Are you having problems getting interviews with law firms that you wanna work for? If you’re a law student or an attorney trying to switch jobs, I have looked at thousands of resumes over the years in trying to hire attorneys for our practice, and most of them are terrible. Today, I’m going to go over how to make yours stand out from the crowd.
How to Impress a Law Firm Hiring Partner
I recently went through the process of hiring a new attorney for our practice, and it highlighted to me something that I think so many attorneys out there are not paying attention to. That is, how your resume looks to a hiring manager or to a partner in a law firm that’s reviewing your job application. Today, I’m going to give you three tips on how you can get my attention, and likely the attention of hiring partners and managers throughout the legal industry.
3 Tips for Getting the Attention of a Hiring Manager
- Get relevant experience
In today’s world, we operate in a legal marketplace that’s very specialized. For example, my firm focuses on trademark, copyright, and patent matters, but we don’t do anything else. So, we get resumes from people that write a cover letter like, “Oh, I really want to be a trademark attorney. I think trademarks are so cool,” right? And then I look at their resume, and guess what? They’ve maybe done a clinic on trademarks or had a job where trademarks were one of ten things they worked on. That is going to be the easiest way for me to scan a resume in 10 seconds and move on to the next applicant, because there’s no relevant experience on the resume. So, if you’re trying to get a job with a particular law firm, especially in a particular practice group with that law firm, or if the law firm is like mine, a niche practice itself, you need to go out and get relevant experience.
I think there’s a giant misnomer in the marketplace today, that if you go through three years of law school and pass the bar, and have a license to practice, that you’re suddenly worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to law firms. Big firms perpetuate this lie. Quite frankly, a new lawyer, or a lawyer with just a few years experience in a non-related field, is completely useless to our firm and to most other law firms out there. We have to train you and invest in training you to actually have value from your services. So, if you can go out and get some of that training before you come to us, you become much more valuable.
The very first thing you should think about is going out and getting some relevant government experience in the field that you wanna practice in. Again, coming back to our firm, if you are a trademark attorney at the United States Patent and Trademark Office, and examined trademark applications for two or three years, and then you apply to my firm, guess what? You’re going right to the top of the pile. Because I know that the United States federal government trained you in how to examine and process trademark applications. And now you’re gonna come to our firm, bring some new knowledge that we might not have internally, help us draft applications, and file them with the same agency you used to work for. That is incredibly valuable. Now, is it going to take two or three years of your time to go work at that agency and get the experience? Of course. And in today’s world, I think everybody’s looking for the shortcut, right? Just submit my resume, get hired somewhere, and poof, I’m a trademark lawyer.
But that’s not the way it works. That’s not the way you really build a career. And instead of going after that huge paycheck in the first few years of practice or the first few years you’re trying to get into a particular area practice, go get relevant experience. If a firm will hire you, and hire you at a little bit of a less salary than you really wanna take, but they’re going to train you, thank them for that opportunity and go take it. But even better yet, if you can get experience in a government agency that is related to that practice area, that when you then apply for jobs, the hiring manager or hiring partner will say, “Oh, wow. That person worked for that agency that we deal with all the time,” of course, you’re gonna go to the top of the pile, and very likely get that interview. Again, I think this is a lot harder concept. This seems very obvious. But for an attorney to wanna take several years of your life and devote it to just building your resume, to ultimately get the job you want, that is a long play. And most people in today’s world do not have that viewpoint. I see so many lawyers that are coming out of law school after three years and saying, “Wow. I just spent three long years grinding away, now it’s time to reap the rewards.” Think about your counterparts in med school. Are they all of a sudden, just three years into their studies, and all of a sudden, reaping the rewards of being a doctor? No. It typically takes six to eight years, including their residency, to go through the whole medical training process and actually be able to earn a doctor’s salary.
Young lawyers simply should not be expecting these large salaries without any formal training outside of law school. So, accept that reality and go get that training. Really take the time, building that foundation, you will always have something like that on your resume. You will always have an agency for the government that you work for on your resume, because it will always be a brand name on your resume that people will recognize. The one other point you can consider, and some people may say, “Well, Josh, I don’t live in Washington, DC or I don’t live near where I can work for a government agency,” is looking for a job with a brand name company that everybody will recognize on your resume. And here’s what I mean by this. My freshman year of college, I went and took an internship at the White House. It wasn’t just any internship though. I was in my freshman dorm looking through job opportunities. I was at the George Washington University in Washington, DC. And on, I think it was Craigslist or whatever the job posting sites were in 1999, which they’re not as prolific as they are now. There was a post by the White House Press Office. They needed interns to come in at 4:30 in the morning, and to help make the press report for the day for the White House. And you can guess, not many college students apply for a job that starts at 4:30 in the morning, given that most people probably go into bed at 3:00 in the morning. But I said, you know what? Let me apply. This is the White House, right? You know, this is the White House. So, I applied for the job. I was like one of only two people that applied because nobody wanted to be there at 4:30 in the morning.
And I got hired on the spot by the assistant press secretary, I forget his exact title. Gilbert was his name, incredible guy. So, I start my job at the White House, and I’d go to bed at 1:00 in the morning, typically, 12:00, 1:00 in the morning, wake up at 4:00. So, I get three, four hours of sleep, go to work. It was a really cool job, just a side note. What happened is, in 1999, you would come in and you would get all the newspapers in the morning, and you would scan them for any related articles on the administration. And then we’d literally just cut the articles out of the newspaper, go to a coffee machine, put the article there, make a photocopy and get a page, right? And we would do this, and there was five or six people that was working in this office with me, and we’d do this all morning long for an hour and a half, two hours. And then once we had all those pages copied, we would walk downstairs in the basement, this is the old Executive Office Building, which is part of the White House compound. We’d walk downstairs in the basement, there’d be a guy in the coffee room, 6:00 a.m., 6:30. And he’d just start firing copies of this report, and the report end up being about this thick, and we’d get, you know, hundreds of these things. And then we’d have to go through the West Wing and distribute them to all the different people. I mean, to everybody from the press secretary to, you know, anybody that worked there, up to the president secretary. So, it was a really cool job, right? A lot of really neat experience. But I didn’t really do anything functional. I mean, I was literally cutting articles out of a newspaper and photocopying them. I mean, that’s not really that functional of a job, but it’s a good internship.
