M.J. Blakely (J.D. 2006)
Trial Lawyer at Pope, McGlamry, Kilpatrick, Morrison & Norwood, LLP
After many on-campus interviews, call-backs and fancy dinners, I found myself at the end of my first year of law school without a summer associateship. I was told that summer associateships were rare for first-year law students, and that I should not feel discouraged. Nevertheless, my inability to land a job at a large law firm by the end of the semester felt like a failure. If I had only known then what I know now, I would have realized that it was one of the best things that could have ever happened for my career.
That summer I got my hometown’s phone book and turned to the section for attorneys. I put on my best suit, grabbed a stack of resumes, and began personally delivering them to each of the law firms. I started at the “A’s,” and when I got to the “S’s,” I found a general practitioner that agreed to hire me. A couple of days later I found myself going to work in a charming antebellum house that had been converted into an office off of a street named after a Confederate war hero. Although it wasn’t the Buckhead high-rise office building that I had hoped for, I rather enjoyed the quaint, small-town, solo practice that I found myself in. While others were being wined and dined by the large law firms, I was drafting pleadings, sitting in on depositions, and going to trials.
After that summer, I was certain that I wanted to be a trial layer. I realized that in order to become a successful trial lawyer, I needed to seek employment with a law firm that would provide me an opportunity to begin actively litigating and trying cases as soon as possible. Often, those firms are smaller and lack the recourses to recruit through legal career services (“LCS”) during on-campus interview (“OCI”) season. Sometimes, they are not a traditional law firm at all. For example, the District Attorney’s office is a great place to learn trial skills, and an insurance company’s captive law firm will often provide plenty of personal injury trials for a young lawyer to cut his or her teeth on. Smaller firms may not pay as much at first, but money can’t buy trial experience. Trial experience must be earned in the courtroom.
After graduation, I got a job at a suburban firm in Gwinnett County. There, I had the good fortune of working with fantastic lawyers that believed in investing in their young associates. While my friends at the large law firms spent most of their time doing legal research and writing memos, I was taking depositions, trying cases and arguing before the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court. After I had acquired some useful litigation and trial experience, I began to realize that I could add value to firms that preferred to hire trial lawyers with enough experience to begin litigating and trying cases right away. Eventually, I did end up working in a Buckhead high-rise office building. I was hired by Pope, McGlamry, Kilpatrick, Morrison & Norwood, LLP, a trial lawyer’s firm that specializes in business litigation, class action, mass torts, and catastrophic personal injury cases.
It is no secret that students looking for a job in today’s economy are having a difficult time. I am sure that many students wonder how they will get the experience that will prepare them for opportunities in their future when firms seem to be hiring less. I would remind them that the types of firms that are most likely to offer a brand new lawyer a chance to get some valuable litigation and trial experience may not participate in OCI. They may be unlikely to be in the metro Atlanta area, and they may pay less than someone with a mountain of student loan debt might hope for. LCS can be helpful in identifying those types of firms.
If I had known in law school that my career path would not be shaped by when, where or how I obtained my first job, but instead, by the work that I did while I was there, I would have spent less time pining after the firms that visited the law school and more time enjoying my brief stint in the Classic City. If you find yourself without a job after OCI, like I did; remember, this may be your chance to begin searching for a job that will provide you with the type of valuable experience that will prepare you for opportunities that are certain to come your way in the future.