Take the time to set a goal and create a path to get there

Starting a career as a lawyer is complicated. First, having no real practical experience, it is difficult to know what area of law will appeal to you. This also does not take into account your long-term career opportunities, and if there are even positions available in that area at the present time.

A good starting point is to think about what you want to do long-term and the necessary steps to achieve that goal. Some junior attorneys are fortunate and are able to slide into a job (whether a law firm or in-house) and it just happens naturally through hard work with that one employer. For most, it requires multiple steps to get there. For example, if your desire is to work at a top law firm, but the opportunity did not exist for you upon graduation, it is important to plan what steps you should take to get there. In particular, start working at smaller firm and try to develop the experience that will be coveted for career advancement. The work itself is important, but also focus on business generation (start small but make the effort). It’s also important to understand that it may take several moves to ultimately get to where you want to be (i.e. small firm to medium firm to your desired large firm). The same is true of making the move in-house. Most need to build a base (typically doing transactional work) at a law firm before making the move to a company. Of course, this may also require moving up the chain with law firms in order to maximize in-house opportunities.

Career planning can seem a bit overwhelming when you’re just starting out as a lawyer, but it can really make the difference in achieving your goals. Unfortunately, in the practice of law it can be very difficult to make a detour if you are going down the wrong path, so it’s best to plan ahead and think strategically about your career progression.

Full Disclosure

Working with a recruiter shouldn’t be hard. In fact, the recruiter should do a lot of the heavy lifting in the job search. That said, a good recruiter can’t do their job well unless there is an open line of communication between them and the candidate. To that end, at Sand Search, we want to know EVERYEHWERE that you have sent your resume (either on your own or through another recruiter). This information is critically important for us to do our jobs.

A sure-fire way to miss an opportunity is to have your resume submitted to an employer by more than one recruiter. It does not increase your chances of getting the job. The thought that ‘well, if TWO recruiters think I’m right for the job, that makes me more attractive as a candidate’ is flawed reasoning. Most employers would rather not debate which recruiter brought the candidate to them first, so in turn, they will pass on the candidate. That’s a missed opportunity for a well-qualified candidate that is based solely on poor communication!

Further, if you have submitted a resume through your own efforts and forget to tell a recruiter about the submission, it makes both you and the recruiter look bad when the resume is sent a second time. A good recruiter’s reputation can survive a hit like that. An applicant for a position has very little capital on which to trade, so it may be a fatal blow to the candidacy.

Don’t make those mistakes. It’s easier to just let the recruiter know that you have already taken the field for that employer. Have a frank conversation with your recruiter and let him/her know who has seen your credentials. It will be better for everyone in the long run!

The Dog Days of Summer

The dog days of summer are a perfect time of year to assess your current employment situation. For many, the late summer offers a chance to take a breath from a hectic work year - whether you find yourself with some free time in the office or are out vacationing. Yes, loyalty is an admirable trait, but if you are not willing to at least consider other jobs, you might be missing a real chance for career advancement.

Of course, the grass is not always greener elsewhere, but you will never know unless you are willing explore other options from time to time. There may not be such thing as the absolute perfect job, but you might be able to improve certain aspects of your career that are particularly important to you.

So, after some self-reflection, ask yourself if you are content with your current job or is it less than what you had hoped for at this point in your career? If you hoped for more, now is an excellent time to consider a change because you may actually have time to update your resume, start networking, and perhaps test the market. Even if you are waiting for a year-end bonus, it is not too soon to start the process.

Cover Letter Thoughts

A cover letter can be a powerful tool in your job search when used correctly. Too often the letter is used incorrectly or ineffectively.

A cover letter is not a resume in paragraph form. Rehashing a resume by simply telling me where you worked and what skills you gleaned from the position (repeated for each position) is not helpful.

Instead, you should think of the cover letter as an opportunity to do two things and two things only: (1) entice the reader to read your resume through your thoughtful presentation of (2) a compelling case for why they should hire you and not the next resume in the pile. It’s your chance to make your case as to why YOUR experience will solve the firm/company’s problem.

Another thing to keep in mind is that in today’s digital age, it shouldn’t be hard to figure out who is seeing a cover letter. At our company, there are only two people and they are both guys, so I often wonder how much homework someone has done when they address a cover letter to “Sir/Madame”.

Finally, please keep the cover letter short. You need to sell yourself, but if the letter is text-dense and long, it’s a daunting task to read the entire letter (when there are 19 other letters/resumes on my desk). Please be concise and summarize why you are a good fit for the position in a couple of paragraphs.

