Right place, right time: not quite serendipity

On this gloomy winter Friday in Lawrence, let’s brighten things up by highlighting the job hunting successes of three current students and one very determined recent grad.

Often a law student will tell us that he or she landed a job by being “at the right place at the right time.” Statements like this suggest that serendipity is to thank, when in fact the vast majority of successful job hunters make their own luck.

What appears on the surface to be a fortunate and unconnected series of events leading to a job is almost always a planned and cultivated strategy. While organized job seekers may not always be able to predict the end result of their searches with perfect clarity, through diligence and determination they increase their odds of ultimately being hired.

For example, I recently spoke to a 1L who landed a position with a highly respected mid-sized litigation firm in Topeka. The firm didn’t interview on campus, so how did he do it?

He met two attorneys from the firm at Legal Career Options Day in November. Neither attorney indicated that the firm had a summer law clerk position available, but the attorneys and student had a pleasant conversation. The student followed up with a thank-you note a few days later.

After the New Year, he sent one of the attorneys a cover letter and resume to inquire about summer opportunities. He was the first 1L to approach the firm after it had made the decision to hire a summer clerk. A couple of weeks later, the attorney contacted the student to set up an interview, which resulted in a job offer on the spot.

Or consider the case of a 2L who, after being rejected last spring for a number of paid positions for which she was well-qualified, finally took an unpaid summer position with a federal district court.

She parlayed this experience, and the recommendations she garnered from it, into a part-time, paid summer position with a small law firm, which undoubtedly helped her secure on-campus interview invitations. She prepared for these interviews carefully and eventually accepted an offer for paid summer employment with a large law firm in Kansas City.

Then there’s the 3L who knew that he eventually wanted to work out of state, but for a variety of reasons choose to work during his first two summers in Kansas. He spent his 1L summer as a volunteer clerk with a state court judge. During his second summer, he worked for a small law firm as a paid law clerk. He met several times with our office beginning in the fall of his 2L year to discuss how to best narrow down his geographic targets for full-time employment.

Armed with comprehensive lists of KU Law alumni, he made specific inquires about the job markets in a number of cities. Eventually, he narrowed his choices down to one city each in the two states with which he had the deepest connections.

A number of applications resulted in one job offer in each state, and he will proudly walk across the stage in May as an employed grad, without ever accepting a position from an on-campus interview.

Our final story of grit and determination comes from a recent grad who did well in law school but couldn’t quite decide where he wanted to practice. On-campus interviews didn’t pan out for him in either the spring of his first year or the fall of his second.

As a 1L he enrolled in the Judicial Clerkship Clinic. He secured a summer job offer as a 2L through a position advertised on Symplicity.

He initially hoped to land a post-grad federal clerkship, and got close on several occasions. When clerkship season ended he decided to take the Missouri bar, but not before submitting applications to firms in a number of other states. He soon received invitations to interview from firms that shared one thing in common — they weren’t in Missouri.

The interviews didn’t pan out, and no firms in Missouri were biting. By the time he graduated in May 2009, he was back to square one, questioning his Missouri bar plans and wondering how to restart his job search.

He took and passed the bar exam and eventually began working part-time reviewing legal documents in order to pay the bills. One of his co-workers, a recent grad from another law school, told him about an interview she had lined up with a local law firm with offices at a well-known Johnson County intersection. When he inquired about the firm’s name, she begged off.

Undeterred, our student drove to the intersection, wrote down the names of all the firms with offices there, and contacted each one by letter and resume. He secured an interview with the one firm that was hiring, impressed the partners with his attitude and preparation, and landed the job. He’ll sit for the Kansas bar next week and soon will be an employed member of the bar in Missouri and Kansas.

Right place, right time? Sure. Serendipity? No way. The moment these grads stumbled on something fortunate was the culmination of months, and sometimes years, of carefully crafted effort.

Todd Rogers, assistant dean for career services