The glow of graduation may have worn off, but you’re all still shiny paragons of legal learning to us! Now your bar prep has begun and we’re so happy to see you! If you do not have employment plans for after the bar, hop on Symplicity and make an appointment to see Anna or Laurie. Or just stop by when you’re on a break. Professional Development is open M-F all year ’round. See you soon!
This goes out to all of you who have made it through the past three years and graduated from Gonzaga Law! Congratulations, felicitations and …well, I’m out of words. But not because my uncaffeinated state has made me not word good. No, it’s because you are all so darn spectacular! We at Professional Development are proud of you, excited for you and hopeful that you will find your new career fulfilling in a multitude of ways. That said, if you do not yet have a job with which to begin that career: GET IN TOUCH! We are here throughout the summer so when you come up for air during your bar prep, don’t forget to call, email or just stop by to talk about your job search, career goals, or just to raid the candy jar.
We’ve said it. You’ve heard it. You have to sell yourself in a cover letter. You have to let the prospective employers know what’s in it for them if they hire you. A cover letter is a marketing tool designed to get you in the door for an interview. All well and good. But just how do you go about selling yourself effectively? The folks over at the Volokh Conspiracy have some tips:
1. Business manners aren’t social manners, and excessive modesty can hurt you badly in business. You don’t start a conversation in a social context by saying that you were #1 in your law school class, but if true, you often should say this in a cover letter.
2. At the same time, the rule in cover letters isn’t “anything goes”; some self-promotion will indeed be seen as excessive.
3. My tentative sense is that the main peril with self-promotion in cover letters isn’t the reaction “the applicant it too self-promoting” but rather “I’m skeptical of the applicant’s self-promoting claims.” So objectively verifiable credentials are good, but unverifiable claims are often bad: “I got an A+ in my Legal Writing class” works, but “I’m an excellent writer” — without any accompanying evidence — doesn’t. Readers are on guard for what they see as overstatement of one’s abilities, and any unsupported self-promotion will reinforce their initial assumption that the applicant isn’t to be trusted.
4. The same applies, though to a lesser degree, to unadorned claims of enthusiasm. “I’m really excited about the possibility of working at your firm, because I’m very interested in ERISA law” won’t be that effective. “I’m really excited about the possibility of working at your firm, because the Employee Benefits class that I took made me very interested in ERISA law” will be considerably more effective, because it gives concrete evidence of interest that overcomes the reader’s skepticism.
5. Relatedly, framing your concrete accomplishments in the language of enthusiasm is a nice way of promoting yourself while minimizing any visceral disapproval of perceived immodesty that some readers might have (notwithstanding item 1). “I published three articles in law school” is OK in a cover letter seeking an appellate clerkship, but “I’ve long loved legal writing; my experience publishing three articles reaffirmed this for me, and made me realize how much I would enjoy clerking” is better.
6. If you have several excellent relevant credentials, focus on them, and don’t dilute them by discussing your more mediocre ones or your much less relevant ones. If you have a degree in German literature from Ohio Wesleyan, you should mention it on your resume, which is supposed to provide a relatively complete summary of your educational career; but you shouldn’t mention it in your cover letter unless you think the reader will for personal reasons find the matter particularly interesting (e.g., because he went to Ohio Wesleyan). Everyone has some undergraduate degree. The point in your cover letter is to show how you’re better than the great majority of applicants, not how similar you are to them.
7. Finally, proofread your cover letter, and your resume, especially carefully. Many readers will assume that if you erred in documents that are so important to your own success, you’ll also be sloppy on other matters.
If you’re a 1L, Thanksgiving is your first break in law school. Good for you for making it this far. You can see the light at the end of the tunnel and it has LRW written all over it. If you’re a 3L, this Thanksgiving may be the last time you get to take five days off in a row to celebrate the holiday—which would normally make you sad but you’re just too busy getting stuff done over the break for it to register.
Even though you have a load and a half of work to get done over break, you’ll still have Turkey Day itself. Take some time to OD on tryptophan and yams with marshmallows and those little creamed onions and pie and stuffing and that green bean casserole with the crunchy fried onions on top and cranberry sauce…well, we can’t forget that. Where was I? Oh yeah, how to spend the day itself. Chances are you will be around people who are Not In Law School. This is a chance for you to practice.
Practice what, you say? Practice telling people in very concise (i.e. don’t drone) terms what you want to do when you graduate. It’s bound to come up and it will continue to come up in lots of interactions you will have throughout your law school career. So start thinking about it.
What you do not want to do is be totally flippant. Getting in the habit of saying “Something that pays” when asked what you want to do with your degree is a bad idea. It may be good for a laugh over turkey and stuffing but getting in this habit may well hurt you down the road. Giving a concise, well-thought out answer may actually help you down the road and may allow you to develop a useful contact or three.
