Career Advice for a Recent Law Grad
May 18, 2012 5:28 PM   Subscribe

I'm seeking any and all advice regarding my career search. I will be relocating to Los Angeles from the Midwest in July. I lived in Los Angeles prior to attending law school and have always wanted to move back. I graduated from law school this month and will be taking the California bar exam. Unfortunately, the Career Services department at my school offers me very little assistance.

The law school I graduated from has generally been ranked between 70th-90th in the U.S. World News rankings. Unfortunately, I am ranked in the bottom half of my graduating class and only a “B” law student. Although my grades varied quite a lot, I did very well in certain subjects. I did extremely well in employee benefits law (i.e. ERISA, HIPPA, COBRA, OBRA, FMLA, ect.) and was taught by a particularly noteworthy expert in the field. This area seems to be my best chance at landing a quality job. Pursuing a non-traditional legal job such as work in a HR department interests me. Unfortunately, I do not have any work experience in this field.

I also did very well in intellectual property law such as trademark, copyright, and entertainment law. The professor who teaches trademark and copyright is very influential and well respected. One reason for why I might have done well in intellectual property is because of the connection to the entertainment and publishing industry. I graduated with a bachelors of arts in political science and English (3.62 gpa) in 2007. I maintain a strong interest in politics, philosophy, economics, art, film, and music. I am interested in becoming a writer which could provide me with additional income. I have solid connections with people involved in the publishing industry.

Constitutional law was another strong area, but I don't see this as enhancing my employment opportunities. I did okay in antitrust, employment law, my tax courses, and administrative law. I'm more interested in the transactional side of law than the litigation side. I have very limited legal work experience and would be in need of a mentor. My legal experience revolved around public interest work for low income people -- family law, bankruptcies, and litigation. Although I gained experience, the work was not a good fit and did not relate to anything I was interested in. My non-legal experience includes entry-level work in customer service and sales. Although I was very good at these jobs, I wanted to do something more with my life.

I am a natural leader who thrives at being able to direct and manage others. I have thought about pursuing an MBA at some point, but I absolutely do not have the money for it now. Business management and administration is something that really excites me. I was the president of a student group this past year and enjoyed it. We were able to put on a lot of quality events and increase funding and membership. My personality type on Myers-Briggs is an ENTJ. I remember my Gallup Strengths as being command, strategic, competition, and relator (I can never remember what the fifth one is).

A friend has offered me a place to stay in Encino for a month while I get situated. I can use his address to apply for jobs. I have a few other very good friends in Pasadena whose places I could likely use as a “base of operations.”

My minimum salary requirement for Los Angeles is $65,000. I sketched out a rough draft of my necessary and likely expenses. I do not need any reimbursement for relocation expenses.

Taxes $22,500
Student Loans $12,000
Rent $12,000 (with a roommate)
Utilities $1,000
Transportation $3,000 (auto loan payments)
Gas $3,000
Auto Insurance $2,000
Cell phone $800
Internet $600
Food $3,000
Gym membership $700
Shoes and Clothing $1,000
Entertainment $1,000
Total Expenses $20,000
Savings ~$2,400

I am considering taking public transportation which would save me a lot of money. I do not own a car at the moment, but I recognize that a car may be a necessity. I would probably buy something used for around $10,000 or less.

I am in excellent health, though I will be in need of some major dental work at the end of this year (minimum $2,000). The work is highly recommended, but not necessary. While having health insurance would be nice, it is something that I am not able to afford at the moment.

I can probably lower my annual student loan payments to $6,000 or so, but I would only be maintaining the interest. I have $115,000 in student loans. I have no other debts and have good credit.

I am 28 years old and ready to settle down and begin a career. I am fine with working well beyond 40 hours a week. I have no spouse or children. I am not involved in a relationship.

I am a member of the American Bar Association and the Los Angeles Bar Association.

Thanks for the comments and advice in advance. I really appreciate any help I can get!
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I was in a similar situation when I moved back to California after passing the bar exam. I went a 70-90 ranked mid-west school (DePaul if anyone cares) and wanted to return to California after graduation.

I worked the doc review circuit for a little under a year, which brings in good money, but is mind numbingly boring. During that time I went to a lot of networking events and applied to hundreds and hundreds of jobs. I finally landed something at a small IP litigation firm in the OC. So this is doable.

