The worst vice is advice, but then again I have so many vices why stop here. I recently put together an email for my securities regulation students to share what little I know that might be useful to their careers, and thought I would offer it to the TOTM community. This advice is intended both for mid-career associates as well as new graduates.
First, some general career advice. Knowing substantive law is an important part of a legal career, a necessary pre-req to get going. But it’s by far the least important item in your toolkit. Being excited about what you’re doing, also good. There are, however, too many smart and passionate lawyers in the world. Two things distinguish the more successful lawyers from the rest of the pack: networking and salesmanship. If you don’t develop skills in these two areas, you’ll never really own your career and someone else will.
On networking: Let me start by saying that the ABA Business Law Section events are some of the best networking opportunities you’ll find. There are other events you should think about depending on your specialty. Meet people at these events, then schedule lunches with them. In fact, you should have lunch with someone you don’t know every week. Your rolodex will grow quickly, and you’ll be surprised at the opportunities you’ll find each time you sit down and make a concerted effort to mine your rolodex. You’ll be surprised at the ways you can help people connect with each other, and both sides will owe you one. You’ll also be surprised at how often people offer to share their connections with you for precisely the same reason.
Try to network with lawyers who can refer work to you, which they will refer either because it’s not their specialty or because they are conflicted out of it. More importantly, try to network with in-house counsel who can serve as your future clients. Put your rolodex on your christmas list. Spam them will mass emails that update them about developments in your area of the law, or with emails that let them know about your accomplishments (you’ll annoy a rare few people, but that’s more than made up for by the benefits from the folks who contact you for work, offer you a job, or otherwise connect you with someone you need to know.)
On salesmanship: Realize that you are first and foremost a salesman. Your wares are legal services. Before you can sell anything to anyone, you need to do your homework and know what drives your target. Where they make most of their money, what risks they are afraid of, what problems they have on the horizon that they don’t even know about. Then you need to let them know how your skills can solve their problem. Lawyers like to equivocate by training, but at the sales pitch stage of client development equivocation can be deadly. They have a problem, and you will solve it. And say it with confidence, because what you’re ultimately selling is yourself.
Below are a few thoughts about places to start with employment. Don’t be afraid to jump around, it’s an employment market after all. You need to try and stay at each job for a few years however, don’t make your resume look too flighty. I don’t think anyone would fault you for finding a place to stay out of the rain for the next year, then leaving as soon as you get something else. But after that, I would make a habit out of staying somewhere for at least 4-5 years before moving on. I won’t talk about firms, because its been done to death and career services can help you with that more than I can.
1) The Financial Regulatory Agencies. This includes an alphabet soup that you can look up if you are interested: a number of jobs at
Treasury, including the Comptroller of the Currency, the FDIC, the SEC, FINRA, the Federal Reserve, the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, to some extent the FTC. They pay okay, and you can land really well if you leave after 4 or 5 years.
2) The Hill—seems to be a place where most people start off at low pay and low title, but if they’re loyal and work hard they move up very quickly. You’ll still make less than most places, but if you want to jump to one of the agencies listed in option 1 you’ll find the agencies will value your experience very highly.
3) The interest groups: Chamber of Commerce, Investment Company Institute, Financial Services Roundtable, Community Reinvestment
Coalition, various lobbying shops, etc. (just a sample, there are a ton of them). This won’t likely be an option until after you spend a
air amount of time at 1) or 2), but a good goal to shoot for.
4) In House–Fair hours, fair pay, probably not a good option until you spend some time at a firm or at one of the options above. This is a career option that headhunters can help you with, but it is just as likely that you might be able to put something together yourself if you take my networking advice.
It’s a rewarding business. At the end of the day, we regulate the engines of the American economy, not everyone can say that. We all make our own way in this business, but if I can ever give your career a nudge let me know, I would be glad to give our readers further advice at my faculty email. Oh, and take those cold calls from legal recruiters, you never know when they might prove valuable. (In the DC area, Lateral Link is where everyone looks to for placements, I would be glad to put our readers in touch with the folks there.) Good luck.