Lawyer career guide: how to get your first job as a lawyer in a remote world

Lawyer career guide

Searching for a job has never been easy for a law grad. With remote work gaining its momentum, the entire process seems to have become even more stressful — but only if you don’t know how to use the power of online to your advantage.

That’s why we’ve decided to create a comprehensive guide to help aspiring lawyers and legal professionals find their dream job as fast and smoothly as possible. This guide would also be helpful for experienced attorneys with years of practice behind who want to advance their careers remotely and improve their personal online brand. 

This is a robust guide with many links, but we know that lawyers cannot be intimidated by the number of characters in a text. Before we jump to practical advice, let’s talk about what is happening to legal jobs right now.

Here’s what you’ll find in this article:

What’s going on in the legal job market?
Job search basics
Networking on the net: How to build work connections remotely
Keep learning. Always
Befriend the technology
Search for practice opportunities
Set up your Work-From-Home environment
Stay calm. Nobody really knows what’s next

What’s going on in the legal job market?

“Job searching during a pandemic has been bizarre to say the least,” according to Emma Cassell, a third-year law student at the University of Tennessee College of Law. “While the process of applying has been largely the same, what comes after that has been vastly different”. With interviews moving to Zoom or phone, both law firms and rising talents are struggling to make informed choices: “It’s harder to feel out whether or not a firm will be a good fit for you over a screen.”

The number of open jobs and the competition have also been affected. “Many firms had to lay off attorneys at the beginning of the pandemic, so either they’re hiring those attorneys back or they’re competing for the same jobs as those entering the job force,” Emma noted further. 

Although not disastrous, the chaos of job search in 2021 requires flexibility and patience from everybody involved.

“I remain optimistic about finding a job; however, I know many haven’t. I have had to be a little more flexible about the types of law I am willing to practice and the cities I am willing to practice in.  I have been fortunate enough to have had interviews, where I know many are still struggling to get those.”

Emma Cassell University of Tennessee College of Law

Having numerous job options or none largely depends on where you want to work and which law area you are willing to practice. As one of the commenters on Reddit thread noted, “for every practice area in the legal market that’s taken a hit due to COVID, another practice area grew.” It seems that the instability of the legal market accompanied by a boom of WFH (stands for Working-From-Home in case you haven’t caught up yet) have created a perfect storm for the newcomers.

With a fluctuating legal jobs market, the least you can do is put in the work and adapt to the remote world. We hope this guide will help you increase your chances of striking a dream job right away. Let’s start with the basics.

Job search basics

First things first. Some basic aspects to finding your first job (or any job, really) have hardly changed since 2019. Organizing your skills and achievements into a well-structured CV, writing an honest and moving application letter, or just knowing where to look for open jobs in law — these are the things that remain crucial and largely unchanged. 

The rise of remote work has only amplified the importance of making a good first impression. Let’s go through the basics before moving on to more nuanced steps.

Craft a strong CV

Your curriculum vitae is the first thing any recruiter sees. If you want to be considered for the role, you need to make a strong first impression. There’s plenty of detailed guides to resume writing on the internet, so let’s focus on the most essential elements:

  • Keep it short. Verbosity (or wordiness) is a bad habit of many legal professionals out there. The advisable maximum length of a CV is two pages, so try to stay under this limit. Just start throwing out the least important information until you’re good. It’s better to have a short resume that gets read than an exhaustive resume that nobody will ever finish.
  • Make it scannable. Even after you’ve cut your CV to only 1-2 pages, it can still be hard to grasp. “Scannable” resumes make it easy for anyone to grasp key information about you just by browsing through the document. Make sure that your layout is well-organized, your text blocks are not too dense, and your block names are clear.
  • Strongest points first. If you don’t have much relevant experience, it’s better to start off with your education. In the education block, start with the details that express your strengths best. Stick to this rule throughout your CV.
  • Include your grades. Even if you think your grades undermine you, better mention them in your CV and explain the details in the cover letter. Leaving them out will only make recruiters assume the worst.
  • Add a (brief) personal statement. No matter how professional you want to appear on the resume, it is always better to add a short (1-2 sentences) personal statement to help the reader connect with your CV.

Learn to write ice-breaking application letters

Coming from law school or courses for legal professionals, you’ve probably written quite a few application letters in your life. No matter how experienced an application writer you are, try to always keep these suggestions in mind:

  • Tell your story. Be honest and make sure to express your personality through your writing. It shows when the authors are not attached to their writing, and application readers know it more than anyone else.
  • Tailor each letter individually. Creating a reusable template and just copying and pasting it to every firm might sound like an efficient strategy, but it is destined to fail. Research every company you’re applying to and make sure you write a tailored letter that fits their values, mission, and culture.
  • Keep it short and simple. Respect the reader. Recruiters spend hours reading applicants’ stories, so make sure your story is clear and easy to comprehend.

