal market remains in the doldrums.  June’s employment numbers were again in the negative, after May added as few as 300 jobs for the pool of unemployed attorneys and law graduates from 2008-2010 to fight over.

The point in all this is simple: the legal market really doesn’t know what it is at the moment.  It doesn’t make job finding impossible — but it does mean that, more than ever before, luck is playing just as significant a role as skill, hard-work, and networking.

If you are considering law school, realize that the moment you sign up you are making a bet.  You are gambling that in three years time the employment market for legal jobs will have reached some sense of balance, and that that balance will be in your favor to get a job.

And while there are plenty of voices out there still lauding the value of a legal education, you need to recognize that if you are coming to law school, you are still taking a gamble.  And there is still the chance that you will roll snake eyes.

[UPDATED: Things are looking better for 2016]

Clerking in the Tropics (2): American Samoa

This is a continuation highlighting clerking opportunities outside of the fifty U.S. States available for American law graduates.  This time we highlight American Samoa, a tiny island territory hundreds of miles east of Fiji, which is still hundreds of miles east of Papua New Guinea.  If remote and tropical is your thing, (and if Pulp Fiction is right, if big people are your thing) you can ask for no better than here.

The High Court of American Samoa recruits law clerks for one year terms, but does so only on alternating years.  The recruit two clerks at a time, one for the first year, and one for the following year.  The next round of recruiting is scheduled to take place this upcoming spring for the August 2011, August 2012 terms.  The Court requires a cover letter, resume, official transcript, writing sample, and two letters of recommendation.  The application deadline be due in early 2011.

Clients Unwilling to Pay for Inexperienced Legal Help May Have No Choice

The 2008-2009 recession didn’t just translate to thousands of layoffs, it also meant the scaling back of training by lots of the large firms.  For the first time since late 2008, last month was the first sign of positive job growth in the legal sector, albeit with a paltry 300 jobs (compared to 22,200 lost during the recession), and no one quite knows the quality of these jobs, either.

Despite the modest bump in jobs, however, large firm summer associate programs still remain non-existent, cut by about 80% due to the recession — and large firm clients still remain unwilling to pay for the legal work done by law student summer associates, making summer associate programs even more expensive for firms across the country.

Cutting jobs AND cutting training opportunities, however, may be the golden ticket for law grads as the recession abates and work picks up, especially with mid-level and senior level associates looking to escape from big firms.  AbovetheLaw recently posted a great overview of the possible upcoming legal staffing shortage, available here.

Clerking in Paradise: Palau

Former JETs naturally have a little bit of adventurer in them.  Unfortunately, the sedentary life of the law student spells disappointment for those of accustomed to a more active life.  This isn’t to say going out and enjoying life doesn’t happen in law school.  But if you like inordinate amounts of time reading and editing italicized commas, however, you’re in for a real treat.

Fortunately, life after law school doesn’t necessarily have to be like that — and if you still have that glimmer of a sense of adventure and the desire to live in not-so-often traveled parts of the world, a judicial clerkship in on of America’s international territories might be what you’re after.  After graduate clerkships with various courts across the country are a common (if not somewhat challenging route) to post-graduate employment.  The pay is typically lower than you would expect if you went to a firm immediately after graduating, but some firms still offer clerkship bonuses for those who bring that experience with them in tow.

But, more than you might expect, America is a big friggin’ country, and clerkships are not limited to the fifty states alone.  Clerking and court employment opportunities exist in America’s international territories as well, including Puerto Rico, the Marshall Islands, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, and Palau.  Living here will be not unlike JET – many of these places offer subsidized housing and pay for you to come over, so while your clerkship income is small, your imputed income is not so bad.  A recent law review article was actually written describing much of the process in detail.

But each territory has its own recruiting schedule, and its own preferences.  I hope to share that with you piece-by-piece, and since Palau is the island I currently have the most information on, it makes sense to start there.

Palau is a small island territory located several hundred miles east of the Philippine Islands.

Positions in Palau are possible at all levels of the judiciary, including not only the Supreme Court of Palau, but also in the attorney general’s office, the public defender’s office, as legislative counsel for the Senate and the House of Delegates, or with Micronesian Legal Services Corporation.

