career tools

Calling All Aspiring JETs with J.D.s!

Mecha-hisashiburi’s to you all. The past several months have been intensely busy, with graduation, the bar exam, and following a bit of good fortune, the conclusion to a successful job search. Yes, a job. Happy days are here again. What happened, you ask? Well, I became a contented victim of the “companies are now hiring J.D.s” trend in this absolutely topsy-turvy economy thing we have going on.

In short: I’m going to be involved in the land acquisition end of the natural gas industry. Just picture a mix of the “Rich Texan” from The Simpsons, and the Monopoly man.

Or, picture this guy with a monacle.

Okay, enough navel-gazing self-congratulatory blog-spew. There’s a more important point to my posting: the future of this blog.

Here’s the rub: I am a JET alum, and I do have a J.D., but from here on out I am well aware that my free time to blog for the benefits of JETs and the Japan-obsessed will be sparse. Further, I’ve always felt that this blog lacked the breadth it could otherwise have. The JET program and the legal market is a nice niche, but it’s still an intensely broad area that, even when I had time to blog regularly, I couldn’t tackle all by myself.

Lastly, having talked with lawyers (both old and young) during the course of my law school tenure, I am keenly aware that lawyers’ perceptions of the legal market and the opportunities out there are at times vastly different from the perspective a law student has. I strongly feel that JETs with J.D.s would languish without a JET alum/law student involved.

This is a long and winding way of saying that I am looking for someone (or more than one someone) to take the reigns for this site. While another person interested in private-sector legal work is fine, I’d be really interested in seeing someone interested in public sector/public interest legal opportunities step forward. I feel the public service end of the law is an area where I have been less helpful.

A public sector preference is only preferred, though. All that I would require of a new blogger are two things: (1) that you be a JET alum; and (2) that you be in (or about to attend) law school.

Though there’s no money in it (never was for me 😉 ), there are some benefits to helping out. The biggest of which is contributing to this blog may be the best catalyst to do the one thing law students (and human beings in general) hate to do: network. I know more attorneys and other vital contacts than I would know otherwise because I wanted to have material to blog about and, while I would never name my contacts outright, there gems of wisdom are scattered throughout this blog for the benefit of all. I also believe I would not have received the opportunity I am currently undertaking if it had not been for JET alums and attorneys providing me with personal advice, scouring my resume, and guiding my interviewing style.

If you are interested, drop me a line in the comments, or just contact me directly.

I plan to still contribute occasionally, at least enough to keep JETs with J.D.s up and running. Many of the old posts to this blog are a valuable resource and worth keeping around, and I will do what I can to make that possible.

Finally, I plan to write something up about my law school and job search experience generally sometime in the near future, so look for that post coming soon.

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DISCO’s Boston CF 2011 is up

Each year, DISCO holds a massive Career Forum in Boston for English/Japanese bilinguals (in addition to other job fairs in LA, London, and Tokyo).

A run-down on what DISCO can mean for JET alums turned JD students has already been covered by JETs with J.D.s, and is available here.

The Boston career forum is truly massive, and a good opportunity for anyone considering going in-house, or getting in-house experience. Even if you’re a rising 2L trying to figure out what you can do your 2L summer (and are worried you won’t be able to secure the coveted McLaw Summer Associate position), Boston may present opportunities for you this November, and DISCO has recently opened the page for this fall’s CF for applications. The number of participating companies should grow over time, so keep an eye out for companies looking for a J.D. candidate.

Building a resume on CFN can take some time, so starting early would be advisable.

The page with this fall’s Boston Career Forum can be found here.

 

A Lexus or a Lemon, or: How to Pick Your Law School

It’s a question I tend to get on occasion: “I’m planning to go to law school, I’m thinking of going to X, Y, and Z law schools . . .” OR “I’ve applied to law school and gotten into X, Y, Z law schools, what should I do?”

For the civilian turning law student, the decision is obviously one that is personally important, and certainly important for professional development reasons, too. Picking a loser of a law school can result in all of the nightmare scenarios that appear in the news almost daily (e.g., poor job prospects, high debt, and plenty of regret and buyer’s remorse to go around).

