When I began law school at UCLA in 2008, the economy was weak, law firms were laying off attorneys, and government agencies were implementing hiring freezes and furloughs. None of us knew what the job market would be like in three years, but it was obvious that many of us would graduate without a job offer.
My experience was the opposite of my friends' who went to law school before the recession. They received job offers from their summer clerkships. But the organizations where I clerked couldn't hire anyone because of budget cuts. My lawyer friends also told me that elective classes in law school do not matter, but for me every elective course needed to show potential employers that I wanted to be an employment lawyer. So I studied foundational concepts in labor law, employment law, employment discrimination, and civil rights.
Similarly, I squeezed part-time internships into my full course schedule during my second and third years to give me real-world experience. I spent many afternoons stuck in freeway traffic. Some days I would drive from the San Fernando Valley, where I lived, to Westwood and then to downtown Los Angeles and back home. I questioned whether all the commuting time and all the money I spent on gas and parking would be worth it.
Before I knew it, it was spring 2011 and graduation was right around the corner. Panic began to set in because I still didn't have a job. I took out a loan to pay for a bar prep course and wondered whether the investment made sense. When I added up my law school loans, my undergraduate loans, and my new loan, I felt sick to my stomach. "Buck up," I told myself, "you still have to study for the bar exam."
A few weeks after I took the bar, I began hunting for a job. I knew I wanted to practice employment law, that I wanted to be a trial attorney, and that I needed income badly. I sent emails to friends and professional contacts hoping to get possible job leads. I even contacted panelists I'd met at law school presentations. Through one of these, I linked up with the Los Angeles City Attorney's office, where that September I began working as a volunteer lawyer.
Luckily for me, UCLA's law school offered a stipend program for recent graduates who didn't have jobs lined up but had temporary volunteer attorney positions with nonprofit or government organizations. It paid up to 20 hours per week for ten weeks (later extended an additional ten weeks). Though the stipend was modest, it was a lifesaver because it allowed me to gain skills and experience that would help me stand out in the sea of unemployed law school graduates.
As a member of the Police Employment Litigation Unit of the City Attorney's office, I immediately received substantive assignments: writing a summary judgment motion, preparing removal documents, working on discovery, and interviewing witnesses. I also received meaningful feedback from supervising attorneys who marked up drafts of my written work product and met with me to discuss my strengths and weaknesses as an emerging attorney.
My new colleagues also became my cheerleaders, friends, and resources for networking and finding job opportunities. They conducted a mock interview with me before I flew up to San Jose for a job interview. My supervisors gave me background materials on interviewing to read and offered to put me in touch with their friends and contacts to expand my own network. They also sent me employment leads. In fact, one job announcement a supervisor forwarded last winter led to the position I hold today: employment litigation associate.
Looking back, I can now smile at the frustrating times. I realize that my efforts paid off - every internship I held in law school, every class I took, and every contact I made as a volunteer attorney led me to exactly where I am supposed to be: practicing employment litigation with a team of incredibly intelligent lawyers who believe in me and want me to become the best attorney I can be
Jessica Iglesias is an associate with Sanchez & Amador in Los Angeles, where she represents corporate employers.