Your Legal Future in 5 Minutes

A dean of a law school told me once that he could tell who would win a moot court competition within 5 minutes of the arrival of the competitors—before the competition even started. His postulation, developed over years of experience at this competition, was that the winning team was always the team that really wanted to be there. Not the most prepared, not the most talented or from the “best” school, but simply the team that was enjoying the process.

Similarly, after years of counseling students on legal employment, I believe you can learn a great deal about their future employment prospects in 5 minutes. I’ll dive straight into the “5-minute rule” beyond the obligatory—GPA, law school, location of your future employer relative to where you're from, and many other factors are all important. But they are also, for most job-seekers in this market, nearly immutable. You have already selected your law school, you can’t control where you are from, and as each semester goes by, your GPA becomes increasingly inelastic.

Quite frankly, not a single one of these above factors (or any other) is as important as how you conduct yourself. I have learned to pick up on two critical factors in the first 5 minutes: (1) Is the person seeking employment upbeat and ebullient about the process? (2) Is that person appreciative of the advice and time given to them?

Digging deeper, let me start by emphasizing that you do not have to be permanently upbeat and ebullient, and you do not have to be overly or ever-appreciative. Indeed, very few people are. I am certain that some of the people who I have counseled were likely neither, although they presented themselves as being both. After a tremendous number of interactions and outcomes from job seekers, I am also certain that it is critically important to be both upbeat and appreciative when talking to anyone connected to the hiring process. Those without the shining GPA or credentials who stay upbeat throughout the job search process, which has most certainly beat them down at times privately, those who always thank the busy professional who took 20 minutes away from their work or family to meet with them—these people almost always land somewhere happily. Maybe not immediately, maybe not as quickly as they would like, and realistically, in a difficult legal employment environment, perhaps not where they envisioned themselves when they entered law school (although, there are many wonderful stories of upbeat, appreciative individuals landing with firms that have cutoffs more strict than the GPA of the applicant… or who transition to where they want to be after a few years of working through the system), but they always do become employed. Conversely, those who complain incessantly and/or act like they are owed advice and entitled to your time most often land harshly or not at all.

The best thing about all of this is you can control it. This is the most difficult legal employment environment at least since the Great Depression and perhaps ever (I will blog about why this is in a future post; most people do not understand all the reasons, and knowing them is helpful in the job search process and in staying positive). You can express as much to your friends, family, even to me. But never, not once, express it to anyone connected to the hiring process. That includes your faculty, your references, anyone with a connection to an employer. The sine qua non of interaction with employers should be an upbeat and appreciative mindset.

You can determine your destiny over time. Stay positive; people gravitate toward and want to hire those who do!

– Mike Spivey