Of course, picking a “winner” of a law school these days can still conceivably leave you in the same spot, but it will make your odds a whole lot better.

You’d think that with the rigors of getting through undergrad, studying for and taking the LSAT, and making sure you perfect your law school applications, picking the law school of your dreams should be the easy part. It isn’t. The advice provided below isn’t the only way to go about picking your law school, but hopefully it will show you where your priorities should be. This advice also assumes you’re going to law school for legitimate reasons (i.e., to practice law).

First, a couple preliminary points. The law school that is sending you shiny brochures and acceptance letters is not on your side. They are trying to sell you something. Therefore, treat the information you get directly from the law school with the same scrutiny you would treat statements from a used car salesman.

Yeah, this education ain’t the best in its class, but it’ll getcha from A to B. “A” may be a promising future and “B” may be un(der)employment and insurmountable debt … but yeah, she’ll getcha from A to B.

In fact, it is my hope that after you get the acceptance letter, you put the rest of the materials they sent to the side, and look at their sales pitch last.

Second, the U.S. News & World Report Rankings aren’t going to help you. Law schools have gamed them in the past, playing fuzzy math (perhaps to the threshold of fraud) and will continue to do so in the future. As such, the starting salaries and average employed nine months after graduation numbers are illusory at best, an outright lie at worst. Here’s how you handle U.S. News & World: after you buy it, take a black Sharpie and black out the salary and employment figures. Better yet, get a friend to do it for you so you don’t unintentionally consider the value of those numbers as you black them out. If you’re going to U.S. News & World at all, you shouldn’t let the elements of the rankings that are utter horse-hooey enter into your decisionmaking.

NOTE: While it may be true that U.S. News & World report is encouraging more candid disclosures from participating law schools, law schools are still self-reporting institutions. Expect the numbers on employment and starting salaries to remain disingenuous for some time to come. Sen. Barbara Boxer is also beginning to put the heat on the ABA to compel a change to disclosure requirements, but until the ABA takes a more active regulatory stance on law schools, or until the USG subsumes the ABA’s role as a regulator, you’re not going to see any clearer transparency in law school disclosures or the publications that distribute them.

With that out of the way, here’s my preferred way to go about picking your law school. Assume for the purpose of this exercise you’ve already received a few acceptance letters (or wait-list letters for that matter). Where should you go from there?

(1) Prepare a list of questions you seriously want to know about the law schools to which you are admitted. These questions should be regarding issues you consider to be of high-priority, e.g.: (a) How well will the law school’s strengths correspond with your strengths or interests?; (b) How many people at this law school practice the kind of law you are interested in practicing?; (c) How does the social and academic atmosphere at the law school measure up to your expectations?; and so on. The more detailed understanding you have for your expectations (both academically and professionally) from law school, the more pointed questions you can prepare.

(2) Track down actual students actually attending the law schools you are considering, and reach out to them. Unlike the law school that is trying to get you to throw $100k plus at them for the privilege of attending, current law school students have no vested interest in whether you attend or not. They’re also going to be able to give you a more candid perspective of what law school is all about and, more importantly, what the specific law school you are considering attending is all about. They have to live with their decision to attend that law school every single day, for better or for worse. Of course, some students are going to have extreme views about their law school on both sides of the spectrum. Some will be virtual mouthpieces for school administration (if they start rambling on about the “versatility” of the J.D. degree, they may very well be in this group). Some will be bitter at their law school experience to the point that their claims will be highly suspect (their response may will likely be laced with profanity). Many should respond somewhere in the middle.

With the vastness of social networking (think Facebook groups, Linkedin, law school student forums) and the fact that many law schools post photos of students involved in student groups, you should be able to find a handful of law students from each school you’ve been admitted to, and (respectfully) request them to answer your questions.

NOTE: Law students are busy as hell, so if you don’t hear from them for awhile, don’t hold it against them.

(3) Track down lawyers in the family, lawyers who are your friends, lawyers who are doing the kind of thing you want to do.

Everyone knows a lawyer. You can’t swing a dead cat in this country without hitting a lawyer (and subsequently getting sued for aggravated assault with a kitteh).

