I'm Younger Than That Now
January 28, 2008 4:07 PM   Subscribe

Lawyer Alert! -- Say my beloved son is 22 yrs old and living in Montpelier, Vermont. Suppose that Montpelier has more lawyers per capita than any other state capital (which it does, because it is the smallest of them all). What service could this bright, good looking young man offer to all those lawyers in order to support himself while he gets ready to earn his college degree?

In a recent Gmail chat I told my son: "So...you dress up -- khakis and a shirt with a collar. You assume your "I'm a bright kid" voice, and you go around to all the lawyer's offices in town and ask for a job -- anything to start. They'll like your looks and your incentive to ask. They'll give you a job to start, running errands and making copies, maybe. You can learn the law trade. Seriously. This can work. You just go to all the law offices in town. If one has nothing, ask if they know someone who does. Act like a go-getter (which you are, though you won't admit it). Really. This is where the good jobs are in that town. Or in the statehouse. Take advantage of it."

Do any of you have some advice for him along these lines?
posted by partner to Work & Money (21 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I agree, he may well find a job that way, but he'll probably have to knock on a heck of a lot of doors to get the job. And I don't think he can count on learning the "law trade." He'll get some exposure, sure, but what the lawyer will need him to do is mundane stuff that probably won't give him much of an overall sense of what lawyers do.

When he goes looking, many lawyers won't even see him. Most of the lawyers who see him won't be looking for anybody. The lawyers who are looking for somebody may be terrible bosses.

Lawyers' needs vary dramatically between different law practices. What a corporate practice needs in an employee is very different from what a solo practitioner needs in an employee.
posted by jayder at 4:20 PM on January 28, 2008

Document management (filing), phone answering, computer support...
posted by rhizome at 4:20 PM on January 28, 2008

Wow, you sound like a great dad, but I think your email to him is way too optimistic and perhaps not at all reflective of how the job world works...but rather how we as good parents would like it to work.

Can he design Web pages? Maybe he can market himself to them that way.
posted by GaelFC at 4:25 PM on January 28, 2008

I've heard that male legal secretaries are dramatically under-represented.
posted by smackfu at 4:27 PM on January 28, 2008

It is good enough advice, but as noted by jayder, it isn't exactly going to be a trade job.

The benefits of working in a law firm are that they tend to pay well and look good on resumes (because the people reading resumes really don't know what the person did; it could have been important!).

In reality though, it probably would be a copy boy or a mail room boy. Or perhaps a runner who delivers documents to a courthouse. He wouldn't be doing anything substantively related to cases. While these are not sexy jobs, from a professional standpoint it looks better on a resume than "Worked at TGI Fridays". (Not that there is anything wrong with waiting tables; it just a different job on a resume than working at a law firm).

He won't learn how to practice the law. But he will learn what the day to day life is like in a law firm, which is often useful knowledge to have if one wants to become a lawyer.

The door to door method may work out for him. He'll want to talk to the office manager moreso than the attorneys. A more efficient, but perhaps less effective method, is to send out a cover letter and resume to various office managers. He will get a high number of "straight to the trashcan" responses, but he will be able to canvass a much broader market. If he did the door to door thing, he should start at the biggest firms first and work his way down.
posted by dios at 4:35 PM on January 28, 2008

And don't wear khakis and a collared shirt! I know he's young, but it will make him look too young. Dark wool slacks would be better than khakis, and a suit would be even better than that. If he doesn't have a nice suit that fits well, he should wear dark slacks and a light collared shirt with a nice, monotone or striped tie.

Another bit of advice: he should be prepared to tell them why he wants to work in a law office, what he expects to learn there, and how that will help carry him into a career. something professional, and something true. "I am preparing applications for college, and I am interested in pursuing a pre-law major. I would like to learn about how a law office works and I would like to get an idea of whether I really want to go to law school. I also hope to gain more exposure to professional situations and improve my leadership skills/writing skills/whatever."