The court typically hires under the following timeline: the position is posted late in the year, around December, with the application deadline being mid-March.  Interviews follow in May, and hiring shortly after that.  Like JET, it seems, the process is long and cumbersome, but certainly worth it if a clerkship on a tropical island is your goal.

Additionally, the information I have indicates that, while you can apply to the court without prior clerkship experience, the court is typically trending towards hiring those with court clerk experience – meaning a Palau court clerkship straight out of law school may be a long shot.  Other sources, however, have indicated to me that travel and experience living in the east / southeast Asia area can be a plus, as well as a background in Japanese.  These were both speculation on my source’s part, but if those two factors are a plus, then the JET experience stands to benefit anyone seeking a position in Palau.

Additional sources on Palau are available, including an older blog run by a former Palau clerk: StuffedWombat.com

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The Toyota Lawsuit(s) as Opportunity

The economy has been in the dumpster for the past year and a half, and last year law firms bled attorneys like crazy.  Current second and third year students are having trouble enough just finding summer work, and the future remains uncertain.  Such is life in the legal market today.

There is one breed of law student however, who may, at least in the near term, have a bit more luck than the rest — the one capable of Japanese legal translation.  A particular auto company with screwy accelerator pedals is mostly to thank for that.  Costs to Toyota just to fend off all the sharks in the water is estimated to rack upwards of  $3 billion. With law school finals looming and the Toyota lawsuits growing, there were a number of regional firms around my area seeking Japanese fluent law and business students.

They weren’t looking for such students for legal or business insight necessarily — it was simply a fact that these firms were going to engage in comprehensive discovery process with a Japanese company, and had no one on staff who spoke or read Japanese.  Indeed, one of these translation opportunities  explicitly indicated that it was looking for Japanese fluent law students, that translation abilities were a plus, and that travel abroad may be necessary as part of the job duties – and this was from a small firm, in Kentucky of all places.  In another instance, and completely thanks to my personal network, I received notice of a Toytoa lawsuit related job posting from a local medium-sized firm before the rest of my law school was even notified.

While the jobs coming out of the Toyota lawsuit aren’t a golden ticket to the world of professional law practice, they do constitute a foot in the door, and with compensation. The little Kentucky firm I had heard from was willing to pay a salary comparable to large local firms, and at a time when few law students can even find volunteer legal opportunities.  Translation work is certainly a better alternative to an empty gap on a resume.

Meanwhile, things with Toyota move forward.

The ultimate point in all this is: (1) If you’re still on JET and thinking of law school, soak up all of the language you can get; and (2) have the network in place for those opportunities that fit your skills when they come along.

Career Tools: Typography for Lawyers

As much as I thought law school and legal education was all about crafting a coherent argument that compellingly synthesizes law and facts, my legal writing course quickly taught me that, for many lawyers, the challenge in creating a convincing document to file has as much to do with the crafting the argument as it does in making sure the document you ultimately create isn’t riddled with typographical errors and ungodly sans-serif fonts that seem to be the default on Word nowadays.

Thankfully, someone out there has created a typography site that is both: (1) aimed directly at lawyers; and (2) easy to follow.

Here it is: Typography for Lawyers

Presentation to Returnees : Taking the JET Experience into the Legal Field

Certainly this site isn’t the only one looking to help JETs take their time in Japan and segue into the legal marketplace.  Last month, there was a presentation at the Tokyo Returnee’s Conference specifically aimed at JETs considering legal careers.

The slides are posted here, and have some great information, including:

  • A list of foreign law firms that employ in Tokyo;
  • A list of possible legal careers, and;
  • A list of the qualifications necessary for a legal career in the various JET participating countries.

Happy reading!

Law Firm Pronunciation Guide

How do you say Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle?  How about Debevoise & Plimpton?

If you had an interview with a firm like this, your failed pronunciation of their name could be the difference between a call back and a thinly-packed ding letter.

Fortunately, Georgetown Law School has a law firm pronunciation guide out there for the major firms, available to anyone at a single click!

Duke Law School has one available as well.

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