Congratulations! You made it to 3L week and you’re about to graduate. As you prepare to leave NDLS and go on to begin amazing careers, I wanted to give you my 5 A’s of maximizing your career and happiness after Notre Dame.
I cannot wait to see you at graduation and congratulate you in person. It would mean a great deal to me to get the chance to meet your family and tell them how awesome you are and how much I have enjoyed working with you. So if you see me around, please come and say hello!
1. Advocate for yourself
When you’re doing a great job at work and adding value, you have leverage. No employer wants to lose a great employee. Ask for raises. Ask for promotions. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.
I have a friend in big law who every single year asks for a raise that is just a little bit larger than what he thinks he should get and every single year, they give it to him. Another friend of mine who just graduated from law school three years ago recently asked for a job title change to “Ethics and FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) Counsel” of an entire state and they gave it to her.
2. Actively plan your career
As you start your legal career, write down specific goals for where you want to be in five years. Are you starting your career in big law and want to move to public interest in three years? Is it your goal to specialize in aviation transactions? Do you want to be the General Counsel for a sports team someday? Write your goals down and plot the steps that you need to get there. Make sure that you are making progress toward reaching each individual step.
Otherwise, five years can whiz right by with you just having accepted every random assignment that came your way with no progress made toward your goals and without you having carved out a niche for yourself. If you want to gain expertise in a particular area of law, work closely with certain partners or counsel, or chart a specific career path, you need to take active steps to make that happen. The career that you want will not just happen to you. You need to make sure you are getting the assignments that you need to get where you want to be.
Early on, you do need to accept whatever assignment comes your way and be happy and excited to complete it well. But over time, start taking more of an active role with respect to the work you’re doing.
If you want to move to a public interest organization down the road, network with people working for organizations you may want to work for in the future, make sure you are doing pro bono cases at your firm, and seek out assignments that are as related to the type of public interest work you want to do as you possibly can. If you want to specialize in aviation transactions, find the partners in your firm that do most of those cases, hitch your wagon to them, and ask them for work. Offer to write blog posts about an aviation transactions issue for your firm’s blog. Go to conferences that aviation transactions lawyers attend, read the publications they read, and write as many articles on the topic as you can. As you progress in your career you can seek assignments from the people you want to work with rather than just taking whatever comes your way.
3. Ask the CDO for advice after you graduate
We are your career counselors for life so our relationships with you do not end once you graduate. So stay engaged. Keep reading this blog. Email us. Call us. Meet with me in Chicago. If two years from now, you find a job that you want to apply for, we are happy to review your resume and cover letter for you. If you want to pivot to a new area of law or have a talk about career planning, shoot us an email. We are here to help and love hearing from our alumni.
Just this past year, I worked with:
-A Shaffer fellow completing her fellowship looking for resume advice as she applied to state court clerkships. (She got an awesome clerkship in Alaska!)
-An alumna looking to build her career in transportation law in Chicago after completing her admiralty law LLM at another law school. (I introduced her to several Notre Dame alumni in Chicago, looked up bar association sections and groups dedicated to transportation law, and helped her write a resume that best captured her great transportation law experience)
-An alumna who has worked in public interest for 8 years and is looking to get a clinical teaching job. (I tailored her resume to focus on her teaching experience with respect to mentoring interns, sent out email introductions to several clinical and externship faculty I have met through my own networking and at conferences, and talked her through the clinical faculty hiring process.)
All of the counselors in our office are happy to work with you at any point after you graduate and if you are in Chicago, I am happy to meet you in person. Just shoot me an email!
4. Approach your work with confidence
Many lawyers suffer from impostor syndrome. When you first get started with your legal career, you may feel like you don’t belong and lack confidence. That is totally normal. No one feels 100% ready when they are first starting out but fortunately, no one expects you to be an expert on your first day on the job.
A lot of success in life and lawyering requires you to fake it until you make it. Show up, be confident, and know that if you work hard, have a positive attitude, and an eagerness to learn, you will become a competent attorney. Meet other attorneys in your office, ask for their advice, and get their feedback on drafts. They will admire your initiative, see how eager you are to do good work, and you will climb the ranks in your organization.
5. Always put yourself out there
If you see a job you are interested in but you do not meet all of the qualifications listed in the job posting, apply anyway. Job postings contain the firm’s or company’s wish list and it is usually difficult to find a candidate that has 100% of the qualifications listed in the job posting. If in a year and half, you see your dream job but they want 3-5 years of experience, apply anyway. I faced that exact scenario early in my career, applied anyway, received an interview almost right away, and was very close to receiving an offer when I removed myself from consideration.
I especially want women to take this message to heart. Typically, men apply for jobs when they meet only 60% of the qualifications but women only apply when they meet 100%. Don’t let men get all of the goodies. If you have most of the qualifications, throw your hat in the ring!
Seeing the class of 2017 graduate means a lot to me. You are the first class that I have seen all the way through your entire law school careers. I started working at Notre Dame in 2014 just before you arrived so I have never worked at NDLS without you being here. You will be missed so please stay in touch!