Assault wit kitteh is strikt liability.

These friend and family lawyers may not be in the midst of law school, but they still operate in the legal marketplace, and they are still informed by their law school experiences. Any friends who are recent grads can spell out their job hunt experience, and hopefully help you set proper expectations as you head to law school. If any of these friends are alums of a school you are considering, seek out school-specific information. If they are school alums AND are practicing the kind of law that interests you, pry them for school-specific and career-specific guidance. For friends who aren’t recent grads: they’re advice may be less helpful, but they will have the perspective of what older, hiring lawyers might be looking for in a candidate. They should also be aware of the state of the legal market, and can tell you how many cold calls and resume letters they’re getting each month from unemployed law grads and attorneys. They can clue you in on the type of candidate getting hired, and the kind of money those candidates might be getting for their background and experience.

Most importantly, if you are finding that lawyers don’t do the kind of thing you want to do, please ask yourself why you are committing yourself to law school, and reevaluate your approach to your career. Please.

4. Visit the “scam” blogs. Seriously.

The financial collapse in 2008 had lots of unintended consequences for the market in legal education. Perhaps the least intended for law schools was that many of their brightest students, students who had worked themselves to exhaustion while in law school, were now facing unemployment. And some of them were  a little angry about it. The angriest have launched themselves into the blogosphere, playing a “Paul Revere”-type figure to prospective students, and often falling on deaf ears.

If they have something bad to say about a school you’re considering, they’ll say it.

And you owe it to yourself to investigate the worst things that can be said about the institution you are considering to call your alma mater. Start be looking for your school in a blog the likes of Third Tier Reality, a few other “scam” blogs, and if anything you read significantly concerns you, run it by the law students and friend lawyers you reached out to above. If anyone is in a position to put perspective on an angry blogger, it’s them.

The scam bloggers are the appropriate counterbalance for your prospective law school’s admissions brochures. Just like the law schools, you know what the scam blogger’s slant is going to be before you get started. The only difference is that the scam blogger isn’t asking for $100k and three years of your time.

5. Google the shit out of your law school.

Law schools make the news all the time: find out the reasons your prospective law school is making the news. Skip this step at your own peril. Skipping this step would leave you in the dark that Thomas Jefferson School of Law is getting hit with a class action suit for fraud, that “beloved” professors at Emory think the student body should be happy enough to “move to Nebraska” and join a firm where they “won’t make the big bucks”, and that George Mason’s School of Law has announced to the world that receiving an A on their transcript is completely F#$%ing meaningless.

Keep in mind, this is only news within the last couple weeks.

6. Now (and only now) should you give that glossy brochure from the law school that admitted you a good look.

Look at what the law school is promising you with a heightened degree of scrutiny, and compare it to everything you’ve heard from steps 1-5. How close does the school’s sales pitch match what you heard from their students? From family/friend lawyers? From their sworn enemies? How does the law school look in light of any recent news on it? Be skeptical. Be demanding. Remember: look at them like you’d look at a used car salesmen: if something sounds strange or doesn’t add up, you’re best not to ignore it. You will likely have an admissions contact once you get your acceptance letter– seek a reasonable explanation from them. Don’t disclose the sources who prompted your concern, especially if those sources are current students: just approach the admissions office out of position of legitimate curiosity.

Gauge any answers you get. Are they direct? Dodgy? Did they even answer your question? If the line sounds fishy and you established friendly relationship with a current student of the school, run it by them. The administrator may tout the school’s programs/clinics/fellowships, and so on– find out how easy they are to get, and how helpful they really are. They may try to show off the numerous law journals and moot court teams– take the same approach. They may brag about their curriculum in a specific area of the law– take the same approach. If that school’s  particular strength area of the law doesn’t interest you, ask about the area of the law that does. Who are the professors that teach that area of the law? What did they do prior to becoming a law professor? What do your current student contacts have to say about them? You get the idea.

I hope.

7. Are they giving you money?

If the answer is no, and their appearance is lackluster, send them to the bottom of your priorities list. If the answer is yes, and they’re providing the kind of education that matches your personal objectives, move them up. If they’re somewhere in the middle, you’ll have to use your own personal discretion.