Same for the statehouse- wear dark trousers and a nice shirt, demure tie, and practice what he'll say when they ask why he wants to work for them.
posted by ohio at 4:42 PM on January 28, 2008 [2 favorites]

he could probably accomplish as much, or more, more rapidly by using classifieds, web sites etc. to find a job

a place looking for someone will likely be advertising it somewhere, and if he finds out about it by trotting around all day they're going to have him to a resume + cover letter and throw him in the pile with everyone else - then examine based on skills and work history

this aint 1930
posted by Salvatorparadise at 4:46 PM on January 28, 2008 [2 favorites]

If that is what your son is planning on going to college for (to eventually BE a lawyer).. then at the very least the "door to door" tactic will come across as honest/genuine. "(Hi, my name is _____, and I'm in college to pursue a law degree. I'd love to work at your firm, even if it meant part-time, starting at the bottom or etc..., Here is a list of references that will vouch for my strong work ethic. Thanks for your time")

Although.. (having some experience being self-employed).. I have to agree with other posters comments here, that going door-to-door is hard work, and yields rare results.

as dios suggests, I think you'd be better off writing up a resume/cover letter and using that. Make it unique and creative (eye-catching) .

Persistence is good, but if you appear the same as the other 500 people wanting jobs, your persistence is only going to annoy people. Find ways to highlight your unique qualities (that relate to the job).
posted by jmnugent at 4:46 PM on January 28, 2008

So...you dress up -- khakis and a shirt with a collar.

That ain't dressing up. Proper pants, proper shoes. Tie. Jacket. Belt. You can't overdress (short of a tux).
posted by notmydesk at 4:53 PM on January 28, 2008

Yes, get your kid to a suit store and put him in the presence of a tailor. He needs more than khakis and a white shirt to get a job.
posted by parmanparman at 5:00 PM on January 28, 2008

Unless your son want to be a lawyer, he shouldn't take a job as a runner or copy boy in a law firm. I did that job at two different law firms and it is TEH SUCK (I worked at the second firm hoping that my bad experience at the first was an anomaly, it wasn't). I am glad I did it because it convinced me that being a lawyer wasn't for me--those people work WAY too much.

If he does want to go into law, then by all means take the job. Good or bad, he will get a good sense of what lawyers do on a daily basis. But he absolutely will not learn the law trade. You'll just get coffee. And pick up dry cleaning. And drop off dry cleaning. And file the occasional documents at court. And pick up to go lunch orders for those too busy to take a lunch break. And make copies. And clean up conference rooms. And pick up kids at school/day care. Etc. And put lots of rough city mileage on your car. However, if he does all this well for the right people he can potentially get a good law school recommendation that could really help him out down the road.

I'm sure there are law firms where the job of runner is an awesome experience, but out of everybody I've ever talked to that is few and far between. Just so you don't get the wrong idea, I have no innate hatred for lawyers--my family is full of them! Its just that the fun/interesting tasks in a law firm have to be performed by the lawyers themselves. The support staff jobs just aren't very exciting.

I'd tell him to find a job working for a state senator or representative. The job might be much the same as described above, but its likely there will be some other more fun stuff, too.
posted by jtfowl0 at 5:01 PM on January 28, 2008

This is interesting. When I read you question on the FP, I thought you meant "what business can he start up that lawyers will pay for." Like, providing a courier service - all these lawyers have to send things to each other all day long, plus to courthouses, copy places, etc. and you could help! Charge each one a flat fee of $10 to run to the courthouse and file things each day. Or, lunch delivery -- I often wish that places would deliver that don't. Or web design. Or template creation -- I spent a whole summer at a law firm helping automate documents that were used constantly. I'm sure there is some brilliant idea that I'm not thinking of right now that would work as an idea to market and leverage to all these lawyers!
posted by dpx.mfx at 5:22 PM on January 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Video depositions?
posted by trinity8-director at 5:30 PM on January 28, 2008

I read the question similar to dpx.mfx.