Where to search for jobs in law

Sometimes, all it takes to find a dream job is to be in the right place at the right time. It may sound like a self-fulfilling prophecy, but let’s mention it anyway: being on more specialized job search platforms increases your chances of finding the right job. Pick up a healthy reading diet of main legal job platforms and you’ll be surprised to see how easy it is to keep up with the updates. Here’s a list of websites that you might want to pay close attention to:

girl connecting via social networks
  • LinkedIn is an underestimated job searching platform. With just a little effort and consistency you can easily create a personal brand that will attract career opportunities and clients like a magnet. Learn more about promoting yourself in our in-depth LinkedIn promotion guide for lawyers and law firms.
  • LawCrossing is a subscription-based legal jobs board with around 60,000 active legal jobs on the board at any time.
  • Flex Legal is an award-winning on-demand UK legal jobs platform.
  • Lawjobs.com is among the biggest job-seeking platforms with access to top companies.
  • FindLaw is a great resource and consulting platform for both experienced and starting-out lawyers.
  • Lawyerexchange.com is a great platform for short-term legal jobs.
  • Justia is famous for its law database, but it is also a powerful tool for clients to find lawyers and firms. Be sure to create a personal profile to be found by potential clients.

Networking on the net: How to build work connections remotely

Networking has always been vital for building a successful career in law. Prestige law schools pride themselves on having direct pipelines to all the big law firms, and there’s even a classic joke in the profession: A good lawyer knows the law. A great lawyer knows the judge.” 

But how do you find the right people and connect professionally if the only window into the industry is your laptop screen? Here are the main strategies for remote networking.

Talk to (a lot of) your seniors

Associates or legal professionals a few years ahead of you are the greatest source of relevant experience. Albeit probably starting before the pandemic, these people have just been where you are right now. 

With most in-person meetups and networking events canceled, the best way to learn from your seniors is to find them online and just reach out first. Go to LinkedIn, find junior lawyers from firms and companies that you’d like to work in, and just ask a couple of questions. Are their firms hiring right now? Looking back, what would they advise their younger selves if they could? Are there any other firms they can recommend knocking on? 

Don’t overwhelm them with questions, but focus on 2-3 most important ones to start the dialogue. If they are willing to share their experience, maybe suggest having a quick call to talk in-person. But don’t push too hard if you see that a person is not willing to share — just make sure to reach several people to get diverse opinions.

Join professional groups and discussions on social media

You might be surprised how much wisdom, help, and fun happens behind the closed doors of professional groups on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Reddit. Don’t try to exploit these communities for your benefit since it’s easy to get banned there for pushing too hard. Just be there, watch the discussions, and reach out if you need an honest opinion from fellow legal professionals.

Here’s a non-exhaustive list of social media communities of lawyers, paralegals, and other legal professionals that you might want to keep in your sight:

Build a personal brand on LinkedIn

Everybody’s on LinkedIn, but few lawyers leverage this platform to create personal brands. Still, LinkedIn is by far the largest platform for your potential employers, colleagues, and clients. The good news is that you don’t need to invest money or be a professional marketer to promote yourself on LinkedIn.

linkedin post with multiple likes

Start with these simple steps:

  • Fill in maximum sections in your profile.
  • Decide what you’d like to share professionally. Do you have a unique educational experience? Are you interested in a particular section of law? Insider law memes that you love the most? Write all of them down — they are the fundament of your future personal brand.
  • Start posting and don’t ever skip. A steady stream of decent content is much better than rarely appearing genius content.

Read our 15-step deep dive into LinkedIn for lawyers if you want to dig deeper on this topic.

Commit to three non-work activities

Extra curriculum stuff here. This might sound like a waste of time at first, but try to approach your hobbies and interests more seriously. Go to group online sessions of yoga if you enjoy practicing once in a while, or become a part of your local birdwatchers community if you enjoy observing nature. 

Pick anything you love, but really commit to it and get to know other people with similar interests. You may never know where the next professional breakthrough will come from, but diving into other things you love will increase your chances of breaking through. Plus, it’s just a great way to cope with stress and keep your mind curious.

Keep learning. Always

Surviving law school may have been a challenge, but it’s important to keep learning as you progress through your career. Naturally, you are going to deepen the expertise in your area of law practice, but there are other things you can start learning right now. 

Learn how to communicate effectively with colleagues and clients

Law school education is focused on practicing law, but in real life, the job doesn’t end there. Daily communication skills are vital for reaching success in law. Lawyers negotiate with clients, resolve conflicts, and build working relationships with colleagues every day, and most young professionals come unprepared for these tasks. 

The remote work only increased the clients’ need to stay in touch with their lawyers, so there’s a growing demand for young legal professionals with outstanding soft skills.

Luckily, there’s a lot of information on business communication ethics online, so you can catch up and be prepared for the avalanche of daily communications during remote work. 

If you have enough time and resources, search for Bridge-the-Gap courses for lawyers that cover extensively all the gaps between education and work. 

Join conferences, webinars, and online courses

Conferences and learning events are places of extra knowledge and industry-specific insights that can only be matched by real-life experience. 

Thanks to booming remote activities, there’s plenty of webinars to choose from. There’s a monthly Career Development webinar from the American Bar Association or the already mentioned Bridge-the-Gap courses for legal professionals fresh out of law schools. 

