I know what it is like to go through 3L year without a job offer in hand. I got my job offer in January of my 3L year and the insecurity, doubt, and shame that I felt throughout my fall semester was so powerful, I can almost personally feel it again by just thinking about it.
For many, those awful feelings start 2L year when OCI does not work out or a job offer low on the list of preferences was accepted. But the truth is that those feelings have nothing to do with reality and today’s lawyer stories post proves it.
Last Friday, I met with Molly S, a 2016 graduate of Notre Dame Law School. Molly graduated without a full-time job lined up and after passing the Illinois bar, she recently found out that she got hired as an Assistant Attorney General in the Environmental Enforcement Division of the Illinois Attorney General’s office, where she will be doing exactly what she wants to do be doing, environmental law.
For Molly, this job is the culmination of her dedication to practicing environmental law, participating in externships in that field, networking like crazy, and doing good work at all of her law jobs.
But before I delve into Molly’s work at the AG’s office, I want to talk about how she got where she is.
Not Going to a Firm Was the Best Thing That Could Have Happened:
First things first, I congratulated Molly on her job and asked her how she feels now that she has crossed the finish line into employment:
“I feel like everything worked out better for me in the long run because there can be a tendency to just jump at the first thing you get and that’s not always the best answer. During my 3L year, I sometimes felt like I should just take any job but that would not have led to me being happy in my career later on.”
She also pointed out “If I had something lined up early on I wouldn’t have networked or tried to get into the field I wanted to get into.” In other words, had Molly gone through a traditional OCI path, she would not be practicing environmental law and working in her true passion.
Navigating 1L Year:
I asked Molly what her goals were when she came into law school and what 1L year was like for her.
Molly said that as a 1L, she was one of those people who went into law school thinking it was “like college so I wasn’t taking it as seriously as I should have, but then I matured through it.”
But Molly did have a good idea that she would not walk a typical legal path and that she was interested in something more policy oriented rather than corporate work. She wasn’t committed to environment law yet but knew her path would not be traditional.
I asked her how 1L year went for her and she replied:
“I didn’t do as well as I wanted my first semester and was scared I wouldn’t get a good 1L summer job.”
But, of course, she did. She launched her 1L summer job search by getting the list of places that NDLS students worked in previous summers from the CDO’s resource center and cold calling judges’ clerks during winter break. She ended up getting a job before winter break working for a judge at the Circuit Court in Cook County and had a great experience. It was really easy going and she got to hone her research and writing skills by writing advisory memoranda and watching oral arguments.
1L Winter break, Molly began extensively networking throughout Chicago. She met a variety of lawyers from different career paths and ended up meeting with an environmental lawyer who told her about her cases and the work she was doing. Molly thought that work sounded very interesting, took an environmental law class, and realized that environmental law was where her interest really lied.
Molly says of networking “I don’t consider myself a very outgoing person but I do like networking. I just like hearing about what people do and how they developed their career.” (Molly is right to point out that networking is just listening to someone talk about their work.)
Molly also gives the advice to not “overwhelm people. Make it very casual.
It doesn’t have to be overly formal. Just meet with someone who does something you’re interested in and ask what they do. If you aren’t interested in what they do, don’t meet with them.”
Molly is a pro at following-up. She explained that any time she had a question about an organization or needed advice in her career search or in deciding which law school classes to take, she would reach out to one of her networking contacts and ask them. This led her Notre Dame mentor to tell her that she was the first person he was ever assigned as a mentee to continue to ask questions and build the relationship. He commented to her that most people he “meets once and never hears from them again.”
She said of busy lawyers “Sometimes they don’t respond and that’s OK because they’re busy. If someone doesn’t respond, I’ll send them another email a week later, just replying to the initial one I sent.”
To this day, Molly is continuing to refine her long-term goals and still asks her contacts for advice, emailing them about long term career plans.
She makes the point to take advantage of talking to people while you are a student because it can be more difficult after you graduate. “People are more willing to talk to students because they feel less pressure.”
2L Year: Environmental Law!
2L year Molly focused her classes, journal note, externships, and resources toward building her personal brand in environmental law. She wrote her journal note on an environmental topic, took as many environmental classes as she possibly could, and set out to learn about the practice area.
She said of her commitment to environmental law:
“Because of my strong involvement and interest, I was able to get interviews with the DOJ, EPA, and other federal agencies”
Molly ended up working at a firm in Arizona her 2L summer, a job she got through a Notre Dame connection, because she felt like she should see if she liked firm work and knew it would be very good training. Molly liked the firm, got good experience, and learned a lot but she knew she wanted to do environmental law in Chicago.
Molly knew from the beginning that her reason for pursuing the Arizona job was to get the experience and that she was not necessarily looking for a full-time offer so she kept putting herself out there and recommends that even if you do a good job at your firm, keep thinking about what your other options may be.
3L Year: The Chicago Program
Molly continued building on her environmental law brand by working for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency through the Chicago program in the fall of her 3L year. She knew that nothing could be better for her personal brand than another full-time work experience in the field on her resume. Molly did great work while she was there and networked like crazy, setting up meetings “all of the time” throughout the duration of the program.
