How lawyers can find jobs in the US

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Back in 2013, like many young Indian lawyers, I considered pursuing a Master of Laws (LLM) abroad. My motivations for doing so were to specialize in intellectual property and technology law, and gather some international experience. Before I knew it, I landed in Berkeley Law, which successfully helped me meet both goals. I am now a tech lawyer in Silicon Valley happily representing disruptive technology brands and working on transformative deals.

I am often asked whether an LLM is worth it, and whether you can be guaranteed a job after. Whether your personal motivations for doing the LLM make the time, money and effort “worth it” is very subjective. With respect to jobs, sadly nothing is guaranteed (much like anything else in life), but getting a legal job abroad is not impossible and is becoming less uncommon in my experience. Having said that, here is my advice to increase your chances of getting that coveted first job in the US.

  1. Pick your school wisely. While looking for jobs, consider the area you are going to and the need for legal expertise. For example, LA would be the perfect spot for jobs in media and entertainment. The San Francisco Bay Area has a greater concentration of jobs in technology. Target a practice area and legal market early to be well prepared when you arrive. Also, if you know you want to live and work in state A, don’t go and pick a school in state B that is on the opposite coast. It will be much harder to keep flying in and out for interviews and networking.
  2. Networking. Start making friends and connections right away. The best thing is to try and immerse yourself in the local events and law school activities. They will open doors and you will end up having a more enriching experience during the year. Don’t spend your entire LLM in the library (no matter how tempting it is).
  3. Don’t spend your entire LLM on holiday. Unless you have actively planned to take a sabbatical and are using the LLM to do so, try not to treat the time off as a chance to slack off. By all means have fun, but don’t let the precious time you have in law school (most LLMs are only nine to 11 months) fly by so you are scrambling a month before graduation to start your job search. Try and secure internships, write papers and ask professors if they need help with research. All these things are valuable and form part of the US experience that can be add to your resume and discussions during interviews.
  4. Don’t put yourself in a box. I have had many students come up to me and ask if law firm X or Y hires LLMs. This question assumes that all LLMs are made equal and have the same set of experiences and talents. Of course, that isn’t true! Instead of standing in your own way and giving potential bosses reasons not to hire you, showcase your international experience as a plus and talk about how it has diversified your legal practice.
  5. Grades matter. Generally, law firms and other legal employers do care about your law school transcripts. While you are not expected to top your class, employers like to see a reasonably good GPA (or other grading equivalent). Often recruiters will reject applications if students’ grades are too low. Don’t let your grades stand in the way of you getting into the rooms you belong in.
  6. Research how to qualify in a foreign country. Different countries and jurisdictions may have different sets of exams and other proverbial hoops that they require candidates to jump through before they certify them as a licensed attorney. It’s always best to figure out what those requirements are and make a game plan to meet them. For example, back when I was a student, foreign attorneys from India needed to take specific coursework during their LLM in order to be eligible to sit the NY bar. Also, figure out how you will stay and work (visas etc.) once you actually get an offer.
  7. Don’t worry. At the end of the day, give it your best shot and you will emerge a smarter, well-rounded lawyer who has made some lasting and valuable friendships and connections. Losing sleep over it will not be helpful. Chances are that you are already qualified as an attorney elsewhere and have a whole other job market already open to you. That’s a pretty good plan B! I’ve found the best things have come to me when I’ve worked passionately towards a goal and truly enjoyed myself. I suggest you also do that.

 

Smita Rajmohan
Associate, Cooley
Silicon Valley, US

 

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