Last week, I caught up with Joe Lesiak, a 2018 NDLS law graduate, and a Compliance Examiner at the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) in Chicago. Joe works in a JD advantage compliance position, which he landed the summer after graduating from law school. Because his career path is a bit non-traditional and he did such a great job in law school of focusing on his own goals and interests rather than getting distracted by what everyone around him was doing, I think this conversation is especially enlightening.
KMB: What made you decide to go to law school?
JL: It was kind of something I had always been interested in. I had an interest in politics and government. When I hear this question now, I think why did I actually go so that’s actually a hard question for me to answer.
KMB: Tell me about your 1L year and 1L summer job.
JL: My advice would be to go in to law school with as few expectations as possible. Being ready to change and adapt is big. I went in thinking I would just be a corporate, big law associate right when I started and then everything just changes along the way. My first summer, I did an in house internship but even from there, you get a taste for all different kinds of areas of the law and want to make sure you’re still open minded throughout it.
I was non-traditional. I worked in sales before law school. I just wanted to be back in some sort of role working for a corporation. But there was really nothing specific class wise that steered me in that direction.
KMB: How did you get your 1L summer job?
JL: I worked at Rolls Royce in Indianapolis 1L summer. I did a lot of networking and had networked with lawyers in Chicago even before law school. This was a cold application with Rolls Royce. I just applied. When I went down there for the interview, I discovered my hiring manager was a Notre Dame grad so that helped but I didn’t have any connections before the interview or even connections to Indianapolis.
KMB: How was your 1L summer?
JL: Great. What I liked was it was a small department within a huge corporation so they touched on every single area of the law. They were more generalists. I got to see litigation, labor and employment, and contracts, and I got to work with foreign attorneys too.
KMB: Tell me about your 2L year.
JL: I was in London my whole 2L year. All of the classes were set ahead of time so I didn’t have a ton of choice but loved every single class I took over there. The job search is a little more difficult when you are in London in the sense that you have to make sure you’re on top of your game. Whether starting with OCI or doing calls, you have to make sure you’re available and take advantage of the breaks in the school year if you’re back in the states. Be proactive. You can’t just go away for the whole year and come back and expect to have a job waiting for you.
My second summer, I had a judicial internship, which I had lined up before I left for London. I also worked at a small firm in the Chicago area, a job I didn’t get until April.
KMB: Did you participate in OCI?
JL: Yes, I did OCI. I had accepted the the judicial internship early and then tried to split my summer with a big law firm. Most of the firms I interviewed with want you for the whole summer so it wasn’t an option. If you want to work in big law, don’t expect to split your summer.
KMB: How was your 2L summer?
JL: I loved working for the judge. If you want to really brush up or focus on your writing, that’s probably the best experience you can get. You’ll get real cases to work on and get to interact with the clerks everyday. You get to be behind the curtain and see how everything works. My other job, the firm, was small plaintiffs’s attorney firm in the Chicago suburbs. Since they were so small, they really relied on their interns so I was drafting complaints and had an opportunity to go into court every single day if I wanted to. I got to sit in on client interviews and depositions.
KMB: Did the firm hire anyone to start after graduation?
JL: That’s really not how their model worked. That’s important advice too. Make sure you set that expectation ahead of time regarding whether it is possible to get an offer after graduation.
KMB: Tell me about your 3L job search.
JL: It was rough because you see people getting big law jobs from summer and you have to put that out of your mind and realize that like everything else in life, everyone follows a different path. I was able to power through that. It was honestly just networking like crazy. You kind of have to figure out who you have talked to in the past and then make those asks. You can ask them who they know or see who’s hiring.
I literally went on every single interview I was offered. I never turned down a phone interview even if it was for a job I was absolutely not interested in.
I reached out to a lot of people who weren’t even in legal careers but were working in any sort of professional position I could think of. Insurance, consulting, tax, you name it, I talked to someone working in the field. You’re always going to learn something when you talk to people, even outside of the law.
KMB: What is your current job and how did you land it?
JL: I am a Compliance Examiner with FINRA. I did my interview with FINRA in the middle of summer after graduating from law school. I got the interview based on a cold application. I spoke with you over the summer about how FINRA is one of the placement sites for Notre Dame’s Chicago program and I mentioned the existence of that externship in my second interview. That made a difference. I am really surprised at how many JDs there are in the role that I am doing, especially the new hires. The last six they have hired, three of us are JDs.
KMB: Tell me about your job? What does it involve?
JL: At FINRA, we are essentially insuring that broker dealers in the securities industry are following FINRA rules and we are looking to make sure they are following FTC rules too. Our job is about investor protection and preserving market integrity. A lot of it feels like legal work because there is a discovery process where you are getting documents from securities firms and then looking to figure out where the red flags are.
We look at everything through a risk based lens and we are involved in an ongoing monitoring process.
KMB: How did you hear about the position at FINRA?
JL: I did a lot of keyword searches on LinkedIN and just looked at different people’s roles. I searched for “regulatory compliance” and after clicking through, it led me to FINRA. I applied for the job through the website. It was really just a regular old application.
KMB: How was your summer after graduation when you were job searching?
JL: I graduated from law school without a job and interviewed for jobs that summer. I started bar prep right after graduation and was still spending several hours a week networking and job searching while preparing for the bar. Networking is a great way to break up the monotony of bar prep. You’re talking to new people and staying excited about the job search.
I got the offer from FINRA in early August. I had turned down an offer from an insurance company in May so the other advice I have is don’t just take a job offer because it is the first offer you receive. You still have time after you graduate to wait around and make sure you have the job you will actually enjoy.
Financially and mentally it’s straining to go without a job but think steps ahead in your career and wait for the right opportunity.
KMB: How long have you bee in your role at FINRA?
JL: I have been at FINRA for a week and a half. I’m still in training. Once we get going, it’s a pretty good work/life balance. FINRA employees get a good amount of vacation to start off with that we’re encouraged to use. Once you’re there for a year, you travel for on-site exams. You can work from home 1-2 days a week after a year too.
KMB: I am impressed that you turned down a job offer and waited for the right opportunity for you. How did you manage to do that?
JL: My mantra throughout law school was don’t pay attention to what other people are doing because you’ll fall into this trap of doing something you don’t want to do.
Make sure you’re looking at jobs you want to do. If you decide halfway through law school that you don’t want to practice, don’t. I took the bar but knew while studying I didn’t want to practice.
KMB: How did you figure out you didn’t want to practice law?
JL: I looked at the lifestyle and thought about where I wanted to be long-term. I wanted to do something where there was interaction with external parties, something where I was not just reading and writing all day. You have this idea of what a lawyer does before you go into law school and then you get into the world and see what being a lawyer is actually like. I saw it and thought I don’t know if I can do this for 40 years. Make sure you’re willing to change expectations completely. If you see what being a lawyer is like and decide it isn’t for you, don’t pursue it. Go another route.
If you’re interested in talking to Joe to learn more about his career path, his work at FINRA, or to get more of his great advice, reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will put you in touch.