Molly became an expert networker. When she first started networking, she would send out cold emails and found herself going into meetings hoping that her networking contacts could do something for her “right now” but learned over time that it is really later on, after the meetings, that your contacts can benefit you. That can initially feel frustrating but it is part of the process.
Molly continued networking after the Chicago program ended and applied for job opportunities as they arose; she applied for the BOAF fellowship with an environmental non-profit, but it was not the right fit for her long term goals. It would have been a very interesting job, but it wasn’t as right to get the legal training she needed.
Molly’s Entry Into the Illinois AG: The Bridge to Practice Program
Dedicated to working in environmental law and not having secured a great opportunity yet, Molly jumped at the chance to participate in NDLS’ Bridge to Practice program run by the CDO’s Christine Holst, which provides students who are about to graduate with several months of funding to work at virtually any corporation, government agency, or non-profit they want so that they can jump right into a job after law school while continuing to look for full-time work.
Molly “wouldn’t have been able to get her job if not for the Bridge to Practice Program.” The Attorney General’s office in Chicago rarely takes new graduates, and the job asked for three years experience. She was hired because she had proven herself through her work during Bridge to Practice.
Beyond leading to her current job, Molly stated that “bridge to practice makes you feel more confident . When you are networking, you are actually working as a lawyer and can talk about your fellowship experience.”
She also said that without Bridge to Practice, she wouldn’t have been in touch with the AG or thought of it as an option. “Bridge to Practice gives you an excuse to reach out to an organization and ask to work with no strings attached because Notre Dame provides the funding,” she said.
In looking for a placement, Molly prioritized finding an environmental placement that could potentially hire her full-time after the conclusion of the fellowship. Molly knew Professor Robert Jones from the Chicago program and he helped connect her with the Illinois Attorney General through a contact he knew well from his time practicing environmental law in Chicago before working at Notre Dame.
Molly felt confident there would be a job for her after the program because the hiring process was lengthy; it took them three interviews and several background checks. Even so, when accepting her, the Illinois Attorney General told her fellowships such as hers often do turn into full time offers, but there was no guarantee due to government funding and office needs. Molly focused on doing excellent work for them but also made sure she still had other options in the event it did not work out.
The Bridge to Practice program is available to this year’s 3Ls as well so if you’re looking to jump-start your career with a great office like the Illinois Attorney General, get in touch with Christine.
Working for the Illinois Attorney General:
Of all of the law offices Molly has worked in throughout law school, she says this is the office environment in which she feels she fits the best. She has her own office, lawyers are collegial, and everyone is consistently asking to take her to things, inviting her to sit in on a deposition, listen to a phone call, or go to court.
She already has several of her own cases and will make her first court appearance in January. Most of what the Illinois Attorney General does is handle environmental enforcement actions, referrals, or investigate citizen complaints for issues such as chemical spills, air pollution, and water pollution under the Illinois environmental protection act.
Molly’s job is 9-5 and she does not work weekends.
Paying Off Loans With a Government Salary:
It is no secret that government work does not come with a fancy six figure salary so I asked Molly how she is paying loans and she delved into the nitty gritty:
“I qualify for LRAP (which enables graduates working in qualifying public interest positions to get up to $12,o00 per year for their loan payments.) LRAP covers my Law School loan payment in full.”
It is clear from Molly’s lifestyle that her government salary is not keeping her from fun experiences. She has lived in Chicago for three months and has already attended six concerts. She told me the names of the bands and I could tell that she is way more plugged into the hip music scene than I am. One of bands she saw is “Catfish and the Bottlemen” and I found one of their album covers:
Pretty cool, right? After work tonight, Molly is flying to New York to see a band, “RKS” with a good friend. You can travel and have fun and pay off your loans without making a firm salary.
I asked Molly what advice she would give to current students. She said to remember that if you’re focused on government, your timeline is later. She pointed out that “the IL AG doesn’t even let you officially apply until you pass the bar.” She could not have gotten that job during law school.
She also advises students to remember:
“It’s not embarrassing to be networking or looking for a job, especially if there is a particular field you want to be in. People compare themselves to others and of course it would be nice to go through 3L year without the stress of looking for a job. But keep in mind that people do not think of it as a bad thing that you are looking for a job or figuring out what you want to do. Even while networking, most people just give the advice that your options don’t really open up until you pass the bar and that’s when things start happening.”
Molly’s final piece of advice is “If you stick to searching for what you want to do and talk to people in that practice area, you get the positions. Sometimes it is luck, but you have to put yourself in the position to be lucky.”
Take Molly’s story to heart and know that if law school has you down, things will turn out fine. This is a real story from a real graduate who did not get the grades she wanted, did not graduate with a full-time job, and is now in a position that she loves doing work she believes in, working great hours, and having no trouble paying off her loans.
Molly is happy to speak with you and if you want to talk to her, shoot me an email and I will connect you.