Following these few tips will help you get more interest in your resume and should improve your job search.

Interviewing Is a Two-Way Street

A common flaw in the interview process is focusing primarily on what you want, which applies to both the interviewer and the interviewee. Intuitively, you would expect the person interviewing for a job approach to “sell” the potential employer on why they should be hired, but the conversation can often center more on what can they do for me. Likewise, it is more common for an employer to focus almost entirely on whether this candidate is the right person for the position. Either way, you may miss an opportunity because you don’t address what’s important to the other side.

A critical component to a successful interview is to do your homework on the what the other party desires before-hand, if possible. This is undoubtedly easier for the interviewee if there is a job description, but both sides can and should explore what the other side desires in the interview and try to address those areas. For an interviewer, this may be simply asking why the person is interested in the opportunity and then specifically address the components of the job that would appeal to the interviewee. For the interviewee, there may be a template for the job in the form of a position description, but undoubtedly there are some areas that may matter more, and it often does not cover more subjective topics like working relationships, management style, etc.

Although a tight labor or job market may make it more critical to understand the needs and desires of the other side of an interview, it really shouldn’t matter when both sides want to find the best possible fit. Spending adequate time addressing what is important to the other side can land the desired candidate or the perfect job.

The Importance of the Thank You Note

One of the most overlooked aspects of a successful job search is the thank you note. Showing appreciation for those who interview you (and those who help you - in any way - with your job search) is vitally important for many reasons:

First, sending one shows you are excited about the job. Second, and maybe most importantly, it serves as a touchpoint to remind the interviewer about you (and to, presumably, follow up if they haven’t done so already). Finally, it shows that you are a professional.

The thank you note should be sent within 24 hours of the meeting. I think that the decision as to whether you should send the note by email or use a hand-written note is open for debate. Be true to yourself. If your handwriting is terrible, lean towards an email.

Regardless of what you send, make it tasteful and professional. Make it short. It should only be a few sentences long. Thank the interviewer, reference something that was said in the meeting, answer anything that was left open in the meeting and let them know that you appreciated their time. If it was an interview, it’s appropriate to say that you remain interested in the position (if that’s true).

A note on the hand-written card. I’ve received very few of them myself. Most have been great. One stands out. I received a thank you note with a picture of a dog playing the piano. It wasn’t professional. It didn’t say anything positive about the sender and it was memorable for all the wrong reasons. So keep an eye on reasonableness with the cardstock you use.

And of course, THANK YOU for reading the Sand Search blog!

The thank you card in question (next to a more appropriate thank you note)

The thank you card in question (next to a more appropriate thank you note)

Not Just About the Short-Term Gain

Compensation is often one of, if not the, determining factor for attorneys in choosing a law firm job. This is not a shock and is understandable.  That said, focusing solely on short-term gain can be a detriment to long-term gain and job security. 

With rising starting salaries at big law firms, you can also anticipate increased billable hour expectations.  There is nothing wrong with working hard and being paid well for such work, but failing to recognize the need to spend time marketing and otherwise cultivating “your practice” can have consequences. Ultimately, law firms either expect their attorneys to generate their own business or, if faced with another recession and potential lay-offs as a consequence, the first people out the door (or to suffer pay-cuts) are those who can’t keep themselves busy.  Equally important, is the opportunity at least to switch firms if you are unsatisfied in your position.  After a certain number of years practicing, laterals are expected to have portable business and opportunities are limited for those who don’t. Likewise, it is hard to negotiate for more money with your current employer if they know your market value, which is determined in large part by the size of a client base, is not great or not a real threat to you leaving. 

Everyone wants (and should) be paid for their hard work, but don’t sacrifice the your long-term prospects by focusing solely on short-term gain.  

 The Importance of the Job Description 

Everything has meaning.  That’s not some philosophical statement, I’m talking about the importance of analyzing what is in a job description before submitting your resume for a position.  

Far too often, there is a disappointing “supply” of jobs in your field.  It happens.  You are a litigator and right now all of the open positions are for corporate attorneys.  When you finally see an opening for a litigation position at a top firm, you don’t have the exact experience, but what the heck, you want to get your resume to the firm and let them make the decision.  Besides, how different can employment litigation be from securities litigation anyway?

That’s a big mistake.  Job descriptions are written specifically for the firm’s need – not to attract people who could maybe, kinda-sorta, hopefully do the work.  It’s a great way to be rejected for the position.

