We at Kinney Recruiting know that making it big in Biglaw takes more than just experience and qualifications. Some of our most successful placements have been people who were less brainy and more people-skilled. Similarly, it seems like the differentiating factor between the people who progress through the Biglaw ranks and those who don’t isn’t always brainpower but rather self-confidence and unparalleled people skills. This got us thinking: What does our experience tell us about the best tips for getting and staying with the Biglaw elite? Here are our top five tips for making it big in Biglaw:
Step 1: Focus your College Career
Starting in undergrad and through law school, have an idea of what your goals are. If it’s getting into a top 10 law school or joining a top 10 firm, keep in mind that your grades and GPA are going to matter. Sure, everyone wants the typical college experience, but sometimes you have to think of the big picture. If you want to graduate at the top of your class, you’re going to need to spend some time (maybe a lot of time) in a quiet place, alone, working. And when you’re not studying, you should be thinking about what area of law you want to work in. While in law school, explore the type of law that interests you through your internships. Having a job offer before you graduate with your JD is key, so take the time to figure out exactly what direction to steer your career.
Step 2: Learn a Language
With so many firms going international, and remote positions becoming increasingly popular, being fluent in a second language is a huge advantage. It’s naive to think that big firms these days are only working with English-speakers. You will have the opportunity to use most languages in the course of your work, and if you are working in Asia for example, you will absolutely need to speak the local language to converse with clients. That’s why we recommend you learn a language. The truth is that native English speakers who have actually learned to speak a foreign language well enough to easily and fluently converse in the language are often more interesting, worldly, and self-confident than those who haven’t bothered. As such, they perform better in interviews. Better performance in interviews means more offers. Done.
Step 3: Network
Ah, yes. The age-old idea that “it’s all about who you know.” Well, try arguing that it’s not about who you know to a recruiter or any lawyer out there who has actually achieved a meaningful partnership (not service partner but REAL partner). In the legal industry, all deals are based on relationships. As recruiters, we have to form valuable relationships with firms so we know whether or not a candidate will be a good fit. My advice? Make every meeting worthwhile and stay in touch with the people you meet. If you are a candidate of ours or seeking to be one, and if you know people who might matter at organizations that are large consumers of legal services, tell us about those connections. We can decide together how much of that information to trot out for potential employers and when in the process to do that, if at all. Many factors will come into play during this process. When looking at laterals, some firms are spooked by associates who appear to have connections and a desire to develop business, while others welcome them.
Step 4: Perfect your Interview Skills & Be a Good Fit
How well you fit is everything. This comes down to one fundamental question: Does the interviewer see himself/herself in you? I don’t mean literally, but does he/she meet you and think, “This person appears to me like I would want to appear in his/her shoes.” A weak handshake, not recognizing social cues, and a never-ending story are all things that interviewers will remember in a negative way because they betray lack of confidence. We do what we can to prepare candidates so that bad things will not happen at the pivotal time. Our advice in a nutshell: remain professional while also being conversational; think about how you are being seen, and try to do just enough of the talking to keep the conversation moving, no more. Sound daunting? Here’s the solution: practice; be mindful of your tone of voice, how long you’re speaking, your body language, how you’re dressed. But not only do you need to practice, you also need to study. You should know the firm, but you should also know some background about the person you’re interviewing. When you know about someone’s history, you’ll be able to establish a connection, thus making you a more memorable candidate. And when you’re more memorable (in a good way), your chances of landing a job increase.
We believe in interview preparation. Some of us, to be honest, would not interview all that well ourselves without preparation. But many of us have worked in elite firms and we regularly interact with senior partners in law firms now. So we have figured it out. And we at Kinney are always willing to walk through questions with our candidates and provide constructive feedback on the basis of this experience. It’s better to make a mistake in a conversation with a recruiter or friend than one with a hiring manager.
Lastly, don’t forget to stay excited and remember to show it. As legal recruiters, we’ve seen perfect-on-paper candidates make no progress because they think the only thing that matters is experience, qualifications and skills. Showing enthusiasm during job interviews is not just about asking the right questions and sounding smart, it’s the first step in building a relationship with a potential employer and a glimpse into the mutual cultural fit.
Step 5: Don’t be Hasty
Yes, everyone would like to land their dream job right out of college and live happily ever after, but that’s rarely how it works. Just like every other industry, you have to work your way up to get where you want to be. The point I’m trying to make is: Don’t jump the gun too soon. Obviously, if you’re unhappy in the area of law you chose and there’s no room to change directions in your current firm, by all means, find a new firm. What I want to iterate is that when you’ve been in law school for three or four years, your first job in a firm can seem exhausting. And to be honest, the legal industry can be exhausting. But there’s also a transition period to get used to the work you’re doing. Try to stay where you are for the first few years because jumping around from firm to firm can be a resume-killer, and it could make you hard to place in the future. It’s usually best to stick it out and wait for the prize — the job at the firm where you’ve always wanted to work.
Overall, when it comes to Biglaw, fit and patience are key. To get invited to join a top law firm is a huge deal, and not easy by any means. It takes years of academic preparation, but it also usually takes a level of achievement in the social arena that is often overlooked by young candidates, especially if you are to move up to partner. But, if you take the time, you are not so smug that you can’t be trained, and you are focused on what you want to achieve, you just might make it happen with the right help!
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