Once you choose resources that fit your career interests, make sure you take everything from them. Communicate with your mentors and fellow professionals, ask questions and work them through. Remember that online learning events are about networking just as much as they are about learning.

Befriend technology

Tech-savvy lawyers are a rare bird.  The pandemic has urged many firms to pick up digital technology faster, but there’s still plenty of room for improvement. A confident grasp of tech — from video conferencing software to contract management tools — is an enormous competitive advantage for a remote lawyer. And tech-savviness is one of the most prominent skills of future lawyers and, by extension, one of their greatest career assets. In short, get serious about technology and make sure to communicate your tech skills in your CV.

Not all tech skills are essential for lawyers. Despite all the buzz, you don’t have to know how to code to be fit for the future. On the other hand, knowing your way around basic software tools widely used in the legal industry is vital. To make a great impression on your employer and to simplify your first month on the job, get familiar with these types of technology beforehand:

  • Emailing will be a big part of your daily responsibilities. Read more about how to manage your emails more efficiently and securely in this LinkedIn article.
  • You will spend a lot of time writing and reviewing documents in text editors like Microsoft Word or Google Docs. In case you haven’t hacked the tricks of working with these tools, it’s time to do that. While you’re at it, discover extensions for Word and Docs that are aimed to improve lawyers’ lives. Our contract review extension Loio is one of these tools with a generous free trial and simple design.
  • Task or contract management software. Browse through all-in-one legal solutions like Clio or just try Trello for personal task management. In 2021, using a task management tool is basically synonymous with anxiety prevention. 
  • E-Discovery is growing fast, so at least give a look at some of the market leaders like Everlaw and Relativity — you might end up working with their software.
  • DocuSign or other e-signing tools are essential to remote negotiations, so you might want to check a few tutorials on how to work with them.

Search for practice

Most law grads face the same issue: they are qualified and ambitious, but they lack practical experience. Nobody expects recently graduated people to have years of practice behind their backs, but having relevant hands-on experience can give you just enough extra points to edge the rest of your competitors for the job spot.

Remember our list of legal jobs platforms? Those platforms are also great places to find internships, so don’t be shy to browse this section as well.

If you’d like to earn work experience while doing socially valuable work, look into public service opportunities. For instance, American Bar Association offers a lot of Pro Bono and public services options for young lawyers. With the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic like mass evictions and the healthcare crisis, the demand for legal professionals is higher than ever. 

Set up your Work-From-Home environment

Let’s say you followed every single piece of advice we mentioned above and received an interview invitation for the job of your dreams. Great, but where will you set this call and (hopefully) work eight hours a day, five days a week? If you haven’t set up a proper remote workspace for yourself, you’ll only add stress to your already anxious first weeks at work. Better take care of your workplace before you receive a job offer.

cat near a laptop
  • Establish a workstation. After 2020, talking about a proper workstation at home is almost a cliche. Still, good WFH ergonomics is good for your body and mind. Your pain-free back, tight sleep, and stable mental health will thank you for taking care of the workspace before getting a job. 
  • Find a good place for interviews and calls. Experimenting with Zoom backgrounds or filters is not an option anymore. Organic background — channeling integrity and professionalism —  has clearly beaten all the alternatives throughout the pandemic. It’s more than just hanging a filled bookshelf behind your workstation. Setting up reliable software and checking your audio and video signal quality are also essential. A video call is the closest thing to an in-person conversation that you’re going to get, so you better make it right. Here’s a great guide from the New York Times
  • Make sure your internet connection is stable. You really don’t want your internet to fail you during an online job interview. Analyze your current connection speed and stability and research whether there are better providers or routers within your price range.  
  • Establish secure communication channels. Be where your employer or client wants to talk before you start talking. Slack is a great work chat solution, while CaseMail, Gmail, and Outlook are established email communication services. Also, be sure to have your smartphone switched on and battery charged — you never want to miss an important call.
  • Move to a safe cloud. WFH may stand for “Working From Home,” yet the remote work is not limited just to your home desk. You need to be ready to access work files from any device and place, so moving your work to the cloud is a necessity. Use well-established secure services like Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive to keep work at hand. If you need to transfer large files easily and securely, check out the WeTransfer tool as well.

Stay calm. Nobody really knows what’s next

The pandemic has disrupted almost every realm of human life, and the long-standing effects of COVID-19 are only about to unravel. Nobody really knows what’s going to happen to the world in a couple of years, and that’s okay to talk about it. This is new even to the most experienced professionals out there, so don’t let this uncertainty overwhelm you. 

Law firms too realize this is new to nextgen lawyers. In spite of their conservative reputation, firms around the world are tuning into remote work and picking up more and more digital instruments to improve their work.  It may take some time and effort, but law firms are ready to adapt.

In the long run, the best strategy for remote legal pros is to relax about the things out of their grasp and do the things that they can control. With this guide, we hope you’ll focus on the former and get your dream job offer. Good luck!

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