8. Are they a regional law school, or do they have national reach?

You may or may not care about this. If you plan living in Toledo, Ohio the rest of your life, maybe you’ll be happy with the University of Toledo. But if you want to move out and get a job under the California sun, your “Made in Toledo” J.D. isn’t going to get you any special favors. Plus, even in Toledo, you’re going to be competing against lawyers from law schools that are nationally recognized.

Unless the money and quality of education are REALLY good, and you REALLY want to stay in your area, prefer the nationally recognized law schools to the regional ones.

9. Look at where you list stands, think about it really hard, sleep on it. If you wake up without any new questions or reservations, you will know the law school that is right for you.

And make sure you do all of this within the deadlines needed for you to issue a final acceptance. Naturally, you can start steps 1-4 before you’re even accepted.

Of course, this isn’t the only way go about picking a law school, it’s just one way. But, the steps here should put the right kind of information in your hands, and keep you from being led astray or entering the school-house gates with the wrong expectations.

Regardless of how you go about picking a law school, I encourage you to do so in a way that keeps your eyes open, your expectations realistic, and your concern for your own future and career development very real.

What’s up with the legal market?

For JET alums trying to make out what exactly is up with legal education and the legal market: the Economist just had a great article that lays it all out. For frequent readers, this should be nothing you haven’t heard before: the financial crisis killed a lot of jobs, and the delay in a legal market recovery is hampered by outsourcing and clients clinging a little closer to their pocketbooks and not wanting to pay young associates.

20110507_bbp002The article, in full, is here.

[UPDATED: Things are looking better for 2016]

 

Demystifying Student Loan Reform; Income-Based Repayment (IBR) for Law Students

 

This is a post beneficial to many – not just JETs with J.D.s. But, since law students are the ones graduating in the largest numbers with work (or lack thereof) providing insufficient revenue to pay off their student debts, understanding the mechanics of what IBR is all about may not just be helpful, but necessary.

But first: because I’m an anal-retentive law school type, a DISCLAIMER: I’m not here to provide you legal or financial advice as to whether IBR is right for you (or whether you should go into law school and take on a massive amount of debt in the hopes that IBR will take care of all your financial worries). For that, please consult your conscience, or some kind of financial adviser.

Enough of that. Now onto the good stuff.

Why You Shouldn’t Expect a Student Loan Bail-out

There are plenty of folks out there hoping for some kind of student loan amnesty — a hope that, in some way, their student loan debt, acquired in a down-trodden economy with few job prospects, will evaporate by some magic act of the state. A quick look at the cost of such a bailout, however, is instructive. The average law grad carries around $100,000 in debt. There are currently 200 ABA-approved law schools in the United States. (This is a low-ball number as it does not count non-ABA approved schools. I’m looking at you California.) While each school admits different numbers of students each year, for my calculations I’ll assume 200 students per class. (I also consider this a low-ball since plenty schools clearly have more. See, for example, Northwestern, Ohio State, George Washington University, and the list goes on).

With those numbers, the low-ball cost to bail-out one graduating year’s worth of law school students is…
$100,000 x 200 schools x 200 students per school = $4,000,000,000.00. That’s billion with a “B” in case you’re bad at counting zeros. By comparison, that’s the low-ball estimate for the costs incurred by the BP Oil Spill.

Expand this number to include the entire “Lost Generation” of law students graduating between 2009-2011, and you are asking for a $12,000,000.00 bailout, c/o of the American taxpayer. This calculation doesn’t even entertain the risk that a law student loan amnesty would open the door to other unemployed students: undergraduates who graduate underwater; grad students. When you consider the financial implications of bailing them out, the numbers skyrocket.

I’m sure bailing out newly minted degree holders in the aftermath of the financial crisis carries with it a certain degree of moral superiority, at least compared to bailing out Wall Street bankers. But face it: it’s just not going to happen, and unemployed 20-somethings have a lot less political pull.

IBR may be the closest thing the student community will ever get to a bailout– so it’s worth your persual, especially if you are entertaining the thought of taking on law school debt.