What’s worse is that once rejected, you may be labeled in the firm’s applicant tracking system as an attorney that was passed over, which makes it harder to be considered when a position that makes sense for you actually becomes available.

In all our years recruiting at Sand Search, we have not seen candidates be successful trying to wedge their resume into a position that didn’t fit.  If your experience is very close to that described in the position description, then by all means you should apply and explain where you are deficient in experience in the cover letter (also noting how you will quickly get up to speed on those qualifications,) but no amount of explaining in the cover letter will overcome having only 3 years of experience where the firm is looking for someone with 8+ years of experience.  It just doesn’t work.

And employers should pay attention, too.  An artfully drafted position description, with understandable experience criteria is important.  It can help applicants be aware of positions that they are (or are not) qualified for , which will increase the number of QUALIFIED applicants.  This saves everyone time. 

So before you see if a firm might be interested in hiring and environmental lawyer for their IP litigation opening, take another minute and dread the job description. 

Ti’s the Season – to Explore Your Options

This time of year often calls for personal and professional reflection. It is a good time, and often beneficial exercise, to re-evaluate your employment situation. Of course in this day and age, we should be grateful for gainful employment but that does not mean you should not consider ways to advance your career.

A Time for Reflection

This time of year often calls for personal and professional reflection. It is a good time to show thanks and acknowledge your achievements over the past year. It is also good time to re-evaluate your employment situation.

Loyalty is certainly an admirable trait but if you are not willing to at least consider other jobs, you might be missing a real chance for career advancement. Of course the grass is not always greener elsewhere, but you will never know unless you are willing explore other options from time to time. There may not be such thing as the absolute perfect job, but you might be able to improve certain aspects of your career that are particularly important to you.

So ask yourself if you are just thankful to have survived another year on the job or if you have plateaued in your current employment? If so, it is an excellent time to consider a change because there is no better time for a job search. People are on the move in the first quarter of the year and businesses of have positions to fill so it is a perfect time to explore your options.


We have a lot to be thankful for here at Sand Search.

We’re thankful for a legal market that continues to show its resiliency and improving strength;

We’re thankful for our clients and our candidates throughout the nation;

We’re thankful for more and more attorneys finding the legal position that’s right for them;

We’re thankful for all of you who regularly read our blog and send thoughtful comments to us;

We’re thankful for having the opportunity to place a wide spectrum of attorneys: everything from associates to partners to General Counsel at public companies;

We’re thankful for being able to do what we love to do everyday – help connect top legal talent with the right employer;

We’re thankful that law schools are producing more entrepreneurial-minded attorneys than ever before;

We’re thankful for the opportunity to take this time to reflect on what’s important in life. We hope that you will take this holiday season and spend time with your family, friends and loved ones and assess if you are where you want to be in this stage in your career. If the answer is no, take comfort in knowing that there is something you can do about it. Commit to finding the right ‘fit’ in 2016.

And we’re excited for 2016. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Dealing With Challenging Events From Your Past

At some point during the interview process, most law firms or companies will ask a candidate to complete an application or provide responses to a lateral attorney questionnaire. 

How To Increase Your Odds Of Interviewing Well

Is there an interview on your horizon?  If so, make sure take a common sense approach to making a good impression by utilizing three essential P’s: preparedness, positive attitude and professionalism.

Do You Love Your Job?

Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life. -Attributed to Confucius

Not Just a Buyer’s Market Anymore

There has been a lot of press recently about the rebounding market for home sales. For many years now, buyers have had their choice of multiple options and could afford to take their time in making the best selection.

Poor Grammar Is Everywhere

A fantastic article was in this week’s Minnesota Lawyer written by Brian Melendez (“Apostrophe’s abound (make that apostrophes)”). The topic was the poor use of apostrophes (and grammar in general) displayed by lawyers. Brian is a friend and an authority on the subject (he is, after all, an editor of Black’s Law Dictionary). The takeaway from the article is that so many people misuse grammatical mistakes that they have become commonplace and accepted (and Brian suggests that continued use of erroneous syntax could be tomorrow’s canon).

Utilizing Your Network

You may not realize it but you have a network.  This could be colleagues, friends, former law school classmates, etc.  Whether you choose to utilize that network is up to you.

The “Other” Resume. Remembering Your Online Presence.

Consistency is the hallmark of good pitching in baseball, a golfer’s short game and a good resume.  Employers are not just looking at the document you submit to them, but are looking at other information, what can be considered your “other resume,” and inconsistencies are going to be scrutinized.