Thursday, September 20, 2012

Shedding the Stigma

Hello faithful reader! I hope all is well, whether you've just started your evening law school career, or are already deeply ensconced in the seemingly endless cycle of work, class, study, coffee, work, class . . . you get the picture. Now that I'm gainfully employed, I find myself wanting to focus more on job opportunities and the job hunt. You may have heard through the grapevine that the days of wine and roses for young lawyers are over (for further reading, see the Occupational Outlook Handbook, the Legal Whiteboard, and my personal favorite, Shit Law Jobs). I've never been one to lie to you, faithful reader. It's hard to find the job you want out of law school. But, it's even harder for evening students, and it always has been, so no great shock there. I know of a fellow evening student who was told that she'd never get hired because she went to school at night, while she was on the interview!

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Here's my beef: The fact that evening students are stigmatized when it comes to the job hunt is stupid! It's completely counter-intuitive, and it needs to come to an end. I never understood why being an evening student is seen as a negative by law firm recruiters. These are the same people who will exclaim "I don't know how you guys do it! I give you lots of credit!"  We don't want credit. We want jobs. Evening students have proven work experience, we "get" office politics, and obviously have presented ourselves in public without drooling - at least once - in order to get a job. What more do they need??

So, I think it's time to defy convention and fight the stigma (or "shed" it.  Like the picture. Get it? Nevermind.)  I've some up with a few ideas that may help:
  1. Use your cover letter wisely: Most Career Services offices will try to get you to write plain vanilla cover letters that emphasize your coursework, legal experience, etc.  Yawn!  Forget it; write what you want them to know about you. You're breaking your butt working, studying, and taking care of things at home--you're a multi-tasking machine! Let them know it! 
  2. Bring your experience to the interview: Many law firm interviews are quick and to the point, so you may not have time to really stand out to the recruiter. Make sure you bring your work experience into the discussion. But, not the way you normally would at a "regular" job interview. Analogize your outside work experience to the legal market. Have you done marketing research? Hammer the point that you are analytical and research oriented. Have you managed a staff? Make sure they know that you're comfortable with people, and could see yourself presenting to clients with ease. Maybe you're a techie? Talk to them about predictive coding and e-discovery. They'll never see it coming! 
  3. 'Splain yourself: I think part of the stigma surrounding evening students comes from the (incorrect) belief that evening students aren't as committed to the capital L "Law," and are only there for a quick career change. after all, if you really wanted to be a lawyer, you would have gone straight after college, like us committed day students! Of course this is poppycock, but it's another myth that probably has to be dispelled. Start your interview - even your cover letter - explaining your unique journey to law school. It will humanize your resume, and probably help a recruiter think about evening students a little differently. 
Remember that most recruiters were day-students as well, so they may think that being an evening student is admirable, but they won't really "get it," and they will bring their prejudices and assumptions to the interview. Dispel the myths for them with strong, persuasive arguments. Your work experience is not a negative; but you will have to fight to make sure it's a positive.  There is, as we know, no shame in going to law school at night.  You work harder, put in longer hours, have more responsibilities, and are arguably more dedicated to getting your law degree than your day student counterparts. Make sure you let people know it! 

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