Income-Based Repayment, and how it works

Eligibility

First: IBR only works for non-defaulted federal loans through the FFEL and Direct Loan programs (Stafford & Grad PLUS, for example), and only those loans are used to determine eligibility. So, if you’re in danger of defaulting on that $300,000 you took from Fat Tony that you gambled away in Vegas, sorry: no IBR for you.

Second: In order to be eligible for IBR, you have to be in a “partial financial hardship.” You have a partial financial hardship if the monthly amount you would be required to pay on your IBR-eligible loans under a Standard Repayment Plan with a 10-year repayment period is higher than the monthly amount you would be required to repay under IBR. That means you’re going to have to look at your individual situation to find out whether your current debt-load would be better under IBR than the Standard, and if you are eligible, determine if IBR is a better situation for you.

Reduced Payments

If your non-defaulted FFELS/Direct Federal Loans and your debtload meet the requisite criteria, IBR allows qualified borrowers to cap their monthly payment at an amount that is intended to be affordable based upon income and family size, and will be less than what you would have to pay under a 10-year Standard Repayment Plan. Whenever you hear President Obama talking about not having to pay more than 10% of your income in student loan payments, it’s reduced payments such as IBR that he’s talking about.

But reduced payments aren’t the only benefit. If you make consistent payments under an IBR plan for 25 years and meet certain other requirements, any remaining balance will be cancelled. If you work in public service and have reduced loan payments through IBR, your remaining balance after ten years in a public service job could be cancelled if you made loan payments for each month of those ten years. That’s right — loan forgiveness for consistent payers.

The Downside

You know there has to be one. But compared to the downsides of selling your liver for quick cash, the downside to IBR is not so bad. First: more of your payments are going to be going towards your interest, and not your principal amount. As a result, you’re going to put less of a dent into your principal. There’s also a mechanism in the loan repayment process whereby, if your payment doesn’t cover all the interest, unpaid interest capitalizes INTO the principal amount.

Second, because you’re paying more in interest and your principal is either remaining the same, or, possibly growing: your ultimate forgiven indebtedness after 10 or 25 years is going to be a larger number.

If it’s all disappearing, you’d think it wouldn’t matter, right? But, forgiveness of indebtedness counts as taxable income under the internal revenue code. So, if after 25 years, the government forgives your $100,000 law school debt in total – you now have $100,000 worth of taxable income.

Another drawback is that you’re going to have to submit paperwork to your debt servicer every year, indicating your income, so that they can recalculate your IBR payment for that given year.

—–

Resources

This post is just an overview of IBR, but I don’t want to provide you with just an overview. There are a great number of resources out there to help answer questions and flesh out IBR better for you than I can.

The Federal Student Aid Website has a quick explanation of IBR, and an IBR Calculator available for your use.

They Federal Student Aid site also has a document addressing the most common questions raised about IBR. There is a lot of great information there, including the mechanics of applying for IBR.

Here is a transcript running down the various other methods of student loan repayment, including IBR, that while quite lengthy, goes through things in great detail.

Finally, a fellow colleague of mine over at The Law School Tuition Bubble has also provided a couple of posts regarding IBR that are well worth reading.

Disco’s Career Forum, for JETs with J.D.s

Disco Stu likes DISCO jobs

Every year, Boston welcomes the largest Japanese-English bilingual job fair known to man. The job fair is run by DISCO International, and is otherwise known as the Boston Career Forum. Career forums are also held in Tokyo, London, and Los Angeles throughout the year– but Boston is easily conceded as the largest of these.

This forum is something I wish I had known about earlier as a law student, because a large number of Japanese and multinational employers show up (this year, 132 of them did), and some of them are actually looking to fill vacancies in their legal department, or for whatever other reason are willing to look at J.D. candidates and J.D. holders. The distinct advantage about this career fair, moreover, is that for perhaps the only time in your law school career, you’re not competing with a horde of fellow students en masse, but only those students who have the requisite language skill (not so many), and only those who have been willing to make the journey (even fewer).

