Q) I think I made a big mistake, and as my friends jump up and down about their jobs, I am somewhat scared. I elected to come to law school to make a big difference. If you ask me to define “big difference,” I would be as perplexed as someone trying to define the standards for reasonableness. After one year, the naiveté wore off; reality hit me. There were loans, parents getting older, and the desire to some day have a family. I realized I looked like a hippie, and if I wanted to make a living, I needed to not look like I hit the bong before, after, and during class.
So I did. Over the summer, I made good progress with some fairly heavy-hitting Pacific Northwest firms. I looked like a corporate lawyer, and I was determined to be one. I was in the top 10 of my law school class and thought I was destined for stardom—dreams of Skadden even began running through my head after interviewing with Bob Bennett.
Then in November 2008, with finals approaching in my first semester of second year, I was offered summer associate positions at three firms. With professors yelling at me and administration decrying my stupidity, I turned them down. Something didn’t feel right. It dawned on me that I did not really want to be a transactional attorney. In fact, I found the idea of staring at buy/sell agreements and analyzing assignment clauses downright repugnant.
The problem? I don’t have a job lined up right now. I have applied to every appellate firm I could think of in Alaska, where I want to practice, and I haven’t even received a return call—16 firms and not even a fun rejection letter.
So what can I do? With my goal of specializing in environmental and federal Indian law, what kinds of options exist for me? More importantly, what should I do to network and get myself into one of those appellate firms?
To conclude, was I a dumbass for turning down those job offers when my heart wasn’t in it but the money probably would have made me feel better? I guess I can always be a fire lookout.
A) Yes, you were a dumbass. Those whorish, commercial, satanic firms you proudly thumbed your nose at were your ticket to Mecca. In other words, they were your passports to the “appellate firm.” Most smaller firms don’t like to—or can’t afford to—train their associates. That’s why they tend to hire experienced laterals from bigger firms like the ones you rejected.
Sadly, your weed-smoking idealism clouded your judgment. It’s just a summer job for God’s sake! It’s not the rest of your life. Ten weeks. Lots of fancy lunches and dinners. A few research memos here and there. No one was asking you to sell your soul.
Luckily, you still have time to pull a rabbit out of your hat. First, stop applying to appellate firms (by the way, lots of Big Firms do appellate work; it’s not some magical term reserved for holier-than-thou boutique firms fighting the good fight on behalf of the disadvantaged) and start applying to government agencies and medium-sized firms. The Big Firms have pretty much shut down their recruiting process, so that’s a waste of time. But no matter what, you need to find a job somewhere doing something. Otherwise, you’ll spend your third-year interviewing season (futilely) trying to explain why you didn’t have a legal job during the summer. So make lots of calls, send out lots of emails and letters, and find a gig.
If not, buy a pair of binoculars and start looking for fires.