I'll just chip in something: a friend of mine is a computer whiz, and went to court for a traffic violation. While there, he removed a virus from his lawyer's laptop, and has since been a computer consultant for her as-needed. At $50 an hour.
posted by fogster at 5:35 PM on January 28, 2008

I did too. I would add: document imaging service. With pickup and delivery.
posted by yclipse at 5:37 PM on January 28, 2008

I did something like this while I was in college, though I cold-mailed resumes with cover letters to law firms. Some larger firms have programs for college students in which they hire the students as legal secretaries for the summer. I cannot suggest strongly enough that he get a position like this if he is at all interested in attending law school. While he would not perform substantive legal work, he would become familiar with the parts of legal documents, possibly learn formatting and filing requirements, and would definitely see what attorneys do daily in their jobs.

I'm now in law school and clerking part time. Working as a legal secretary definitely gave me an edge in finding a clerk position. Additionally, having a basic familiarity with the format of legal documents has proven beneficial both in my required writing classes and for the writing that I do at my clerking job. Mostly, though, working for attorneys in a secretarial and, eventually, quasi-paralegal capacity helped me to understand what I was actually going to be getting myself into if I went to law school. For a lot of the other students with whom I worked, the job dissuaded them from going to law school; for me, it cemented my desire to go.
posted by betty botter at 5:56 PM on January 28, 2008

dpx.mfx has it right -- I used to work for a small firm in Boston and those kinds of services are CRUCIAL, plus there's no pool of interns or clerks or fresh college grads or whoever the hell the big boys use for all of the above.

MANY, many lawyers are not ultra tech savvy, and IT skills that are suited to both general small office management *and* the legal business will take your son farther than just volunteering to do whatever, wherever. As he starts to build up a relationship with a handful of firms (keeping his eyes open as he does it), THEN he can pull the "I'd like to work in a law firm" routine. Something like this:

"Lawyer X, do you have a minute? I originally started my business [running documents to the courthouse / doing websites for small firms / whatever] because I was interested in the legal profession but not sure if it's what I wanted to after college. Now that I've been exposed to more of the firms here in town, I've really grown interested in the practice of law. Would you mind doing an informational interview with me? Or would it be possible to work here part time for you and learn more?"

This puts Lawyer X in the position to either say no gently (many small-firm practitioners run things on a real shoestring and truly can't afford to bring on extra help) or to point them towards another good firm they might want to ask for a job. It'll also help him weed out the crazies -- running between firms, the courthouse, etc -- if he's a smart kid and keeps his ears open, he'll learn very quickly which lawyers have a rep for being mean, crazy, drunk and all the other things you don't want your ideal boss to be...

Also: word to the wise... tell him to make friends with all the receptionists and other gatekeepers. They will know more about how all the smaller law firms in town are being run than any other source... ;)
posted by bitter-girl.com at 7:16 PM on January 28, 2008

Isn't the OP's suggestion, like, the definition of a "paralegal"?

Not that the kid would get any kind of senior, hands-on role right off the bat, but it seems like there _is_ a pretty well-established path for eager, industrious non-lawyers to do exactly what the OP's talking about.
posted by LairBob at 7:18 PM on January 28, 2008

Seconding dpx.mfx for jtfowl0's reasons.
posted by salvia at 11:21 PM on January 28, 2008

I worked as a receptionist/file clerk in a small law firm and did really get to know about how a law firm worked from reading through the stuff I was filing. If I'd wanted to I could have worked my way up to legal secretary and paralegal, which could have been a good career path to being a lawyer. But now I'm an artist who is married to a lawyer.
posted by Melsky at 7:31 AM on January 29, 2008

The more competitive an industry gets, the more need there is for sound marketing. What may he be able to do to better understand the legal needs of the general population? Are there any added customer service-related activities that might distinguish one practice from another, or make it more desirable to work with? All professions need to understand the people they serve, in order to better provide the services that are relevant to them. This applies to the professional realms as well. Don't believe me, check out this article from Minneapolis.
posted by 53B3L1U5 at 12:10 PM on January 29, 2008

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