While I was skeptical as to whether this large job forum would help me at all (as it seemed largely aimed at undergrads, MBA’s, and engineers) I was able to walk away from Boston having had a number of interviews and a couple positive leads on the job search. Below, I will briefly relay my experience, suggestions, and advice for any JET pursuing a J.D. who might be considering a trip to Boston next fall.

Preliminary Matters

(1) If you want to work for a law firm and a law firm only – the remainder of this post is largely useless to you. Your time would be better spent looking at these vintage (and hilarious) Tokyo subway posters.

(2) If you are below Conversational level Japanese (generally, JLPT 3級 = Conversational), DISCO won’t let you in. So you’ll either have to lie or improve your Japanese ability. I advise the latter.

Preparation

I heard of DISCO and the Boston Career Forum from another JET alum who went to law school and found his first post-graduation job in-house, with a Japanese company, through DISCO. When I first heard about DISCO from this alum (in July), I immediately went to their site and found that information about the Boston Career Forum, and prospective employers, was already posted and some employers were already accepting application submissions. Currently, DISCO does not have information up about its 2011 Career Forums, but it is only a matter of time.

Regardless, I would advise setting up a profile on DISCO’s site sooner rather than later. In setting up a profile, you are given the option of setting up an English and a Japanese resume. I suggest you do both– as some employers will accept the Japanese one only, and others the English one only. Depending on your Japanese ability, this can take next to no time at all, or can be quite time consuming, and you’ll want to give yourself plenty of time to proofread both before you start applying for positions.

Applying to Interviews Before the Career Forum

All your applications for the Career Forum will require one of the resumes you set up through DISCO. That’s usually the easy part of applying to an employer. In addition to the resume, employers can also ask supplemental questions – to be filled out in only English, only Japanese, or either. These questions also tend to impose character limitations. Again, you’ll want time to plan ahead and draft well-written, grammatically correct answers to these questions – which is why I advise you start preparation early.

These supplemental questions also allow employers to vet applicants according to their language ability. DISCO requires you to rank your language ability along traditional JLPT categorizations (Elementary, Conversational, Business, Native), but if your answers to the supplemental make you look like you’re struggling at 4級, and you’re posturing yourself as a Native-speaker, don’t expect too much.

Some employers throw additional hurdles into the application process. This is particularly true of the accounting firms and investment banks. Accounting firms will generally require you fill out an application off of their home site in addition to the one you do for the Career Forum. Investment Banks usually request likewise, and may throw a timed mathematical reasoning test into the mix.

As the Career Forum gets closer, more employers will join in. Even up to the last few days before the Career Forum, new employers were appearing on the list, and accepting applications for interviews. So again, if you plan on going, you should check early and often.

By the date of the Career Forum, I had lined up four interviews in advance, with one (1) investment bank, one (1) accounting firm, and two (2) Japanese multinational companies. All of them were interviewing for their Tokyo offices.

EDITED TO ADD (01/24/2011): Acquiring interviews prior to going to Boston provides you two other advantages: (1) Arranging interviews in advance makes you more likely to receive a travel scholarship from CFN; (2) Arranging interviews in advance may allow you to access travel funds from your law school to be used for traveling to interviews.

Applying for Interviews AT the Career Forum

Submitting for interviews while you are at the Career Forum is also a realistic possibility. While I was in Boston, I was able to gain interviews with a few other employers, including another accounting firm.

Resumes

No employer will tell you this, but they are typically open to receiving both English and Japanese resumes. From my experience, I highly advise bringing copies of a Japanese resume with you in tow. Many of my interviewers looked a bit nervous to be interviewing me with the English resume they received from DISCO. When I pulled out the Japanese resume I prepared ahead of time, there was a visible (albeit concealed) sigh of relief and I became a small hero in their eyes – always a good way to start the interview.

Note that Japanese resumes tend to have a different format than Western resumes, and involve a lot less “grandstanding” of your accomplishments. Samples are here. A template is available here.

Interviews

Much like JET, my interview experiences were ESID. One was with a guy who spoke fluent English and ultimately gave an impression of being a bit more high-pressure than most law firm interviews. The remainders were conducted in a mix of Japanese and English. Some were basic resume review, others were more conversational.

For some interviews I had to fill out additional paperwork before going in, for others I did not.