So, why am I telling you all this? It’s because every other internship I ever applied for, I immediately got an interview and normally got the job. I went on to work for the Department of Justice, for a senator’s office, for a large law firm in Washington, DC. All the competition for those jobs, I never had a problem getting my foot in the door, getting the interview, and then getting the job. You know what the number one thing people ask me in every interview is, “What was it like working at the White House?” That’s what they wanted to know. Now, not every job is gonna be the White House, but you understand what I’m saying. If you get a brand name job, especially from a company that’s relevant in your industry, from an agency that’s relevant in your industry, every hiring partner, every hiring manager, when they look at your resume, they’re going to see that, that’s going to stand out, you’re getting to the top of the pile and likely to get an interview, then it’s up to you.
- Create a custom cover letter
All right, so my second tip of how to get your resume to the top of the pile is to write a relevant cover letter. This is an art form that seems to be extremely lost. Now, I’ll be honest. I don’t even read cover letters unless I get through the resume. So, really important that your resume is targeted and has relevant experience to the trademark field or, depending on wherever you’re applying for a job, has relevant experience in your particular industry. But once somebody sees that on your resume, and they’re like, “Oh, this person might be a match,” the next thing we’re gonna do is then we’re gonna actually read your cover letter.
Do you know how many cover letters I get that don’t even address anything the firm really has done or does with any specificness? And it’s incredibly clear that the applicant has just changed our name, you know, from the previous law firm’s name on their letter and submitted it. I don’t think I’ve read but one or two unique cover letters out of the hundreds and thousands of applications that I’ve gotten over the years. Now, maybe I haven’t gotten to all the cover letters because I stop at the resume, but when I get to the cover letters, it’s extremely rare that someone says, “Oh, I saw that you opened your firm in 2008 in the middle of the Great Recession.” How cool is that? You know, not that you have to always stroke somebody’s ego, but it’s not a bad idea to mention that you’ve researched their firm. You see where they started. You talk about a case that they’re obviously working on that’s been in the media. You talk about one of the other attorneys in the office that you might have known or know of. You think of things and you look through the website of the firm you’re applying to, and you try to find things that you can talk about in your cover letter, just to show that you took the time to do the research, and you took the time to write a custom cover letter. If you do that, you’re going to stand out from everybody else that’s applying for the job, that’s just copying and pasting their standard cover letter on to letterhead addressed to that offer. And really, this probably takes about 15 to 20 minutes to do properly. But if you’re gonna apply for 20 jobs, people get lazy. And if you’re not the lazy one, and you actually make these custom cover letters, and you do a really good job at it, it’s going to put you head and shoulders above your competition.
And just let me tell you why I really like good cover letters, because I know that you’re going to be out there trying to sell potential clients to come work for our practice at some point, right? And if you can write a convincing cover letter as to why I should hire you, then hopefully, you’re gonna be able to write a convincing email or letter to a prospective client as to why they should hire us. And just showing me you can do that in a cover letter is invaluable. Do not forget to do that.
- Be humble during the interview
My last tip here is to be humble. If you have a great resume with relevant experience, and you’ve got a cover letter that you’ve written that really is targeted to the firm, and you get that interview, go in the interview and explain your desire to work and learn more. Explain that you know you don’t know everything, but you would love the opportunity to come in and work with the firm, and give them everything you have. I have so many interviews with folks that are worried about work-life balance, and this, that and the other, and that’s fine. I get it. It is what it is. But if you go in there and you explain, “Look, I’m a worker, and I wanna learn, and I wanna work, and I wanna build my career, and I wanna build my career with your firm, that’s how you sell a hiring partner or a hiring manager. You tell them that you wanna grind because you’re the new guy or girl in town, right? You wanna come in there and you wanna prove to everybody you’re now the best person in this firm. And if you can get that kind of energy and that kind of grind mentality, and you go in there and you tell the hiring partner, “I’m gonna come in and work for you, and I’m gonna learn, and I know I don’t know everything, but I’m gonna do the best job I possibly can, and you’re never gonna have to worry about my work ethic,” again, not everybody says that in interviews today.
Most interviews today, the interviewee is asking about, “What are you gonna do for me? How much time off do I get? What kind of benefits do I get?” And I’m not saying that’s not important, but that’s not something you need to talk about in the interview. That’s something you can get information from the firm on at some point during the process. During the interview, you need to convince the hiring partner or hiring manager that you’re there to work for them and that you’re gonna do everything possible to make yourself the most valuable you can be for the firm.
So, I hope you enjoy today’s episode. As somebody that has reviewed literally thousands of resumes over the last decade, I just see everything skewing the wrong way and very few people understanding how to set themselves apart from the crowd. And hopefully, you can use this video as inspiration to start doing that in your own career. Now, if you’ve heard something that’s worked for you or you have a question about any of the things we talked about today, I’d love to hear from you. We’re on social media. You can find us on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn. Leave me a comment, shoot me a message. You can always even email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you wanna have a private conversation or have a question about how you can better position yourself for a job in the legal industry. So, thank you for watching, or listening if you’re taking this in on our podcast, and I look forward to seeing you at the next show.