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Survival Strategy: Tips for the Unemployed Law Graduate

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Times are hard for everyone. At least that is what I am told as I face another month of unemployment after my law school graduation in May of 2011. I have heard it all. I could probably create my own youtube video on “Sh*t people say to unemployed law graduates.” If you aren’t familiar with the “Sh*t people say” phenomenon, please take a break and enjoy a good laugh. I took the non-traditional approach to coping with unemployment. I will tell you about my vagabond approach first. Then I will discuss some tips that are useful for everyone.

I have spent time in 5 cities since graduation. I was smart to save a little money my last year of school just in case things didn’t work out according to plan. I stayed with a friend from college in Washington, DC after the bar exam. I received a small fellowship from my law school. I volunteered at several organizations while I was there. She was nice enough to let me sleep on her couch in her living room with her two ferrets. The ferrets slept in a cage in the corner of the room. Did I mention this was free? Beggars can’t be choosers. I voluntarily watched her daughter on occasions, cooked meals a few times per week, and paid one of her past due electric bills.

I spent a couple of weeks in Connecticut visiting a friend while I tried to piece my life plan together. She liked the idea of having a home cooked meal when she returned from work. I liked the idea of free accommodations. I slept in a bed in the guest room, which was an upgrade from my previous accommodations.

After that I spent some time visiting a friend in Brooklyn. I bet you aren’t surprised to know that she also likes home cooked meals. I never used airplane as a mode of transportation during this time. Bus travel was much more cost efficient. Let’s face it. If you are unemployed, a little extra travel time will not kill you. Where else do you have to be?

At this point, my bank account began to look a little low. Thanksgiving was approaching so I returned home to regroup. While there, I volunteered at a legal services office. Three days before Christmas I received a call from a legal temp agency in Charlotte. They needed me to be there the next morning. My bags were already packed since I had been living out of a suitcase since graduation. I slept for a couple hours and then made the four hour drive to Charlotte the next morning. I see myself as a “dream chaser,” but there are times when you have to be a “paper chaser.” It was a job, and I needed the money. I found a place on Craigslist I could rent by the week. I went with a friend from law school. It helped to have someone split the cost of living expenses. Document Review work (AKA Doc review) is the unemployed graduate’s saving grace at times. It served its purpose, which was to replenish my bank account so I had the money to go after what I wanted.

A month later I received a phone call from a professor who had turned me down for a research position months earlier. The pay was more like a stipend, but I saw it is a sign. I should return to D.C. I packed the car and drove back to Washington, DC.

I understand not everyone is comfortable living like a vagabond for several months. It was a great way for me to network in different places, open my mind to new ideas, and make a little money. Here are some tips that are useful for everyone.

1. Keep your spirits up and stay optimistic. No one likes a party pooper or Debbie Downer. This is especially true when you have a law degree. Remember there is still a large majority of the population that is unable to achieve what you have by going to law school and finishing successfully. Let’s define success as finishing, no matter what your GPA is. You have a reason to celebrate.

Find things to keep you energized physically and mentally. You are going to need your strength. Do yoga, take a jog, mediate, take a dance class, play a sport. You can find most of these activities for little or no cost if you look. Find something that makes you feel good about yourself. Rejection can take a toll on you, so it will be helpful if you have something positive to bring you pack up when you are down. I took a mediation class prior to bar study. You may laugh, and yes it is a little weird. It worked for me. You never know who you will meet. My mediation class happened to be full of lawyers and judges. Are you still laughing?

2. Visit friends and family. Remember those people you neglected during the past three years. Now would be a good time to start building those relationships back. You shouldn’t expect to live anywhere rent free unless it is your momma’s house. If you have friends that will let you stay for free, make sure you offer something in return whether it is cooking, cleaning, babysitting, dog walking, etc. No one likes to see someone sitting on their couch, eating their food, and holding their t.v. remote when they return home from a long day of hard work. You want to make sure they enjoy having you around. Never overstay your welcome.

3. Volunteer. You need to get out of the house and in the face of the people you want to hire you. Volunteer, join professional organizations, get out there and show what you have to offer. You need to be able to add to your resume while you are unemployed.

4. Write. Your time of unemployment gives you time to write articles on the topics that interest you. This is a great time to get published. Call journals and get them to publish your work. Once you become familiar with a topic, call up conferences and see if they need someone to speak on the topic. This is a great way to expand your resume.

5. Network. Network wherever you go. Talk to people at the grocery store, your neighbors, your friends, your doctor, etc. Keep in contact with law school classmates and professors. If you didn’t build those relationships in law school, it is not too late to start. Start a walking group, reading group, or flag football team. Do what you need to do to make sure people think of you when there is a job opening.

I would like to end with a message from a man I met on the streets of Washington, DC. His name was “Believe”. I promise I am not making this up. His message is simple.

You have to believe in yourself. There are many people around who need your help. You are trained and have certain skills. You may make mistakes along the way. You may embarrass yourself in front of a judge. All you can do is apologize when wrong and keep moving on.

Once you pass the bar, you are an attorney, even if you are unemployed. Have you thought about a solo practice? It is an option. Talk to people and see if it will work for you. Whatever you choose to do, you must believe in yourself… and keep in touch with your loan provider.

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