For a good number of my interviews, JET was treated as an overall positive on my resume. Others didn’t mention it. At the very least, I can say it wasn’t greeted with a head tilted to the side and air-sucking through the teeth.

Like any other interview, I highly suggest going in with a game plan to handle the variations the interview process can take. Enlisting the help of a Japanese confidante or teacher would be a good idea as well.

Post-Career Forum Contact

To e-mail thank you notes or not? Assuming your interview was positive, a friend of mine suggests the following:

My short answer is that I would send a thank you e-mail or thank you letter as you would with any other person who would interview you, expressing your great interest in learning more about [the Company]. If you have Japanese writing skills, or thought that the interviewer might have doubts about your ability to function in a written Japanese environment, you might take the opportunity to showcase those skills.

For the good interviews I had, I did likewise. I do not feel they necessarily helped or hindered my application in any sense, but those thank you’s at least indicate you are still open and ready to converse.

Again, like the interviews, the process in discussing employment with companies after Boston was very ESID. For some employers, I heard responses quite quickly. For others, I am still in ongoing conversations with them, and this is three months after the initial interview. For legal departments in Japanese companies, a colleague of mine offers the following amount of lead time before you get a response:

I’d give [them] 4 weeks to get back to you. From my experience with Japanese companies, the guy you talked to would report in writing/orally through his chain in the HR department, then the HR department would report in writing to the other departments. The other department might take a week or so to respond to HR. (I can imagine that the legal department might not have expected to receive an application from someone like you. It might take a little bit of time for the legal department to warm up to you.)

Again, while four weeks might be a good standard to have, ESID. It takes one guy sitting around not-hankoing things to gum up the process.

Post-Career Forum Surprises

Finally, a couple of months after the Boston Career Forum, I received an email from a Company interested in knowing whether they would still like me to talk to their legal and compliance departments, respectively, about the possibility of joining them in Tokyo. So, even for those companies you apply to and never hear from, possibilities exist that they may contact you long after the fact.

A Final Note

DISCO also posts general job postings for bilinguals throughout the year. I have had some luck with these as well, though they are generally not aimed at J.D.s.

In short, if you’re looking to navigate the Apocalyptic War-Zone that is legal employment in a post-financial crisis world – DISCO offers you a welcome platform from which to market your legal and language abilities – in a much less crowded field of competitors.

Quick Interview Resource

Most interview advice is pretty predictable: (1) Don’t show up naked; (2) Don’t mention that you think your last employer smelled like poo; (3) Don’t punch your interviewer in the face.

Then, sometimes, interview advice can actually be pretty useful. While this isn’t advice for legal interviews specifically, this short presentation by Goldman Sachs covers some of the basics, but also breaks things down into interview styles, and interview preparation – something many good resources don’t do.

The link, again, is here. Enjoy!

Law School Grades versus the Grade of Your Law School, Which is More Important?

As a prospective student, one of the hardest choices you have to make is which law school you will choose for enrollment.  While you naturally want to make sure the school you choose has the faculty and course selections you are looking for, how are you going to choose amongst the schools that meet those criteria?  The instinctive choice, one would think, would be to choose the school with a higher ranking.  Higher rankings open more doors, right?  And if “C’s get degrees,” what need is there to worry about taking  a hit to your GPA if it means you get a degree from one of the top schools in the country?

Not so, say two law professors. UCLA law professor Richard Sander and Brooklyn law professor Jane Yakowitz argue that the “eliteness” of your degree doesn’t matter as much as your GPA. When it comes to predicting career success, they say, it’s all about the grades.  So, while C’s may get degrees, it’s the A’s that get what pays, if you will.  My first reaction to this, not being part of an elite law school myself, was: “Excellent!”

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Choose your law school by the height and quality of its towering spires. 

My second thought was: “Wait … what?”

But before I can get to the major problem this study leaves untouched, for the uninitiated let me provide a quick bit about law school grading– which is vastly different than anything you experienced in your undergraduate studies.

