June's Jurisdiction: Explaining the Bar and Switching Practice Areas
I would greatly appreciate advice on a career search for those who have taken a state bar exam and failed. At present I am awaiting the results of the last state bar exam. In the meantime, what do I tell employers when they ask, "You graduated from law school so long ago - why aren't you licensed anywhere?"
Please advise. Thank you.
In situations like this, honesty is the best policy. If a potential employer perceives your response to be evasive or in any way less than truthful, that perception is ultimately more damaging than having failed the bar. In addition to being honest, it is important to take responsibility for having failed the exam and not blame it on your school or the bar review course or some unforeseen event in your life.
When do you learn the results from your latest attempt? Can you schedule interviews after you obtain the new results so that the bar exam is no longer an issue? An alternative strategy is to target opportunities for which bar admission is not that important (i.e., corporate vs. litigation; in-house vs. law firm). Keep in mind that the first job you take as a lawyer tends to anchor your future career path so the perceived quality of your first association is important.
I am a second-year litigator at a major New York firm. I would like to switch over to Trusts & Estates work. Unfortunately my firm has no openings in this area and they don't look too kindly on switching
departments. Anyway, I would rather work in a smaller firm. Is it hard for someone in my position to switch practice areas? How do I fashion my resume and cover letter when all of my experience to date has been litigation-related or nonlegal? Thanks in advance for the help.
-Look'n for Lifestyle
Dear Look'n for Lifestyle,
Moving as a lateral associate and changing practice areas from Litigation to Trust & Estates invites skepticism and rejection from the hiring firm. To overcome these obstacles, you need a compelling reason
(other than lifestyle) for this drastic shift. It is useful to keep in mind why firms hire laterals and the hiring firm's expectations regarding a lateral's performance. Laterals are expected to hit the ground running and fill in the gaps in a practice area, adding immediate value from prior training and experience. Exceptions are made on occasion, either because it is impossible to find people with the necessary skills and a firm is desperate (i.e., turning away business because it doesn't have enough people to do the work) or because the candidate is so compelling in some other way that his/her presence would significantly enhance the firm overall.
In terms of your goals, if you can't move to T&E within your own firm, can you move to a related area that could provide a springboard to this practice area as a lateral? For example, Tax is closely related to T&E. Are there openings in the Tax group? If not, what about taking graduate-level law courses and seminars in tax and tax planning? These can give your resume some credibility in the T&E area, especially if you do well. It is also a way of networking within a community of shared interests. The professor may be a partner or counsel at a firm with a significant practice in the area and could provide you with an introduction. You need to have clearly delineated activities to highlight in a resume and cover letter that
demonstrate your "ownership" of the practice change that you envision. If you think of this as a process and not a quick fix you will have a happier long-term outcome.
June Eichbaum is a partner at Heidrich & Struggles, New York. June earned her B.A. in 1972 from the University of Pennsylvania, J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center and LL.M. from New York University Law School.