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Developing a Comprehensive Job Search

Employer Outreach: Law Firms

As the legal market continues to change, we have learned that students who conduct their job searches in several geographic areas and at different types of employers simultaneously give themselves the best opportunity for finding a summer position that meets their goals. Therefore, we encourage you to cast a wide net during the recruiting process. Our formal recruiting programs are only appropriate to a certain number of employers, most notably those who can predict their hiring needs and recruiting budgets well in advance and those who are likely to see a large enough number of students to justify the attendant expenses. Accordingly, many public interest and government organizations, smaller law firms, and law firms from smaller cities may choose not to participate. We therefore strongly advise that you do not limit your job search to employers participating in OCI, and instead encourage you to reach out to other employers you may be interested in, including those in a geographic area of importance to you or those that specialize in a particular practice area you might enjoy. Identifying and applying to these employers over the summer is an excellent way to position yourself for ultimate success. Below are a few steps we recommend to help you get started:

  1. Check to see if employers from your city of interest are actively recruiting Penn Law students through OCI, the Regional Interview Program or a formal resume collection. All of this information is available to you through Symplicity: log in, click on the OCI tab and choose the appropriate session from the drop-down menu to view participating employers.
  2. Begin to research other employers in your city of interest, and create a list of those you may be interested in applying to. A good place to start is the NALP Directory . For smaller firms, consider using the resources available on Martindale to identify potential employers and review our Tips on Applying to Small Law Firms . We also encourage you to review our compiled lists of firms in various regions across the country .
  3. Network and engage in informational interviews. The best way to learn about the legal community, while at the same time expanding your network of contacts, is to talk to alumni from both the Law School and your undergraduate institution who work there. To start identifying potential contacts, use our resources on finding Penn Law alumni . Write to these graduates as early in the summer as possible, enclosing your resume. Indicate that you are interested in learning more about the legal community in their city, that you would like to speak with them briefly about their practice. Once you speak with the contact, you can ask about his or her practice, about how he or she got started in that city, about what he or she sees as growth areas in the legal market, and what advice he or she would give to someone just starting out. Consult our networking and informational interviewing page for additional advice.
  4. Learn as much as you can about the legal market in your city. In order to be convincingly convey your interest in a particular market, you’ll want to know as much as possible about the city and its legal environment. To gain more information, contact the Chamber of Commerce in that city ; most will send you a wealth of information about the area and its business community. Other great ways to learn about the legal landscape in a particular region are to network with practicing lawyers there, to join the local bar association and/or attend its programs and to read the local business and legal publications (many are available through Biddle Law Library, Lexis or Westlaw).
  5. Now that you have identified potential employers and learned as much as possible about the legal community in your target market, contact the firms of interest to you with a cover letter and a copy of your resume . The ideal time to send these materials is after the 4th of July holiday but before you return to campus; during this time, many employers have settled things down in their current summer programs and are beginning to look ahead to their fall recruiting efforts. Your cover letter should be brief and very clear as to why you are writing. Since your letters will be arriving on the early side of the recruiting season, spell out exactly what it is you are looking for, for example: “I am a rising 2L student at the University of Pennsylvania Law School interested in joining your organization for the summer of 2019.” Use your cover letter to specifically explain your interest in the particular employer and location. Demonstrate commitment to the area by perhaps discussing your family ties, your knowledge of a particular aspect of the city and/or its legal market, your interest in beginning your career there, or your conversations with contacts. It is also advisable to include in your cover letter information as to when you will be in the employer’s city; notify the firm of the dates of your visit and ask if it would be possible for you to schedule an initial interview during that time. Note that for some small and mid-sized firms, this may be well ahead of their hiring time frame. You may want to express your understanding of this in the cover letter, but ask for a screening interview while you are in town despite the early request. If you are not able to be there in person, ask for a telephone screening interview in your letter. Click here to view sample cover letters .
  6. Follow up with employers. Approximately two weeks after submitting your application, call employers to whom you’ve written to see if they will be able to arrange a screening interview while you are in town.
  7. Be prepared for any interviews you receive .

Employer Outreach: Public Interest and Government

Although the hiring time frames for most public interest and government employers are later than those of large law firms, we encourage you to spend time over the summer researching organizations of interest to you and beginning to cultivate relationships with people currently working there. While you may not need to apply for these jobs over the summer, you can use the summer months to research organizations to learn which ones are doing the work that matches your goals and interests; to develop contacts with these organizations by networking and informational interviewing; and then to develop a focused list of employers you will approach in the fall. Please visit other areas of our website to learn more about public interest and government employers.

Because public interest and government job searches are self-directed and vary widely according to your specific interests and goals, we encourage you to make an appointment with a career counselor that can help you craft an action plan for the coming months.

Please click here for the Guide to the Department of Justice .

Please note that working at a law firm does not preclude you from taking part in public interest work. Many law firms that participate in our on-campus interview program have strong pro bono programs and are signatories of the American Bar Association’s Pro Bono Challenge, which means that they have committed to donate a certain percentage of their billable hours to pro bono. There are also opportunities for service through the many established law firm public service fellowship programs. Please c lick here to review a document prepared by Yale Law School that details firm-sponsored split public interest summers . Contact all-cpp@law.upenn.edu with questions about these programs or about splitting your summer in general.

Additional Pro Bono Resources

The American Bar Association has a directory of state and local pro bono programs available online .
Pro Bono Net has pro bono information for selected practice areas and jurisdictions.
The Law Firm Pro Bono Project is a project of the Pro Bono Institute and the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service. The National Legal Aid and Defender Association web site is also an excellent resource to find organizations offering pro bono opportunities.

Pro Bono Tips

10 suggestions for evaluating a law firm’s commitment to pro bono work from James Sandman, former Managing Partner at Arnold & Porter, Washington, DC, and a Penn Law graduate:

  1. Look at the breadth of the firm’s work. Look at the number of lawyers doing pro bono and the number of hours per lawyer.
  2. Focus on partner involvement. If partners are not committed to the work, they won’t be happy about associates working on pro bono matters over paying client matters.
  3. Externship opportunities - don’t place too much importance on them. They are good opportunities for a few attorneys at the firm, but if that’s all the firm offers, it’s not enough.
  4. Look at the firm’s description. Is it specific or general? Does it look like a marketing piece or is it substantive?
  5. How does a firm count hours spent on pro bono matters? Do they count towards the firm’s minimal billable hours goal? If there are different salary tracks for different hour commitments at the firm, do pro bono hours count towards that commitment? Does the firm have a bonus system that is tied to hours? Do pro bono hours count towards that?
  6. What are the types of pro bono work the firm has been involved in this year? Ask this at an interview to find out how familiar attorneys are with pro bono cases. You will also learn the substance of the work being performed. Ask the interviewer if he/she has the chance to do much pro bono work.
  7. How does the firm get its pro bono work? If the response is that you can do anything that you want, that may translate to you’re on your own to find the work, which isn’t always easy to do.
  8. Ask who runs the pro bono program. Most firms serious about pro bono will have a pro bono coordinator or partner. Ask to talk to that person.
  9. Many firm pro bono programs focus on certain types of cases. Be sure firm is willing to allow you to do the type of pro bono work that interests you.
  10. Does the firm have a written pro bono policy? Get it!