 

(1): Nobody Fails Law School

Seriously.  Of course, like JET, every law school’s grading situation is ESID.  But, even with bare minimum effort, at law school you are guaranteed a C average.  Once you are in, it would take a far more concerted effort to fail — requiring you to get things blatantly incorrect on exams and plagiarize your papers to truly fail out of law school.

(2): Most Law Students Don’t Have an A-Average

Unlike your undergraduate years, a well-concerted effort in law school is no guarantee of an A. The undergraduate system rightly rewards hard work: put forth the effort and show mastery of the material and you will get an A, if your understanding is a little off, you might hope for a B. Law school, however, grades on a curve.  This is assuming your law school even has grades, but again, ESID on that. Most law schools set a curve where a few number of people walk away with A/A-, a glut of people walk away in the B range, and a few unfortunate souls get a C.  If you do walk away with a C, there is a slight chance that your grade may actually go up, retroactively, with inflation, but that’s a risky strategy not worth banking on. Moreover, because the whole system is curved, the law school grades aren’t a measure of competence or material mastery, but a competitive comparison of where you stack up against your classmates.

Add to that the fact that most people at any given law school are within the same LSAT range, and that means that if you go to a law school within you LSAT range score, you are competing against a couple hundred clones of yourself for a very finite number of As.

(3): Most Employers Know Both (1) and (2)

And hire accordingly.  Of course, one C on a transcript can easily be explained as an outlier and dismissed if the rest of your transcript shines accordingly– but a host of  C’s on a law school transcript will likely raise a red flag to potential employers.

But really, do grades outweigh eliteness?  Is it really advisable to take that lower ranked law school instead of that shiny Harvard or Yale law degree?

It seems that the study runs a great risk of being misunderstood.  Perhaps there is a correlation between GPA and the amount law graduates end up earning in the long run (which is what the study maintains), but the study doesn’t speak to your actual job prospects in the lower ranking schools as opposed to the elite schools.  The ability to earn more money with a great GPA from a lower ranked school is meaningless if you don’t have a starting salary to develop that from.

Certain employers, moreover, knowingly discriminate by eliteness of school. If you’re an Ohio State law student, for example, you can pretty much count out a Supreme Court clerkship with Supreme Court Justice Scalia.

My point is simple: a higher GPA at a lower ranked school might net you more money at some point, but it’s still the elite named law school degree that will open doors.  And, in an economy where the doors to the legal profession are few and narrow, the edge of eliteness cannot really be understated.  Of course, in an era where even the elite law students are begging for work on Craigslist, my guess is as probably good (or bad) as any.

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.

Resume Advice from the Top 14

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So far, so good.

A legal education is, in the end, a ranking obsessed education.  Are you in a Top 14 school or aren’t you?  Are you on the main journal or some secondary topic law journal?  Are you in the top 10% of your class or not?  I could go on and on.  It’s not fun, and most students don’t like it, but it is the unfortunate way of life in legal education.

For some reason, the rankings Gods have decided to loan hallowed status to the Top 14 ranked schools in the nation.  Why fourteen?  Nobody knows.  What everyone does know is that it must really piss school School #15 off.

With On-Campus interviews looming — it’s time to see what the Top Fourteen law schools have out there for resume enhancement:

(1) Yale Law School has its breakdown of resume writing, albeit aimed at alumni, here.

(2) Harvard Law has a page covering resumes, cover letters, interviews, and more: here.

(3) Stanford has a long .pdf file on resume writing here.

(4) Columbia gets it done in three paragraphs, here.

(5), (6) University of Chicago only offers resume advice to prospective students, and NYU offers more than a few resumes for legal academic careers.  Fueling the Law School Tuition Bubble a bit, perhaps?

(7) UC Berkeley doesn’t have their resume tips out for the public eye.

(8) University of Pennsylvania has some sample resumes and writing tips up for grabs.  (Note: The writing tips never loaded properly for me either).

(9) University of Michigan has it’s sample resumes right long with its sample everything else.

(10) University of Virginia’s public resume samples are aimed at those seeking public service.

(11) Duke offers some straightforward advice here.

(12) Northwestern’s resume guide is off limits to non-students / non-alums.

(13) Cornell has an example third-year law student resume on display.

(14) Georgetown has its resume pointers here.