We’ve told you not to puff or…exaggerate…,or well, lie when applying for jobs. We know you know this. But just to drive that home, just to prevent inadvertent or advertent puffery, I’m bringing this to your attention. This is a guy who was actually censured by his state bar association for lying about his law school grades. He didn’t forge a new transcript—he just adjusted some grades and was only caught when he had to provide an official transcript to his new employer. His employer held the transcript up to the light and saw the actual grade entered and the jig was up. He was fired and reported to the state bar. He was censured. Law school is a competitive place but don’t get sucked into this kind of behavior. Your credibility and reputation are vital to your success as a lawyer. So if you are thinking that you might switch your B- to a straight B (after all, they’re both B’s, right?), think again.
It’s that time of the semester. When the deadlines that seemed so far off on the first day of classes suddenly loom nearer. When you’re facing down your first mid-term. When you realize just how much work stands between you and the bliss that is Winter break. It’s hard. I know. I’ve been there. But I have some advice that will help keep you on a more even, healthy keel throughout this process known as law school.
Here it is: take care of yourself. Sounds so simple and trite. But it’s true. You have to take care of yourself. You can only study so many hours a day before the law of diminishing returns sets in. So what should you do with the rest of your time? Take care of yourself, body and soul.
Eat. Not the preformed stuff that comes in vending machines. Take the time to make real food once a week and eat off the leftovers as you hit the round of class, work and clubs. Exercise. I’m not saying that you have to hit the gym every day for two hours. But walk, stretch, run. Do yoga. Hit the treadmill. Lift some weights. The mindfulness that comes from exercise, along with the simple exhaustion that comes from a workout well run, will help keep your skittery brain on track. It’ll help you sleep better, too, and may burn out some of your anxiety.
Take the time to do small things for yourself that make you feel good. I don’t mean that you should finish each night with a bottle of wine, but maybe a massage is in order in the middle of the semester. Check out the many services at our law school neighbor the St. Joseph Family Center at http://www.sjfconline.org/. They offer counseling, mediation and yoga classes along with therapeutic massage on a sliding-scale basis. And don’t forget about Gonzaga’s chapel on the 3rd floor of the law school. It provides a quiet place to clear your head and calm your spirit. Don’t save all of your treats for after finals.
As for your soul. Well, law school is a competitive place. So, practice being one of the “good guys” in your class. Study hard and be a supportive member of your class. It isn’t a sign of weakness to be open to new people. Volunteer your time to help someone out. Whether it’s writing wills for vets or petting cats at Spokanimal, a little time away from worrying about just where you fit into thenew scheme of things can give you a much needed break that will help you keep your head. If you’re really having a hard time, go to the Counseling Center on campus. They can be reached at email@example.com or at 313-5054. Don’t put it off saying that you don’t have time. Lawyers have some of the highest rates of depression and substance abuse of any profession. Don’t let this start in law school. Keep your head—along with your body and soul.
Fall OCIs for this year are nearly finished. The long haul of applying, interviewing and waiting is nearly over for this semester. Don’t worry—Spring OCIs are just around the corner. So now there’s time to regroup, refresh and rearm for the next wave of on-campus hiring. This means that there is time for you to review your application materials to make sure they are letter perfect. What? You mean you don’t review your materials every time you apply for a job? Well, you’re going to miss something. And that can cost you the job.
Solid proofreading is the best gift you can give yourself. How many students have shot themselves in the foot by talking about their “volunterr experience”, their interest in “trail work” and all of the wonderful skills they “posses”. Too many. Employers view resumes and cover letters, all your application materials really, as the best effort you can put forth. If your best effort, on your own behalf, is sloppy and misspelled…well…what can they expect from your work-a-day efforts? In addition to typos, I’ve found sentences that lovingly describe your attributes without the benefit of a verb. Run-on sentences. Comma splices. Bad diction and tortured syntax. Grammatical and style errors undercut any assertion you make about your valuable writing skills.
This is a literate and detail-oriented business. We can argue the aesthetic merits of legal writing ‘til the cows come home, but at heart, every prospective employer will want employees to write clearly and without errors. So, find someone who is careful themselves and who has never read your application materials. Have them read your materials. You can also do some of the proofreading yourself. Read your letters out loud to check for flow, instances of awkwardness and sentence fragments. It’s also a good way to test out your transitions from paragraph to paragraph in your cover letters. Read your documents word-by-word backwards to help you find the typographical errors missed by Spell-Check. Also, it doesn’t fix everything by any means, but do run Spell-Check. A lot of errors I see in application materials would be caught by this very handy tool.