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Don’t Despise Small Beginnings

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Are you overlooking opportunities for small beginnings? Perhaps I should frame the question differently and ask what journalist Katie Couric, Bishop T.D. Jakes, and U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren all have in common? Here are several clues: Prior to becoming a household name and star journalist, Katie Couric began her career as a low-level assistant at ABC, transitioned to become a second-string reporter at NBC, and was brought on the Today show to serve as a substitute for a co-worker on maternity leave. Surprisingly, that co-worker never returned from leave. Prior to leading a congregation of over 30,000 members, Bishop T.D. Jakes cut grass and dug ditches in an effort to provide for his family. Elizabeth Warren spent the first years of her legal career working from home, drafting wills and conducting real estate closings. Years later, she was selected to serve as the first head of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and now she is a Massachusetts Senate candidate. These individuals did not despise small beginnings, and neither should you and I.

As a law graduate and licensed attorney, not a week goes by that I am not asked “what are you up to now?” Truth be told, my answer differs based on the day the question is asked and with whom I am speaking. For those individuals who are presently in similar circumstances or those who fear graduating from law school without a concrete action plan, let’s talk!

In thirteen months, I have studied for, taken, and passed two state bar exams, and completed temporary assignments ranging from a six-month criminal defense fellowship to several document review stints. In thirteen months, I have assisted the Superintendent’s office of a major school district in ensuring policy compliance, and I have edited several books. In thirteen months, I have babysat neighborhood children, styled and braided hair, and reconnected with family, friends, and television shows. What can I say? It has been an exciting thirteen-month journey of unemployment, underemployment, and temporary employment.

By now you are probably wondering, “What is the purpose of this blog entry?” The answer is two-part and simple: (1) do not despise small beginnings, and (2) think outside the box. Many law school graduates will not attain immediate employment in a prestigious law firm nor obtain an esteemed judicial clerkship. Many will not immediately walk through the doors of a corporate or local, state, or federal government office. Many will also not attain their dream public interest fellowship or public interest career. That is okay! Despite what your post-graduate circumstance may look like, one thing remains clear: We must all continue to work in order to survive.

To ensure that you are moving in the direction of your dreams, I encourage you to think outside the box. Here are a few practical tips that have worked for me and my fellow classmates:

  1. Contact your school’s career development office to inquire about unannounced grants or paid fellowship opportunities for unemployed graduates of that institution. Many of these types of programs will not be advertised; nevertheless, it does not hurt to inquire. Furthermore, let the career counselors know that you are actively on the job market and ask them to inform you of any opportunities that he/she may hear about.
  2. Register with local area legal and non-legal staffing agencies. A document review (aka: doc review) gig in the Washington, DC or New York City area will pay between $27-$35 per hour (more if you speak a foreign language) and offer tons of opportunity for overtime at a pay of time-and-half. Whether you are barred, awaiting bar results, or just graduated with no bar license, there are many temporary opportunities out there. Seek those opportunities out.
  3. Reach out to your former places of employment and inform them that you are in the job market. Some of these employers may not be able to offer you a full-time position with benefits. Nevertheless, if future help is needed, they will have you in mind. Do not let pride get in the way of your job search.
  4. Consider doing yet another internship. Not all internships are for college and graduate students. Employers are seeking individuals who are educated and possess the required skills, knowledge, and training to perform the task. If you qualify, why not apply?
  5. Reach out to former contacts and definitely continue to network within and outside the legal community.
  6. Tap into your skills, interests, and passion. For instance, has it always been a hobby of yours to take pictures or perhaps to do hair? Why not make money using that skill now? Are you an excellent writer? If so, why don’t you blog or contribute to other publications? You never know what opportunities will arise when you follow your skills, interests, and passions.
  7. Reach out and volunteer your services to others. In these hard economic times many corporations, public interest firms, school systems, solo practitioners, and law firms are rarely shying away from offers of free help. I know many people who started off working for free and became full-time employees. Look at it another way—volunteering exposes you to others who may be able to assist you in the job search process, it gives you an opportunity to learn and network, and it beats staying at home.
  8. Keep applying for that dream job and do not give up. I am confident that things will turn around for you but until that day comes, keep on keeping on.

I leave you with this thought: Do not overlook opportunities for “small beginnings!”

About the Author

Daria C. Awusah is a newly licensed attorney, admitted to the State Bar of Texas, with pending admission to the District of Columbia Bar. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Public Relations, magna cum laude, from the University of Houston and a Juris Doctor from the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law. Her areas of interest include business transactions, employment and immigration law, as well as education policy and juvenile justice.

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