Persistence Pays Off
California Lawyer

Persistence Pays Off

February 2010

Bruce Weisenberg

A year ago, my wife and I were just getting back from three months of honeymoon travels through Asia. It was not the best time to be a newly admitted California attorney with no job and no prospects. Although I got my law degree in 2008 from the University of Arizona in Tucson, I wasn't a young twenty-something lawyer. I was 40 years old when I passed the bar. I already had an MBA and had run a small Bay Area business for four years.

After our trip, Mikki and I moved in with my father in Palm Desert and I began my job hunt. At the same time, Mikki was applying to graduate schools. We had agreed that we would move wherever she got accepted, unless I got a good job first. I was willing to work almost anywhere in California. I responded to advertisements and registered for government positions. But I spent most of my time researching firms and sending unsolicited résumés, tailored cover letters, references, writing samples, and transcripts to law firms. After about 50 days, I had mailed a few hundred résumés to most of the medium-size law firms in Los Angeles and San Francisco. But that process was slow, and the paper, printing, and postage costs were eating into our savings.

I tried networking. I called the dozens of lawyers I knew, including my sister and her husband, who are partners at big law firms. I emailed everyone I knew. I joined Facebook and messaged all the lawyers (and everyone else) I grew up with. Everyone wanted to help, but they all told me the same thing: "Nobody's hiring. If I hear of anything, I'll let you know."

My epiphany came after my first set of interviews. I was one of the first responders to a Craigslist advertisement for a "02 years" attorney with an interest in civil litigation. A few hours later, I was in the high-rise conference room having a great interview with the junior partner of a small firm. A week later, I had a second interview with the senior partner, who proceeded to tell me that by then nearly 1,000 young (and, like me, not-so-young) attorneys had submitted résumé for the posted job. I spent the next half hour listening to him describe how bad the economy was, how firms like his were getting hit hard, and how shocked he was by the amazing quality of this enormous pool of applicants. Needless to say, I didn't get the job.

After that, I knew I had to change my job search tactics. My target was small- to medium-size firms where the decision-makers would be more likely to see my profile at just the right moment. Starting with San Francisco, I made a plan to send 1,000 emails a week until I got a job.

But first I needed to find a way to convey my worth. The only thing that really distinguished my candidacy was my business background, so I made that the centerpiece of my message. I stopped trying to explain how my skills were a perfect match for the firm's business litigation, employment, or [YOUR PRACTICE AREA] department.

From the first 500 emails, I got five invitations for coffee and about 50 responses full of generous encouragement, thoughtful insights, and advice - but no interviews. I revised my cover letter and résumé and sent out another 500. Finally, the interviews began trickling in: I averaged about one for every 600 emails.

After three months, 7,000 emails, and twelve interviews all over the state - from Indio to Redding - I finally found myself in the conference room of a small but prestigious litigation boutique in San Francisco - exactly the type of place I'd assumed I'd end up when I left the City for law school.

"I can't believe I'm sitting here talking to you guys," I said. They appreciated my honesty, I think, and it didn't take too long for them to figure out I could be just what they were looking for at the time: an eager, hard-working (albeit clueless) first-year associate.

Here it is, nine months later. My wife will be going to law school in the fall, and I'm surrounded by a great group of folks who have my deepest gratitude for the opportunity to learn how to practice law. Now I'm beginning to add value to the firm, and I'm getting better all the time. I write to give hope to new lawyers in similar circumstances and to encourage hiring partners to give someone else the chance they need.

Bruce Weisenberg is an associate at Lynch, Gilardi & Grummer in San Francisco.

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