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May 01
Quality, not quantity.
The potential paths to satisfying legal employment are many and varied, but one standard piece of advice is to network. Whether you’re looking for a 1L summer job or hoping to make a lateral move as a seasoned lawyer, connecting with lawyers who are already doing the sort of work you hope to do has the potential to get you where you want to go. But it only works if you make a successful connection. Now, even the most charming email written in the most targeted way won’t always create the kind of spark that inspires the recipient to invest in your job search, but everyone can get aboard with this attainable goal: Don’t annoy the hell out of the recipient.

Learning from the mistakes of others is always nice, combining all the advantage of self-improvement without the need for any pesky personal missteps. A non-Michigan Law grad lawyer friend—yes, I have those—received an inquiry from a recent graduate of the same alma mater. The recent grad’s email conveyed just three bits of information: (1) she had learned of my friend from a third alum; (2) she is “based in” a city that is not where my friend lives; and (3) she would like to talk to my friend. Other than the shared alma mater, she didn’t proffer any reason why they would have anything to talk about. She described nothing of the work she sought, and gave not even the briefest description of her own background. Nothing in the email suggested why my friend might a good resource. And, in fact, given that one of her three sentences implied that she was looking for work in a different legal market, the reasonable conclusion would be that my friend wouldn’t be of any particular assistance.

The gentlest characterization I can come up with for this email is that it was a bit . . . lackadaisical. The writer appeared to have taken no time to do any research about the person she was importuning, and didn’t personalize the communication in the slightest. Presumably, the email was a template that she had sent to zillions of lawyers, but it is unfathomable to me that any of the emails ever elicited a positive response. After all, how many advertising circulars do you read with close attention? And at least those are selling something that theoretically may be personally beneficial to you; in our scenario, the person is basically soliciting a donation to an unknown cause.

Volume emailing is just no substitute for effort. At a bare minimum, you have to signal to the recipient what, exactly, you are seeking. How much of a donation to this unknown cause do you actually want? Any open-ended request to “talk” is likely to fill the heart of any legal professional with dread. Most lawyers measure out their lives in the coffeespoons of one-10th of an hour increments, and all of them feel understandably leery about starting any conversation with a stranger that might lead to their devoting three or four or five coffeespoons before they can extract themselves.

I would not have been surprised had my friend chosen to ignore this email entirely. But she instead wrote back in a noncommittal but friendly way, suggesting the recent grad keep an eye on her firm’s website and providing a link to the section where jobs get posted. She added that she’d be happy to talk if it would be helpful, but that she doubted she had any advice that was much different from whatever advice the emailer had already received from the alumna who had punted the connection to my friend in the first place.

While that response could be seen as a brush-off, it definitely left enough of a crack in the door to suggest to an assiduous job-hunter that the interaction was even yet salvageable. (The fact that the very minimal email overture elicited even this much of a response actually, in my view, speaks to the reflexive inclination of many, if not most, people to be helpful when asked.) She could have recovered her earlier fumble (NB: that was a football analogy! I thought of it all by myself!) by saying, “Thanks so much for your kind response. Here’s why I’d like to talk to you: your background in XYZ makes me think you would be perfect for advising me about ABC,” or something along those lines. A well-turned compliment would not have been misplaced. An acknowledgment that her correspondent is a very busy person might have been well-received.

That is not, however, the tack she took. She instead went the unusual route of berating her would-be helper: “One wonders if at the time that you graduated, you, too, were directed to a website and if that was helpful to you in finding your first position? I always ask myself if the senior, settled, lawyers of today recall at all what it was like for them when they were finding their first position with a firm? Moreover, I am uncertain if you have knowledge of what others may have suggested to me. Many thanks.”

Now, I have been known to indulge in sarcasm from time to time. Like, 60 times an hour during most of my waking moments, more or less. But one must consider one’s audience! What on earth can the indulgence in a fit of pique do for the job-seeking cause? Rather than putting this job-seeker on a short list of talented potential future associates, my friend instead went back to the initial alum, who allegedly steered the recent grad to my friend in the first place, to ask, “Who is this person, and why did you saddle me with her?” She thereby learned that the recent grad had found the initial alum through the magic of Google, and that the initial alum likewise had no particular connection with her; she told my friend that as far as she was concerned, my friend should ignore the recent grad, and she would plan to do the same.

When one email leads two different lawyers to resolve never to help you, your networking attempt has gone awry. That’s, like, the anti-job search. And it was an outcome that was eminently avoidable.

Right as I was about to put the finishing touches on this post, I happened to notice an apropos piece in today’s ABA Daily e-Journal, referring to words of wisdom in a similar vein from law admissions consultant Anna Ivey. (Thank heavens I’m not writing law review articles here, allowing me to view Ivey’s contribution not as preemptive, but as external validation.) Ivey actually recommends largely eschewing email, and doing all networking in person, but I wouldn’t go that far. I tend to think that because lawyers are often introverts, many will actually prefer email as a gentler, more manageable initial interaction—and in fact, I can think of an enormous number of job-search successes that stemmed from an email exchange (often, frankly, with no more connective tissue than a shared alma mater and an interest in the same legal field). But the email has to be well-done; while most people lack the sheer chutzpah that will get them irrevocably placed on a do-not-hire list, an email that elicits enthusiasm will require effort and thought.

-Dean Z.
Senior Assistant Dean for Admissions,
Financial Aid, and Career Planning

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