Do you have any interest in transactional work? The big studios hire JDs for rights clearance work, which might be something to look into.

If you stay with your friends in Pasadena, you can take the gold line into downtown for LA Bar Association events and other networking events. Encino will leave you a lot less options without a car.

If you're interested in picking up doc review after you pass the bar, or while you wait for results, feel free to send me a MeMail and I can send you the relevant staffing agency contacts. This will at least let you make some income while you look for full-time work.

Good luck!
posted by Arbac at 6:02 PM on May 18, 2012 [4 favorites]

Your knowledge of intellectual property law made me think you might want to check out this job opening, though you may not have the hands-on experience in rights acquisition and digital assets management. (I work there, so if you want to memail me with questions, feel free.) Even if that position doesn't fit your skill level right now, maybe that's a general direction to consider?
posted by scody at 6:31 PM on May 18, 2012

A lot of law student with A grades and top-tier diplomas have trouble making anywhere near $65k per year. Especially if you want an HR position with no prior experience, you will not make that much. You need to look for jobs below your minimum requirement.
posted by twblalock at 6:56 PM on May 18, 2012

Not to be mean, but scody's link is a job for someone who's done this sort of work before. But you can probably find some sort of entry level job in licensing or clearance rights for a studio or a production outfit.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:11 PM on May 18, 2012

I forgot to add, you should monitor The Daily Journal's jobs section. And use Martindale to find alumni from your school in the area. Setup informational interviews with as many local alumni as you can find. You won't have as strong a network as people from the local schools, but you should be able to find a few alumni.

What did you do your 2L summer? The job market for new attorneys is still terrible, so you'll have to hustle. 65k might be a reach, but it is doable if you're not picky about billable requirements or type of work. A mid-sized ID (insurance defense) firm should start you around 65k, but they'd expect 1850+ in billables, which is a lot of work for 65k. Smaller firms for the most part will start you at a lot less.
posted by Arbac at 9:26 PM on May 18, 2012

You could also keep watching for openings with the EBSA (Employee Benefits Security Administration) on the USA jobs web site. From my inside source (my wife, an attorney who's been with the agency for a number of years), it sounds like the starting salary might be a bit below what you're looking for, but it could rise to that level in a year or so.

Check out the EBSA web site for more info about what they do.
posted by neurodoc at 12:01 AM on May 19, 2012

I moved to California without a legal job, so I understand. Here's what I suggest:

1. Check with alums of your law school AND your undergrad. The Cal Bar website lists members undergrad and law schools (with few exceptions).

2. Meet lawyers. Go to bar luncheons, volunteer/work at CLEs, get out there and offer your services.

3. Reconnect with the people you knew before leaving for law school. If you had a job during school (or while you were in high school), drop by and tell them what you're looking for. Family, friends, whoever. Let them know you are looking.

4. Before you leave your law school location, get to those professors who are experts/with connections, and ask them for people to connect to. And, the key, is following up!

I found Guerrilla Tactics to be semi-helpful; I was in a different position than coming out of school, but it was helpful nonetheless.

Good luck!
posted by China Grover at 8:56 AM on May 19, 2012

My gut feeling is "holy crap this is a risky and not too great plan you have here." My friend in LA with a law degree says:
  • If [you] can get a job right away, the budget works...
  • A month is really not enough.
  • If [you have] savings, it seems like they would last longer not in LA.
  • I've even turned away a few friends who wanted to come crash "for awhile" while looking for work...
  • I've had periods of time from 6 months to a year where I was "underemployed" -- working my security gig, doing contract attorney stuff... contract work pays decently and will keep you going just for money, but it isn't a career.
  • Entertainment law, in particular, is pretty ridiculously hard to get into without knowing someone...
  • [You] would have [that] going for [you], being a new grad.
  • [I]t sounds like [you] might know publishing people, so that might be an in. And sure, it's been done.
  • I wouldn't personally recommend moving out without some solid connections or a lot of savings.
Further "my advice, not hers" is: good golly being poor in Southern California is unfun. Desperately unfun, the kind you never really forget. I stretched out years and years of "no career, crashing with friends" time in California that would have been better spent not in California. So.

Oh, and they say contract review is bad, and discovery crap is worse, but my mom's friend from law school who did what effectively amounts to legal software tech support hated her job worst of all. So, don't do that.
posted by SMPA at 7:23 PM on May 19, 2012

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