Re: Consider this…
I intend to keep this blog focused on movies, but I was on Above the Law today and that probably won’t ever happen again, so I feel like explaining.
About three weeks ago I was stuck. Since September, I’d been reaching out to different Chicago-Kent alums throughout Chicago for the purpose of expanding my network. The common piece of advice I got, whether accurate or not, was that in this economy it’s not what you know but who you know. So I made a list of all the firms I was interested in, looked for partners that graduated from Chicago-Kent, and emailed them to see if they could meet with me, provide me with some advice, and most importantly, take my resume.
The results suprised me. I met a bunch of pretty successful partners, and even some managing partners at some of Chicago’s prestigious firms. The fact that these people bothered meeting me (more often than not a complete stranger) just goes to show that lawyers are actually pretty good people. Random acts of kindness live on, even in a down economy.
I loved these interviews because even if they didn’t land me a job, they got me out of the house, and god knows I needed that. But after a few months, the well was drying up. By January, I’d either met with an alum at a firm already or there wasn’t an alum there. I started sending out emails to non-alumni, but didn’t receive much of a response.
Around the same time, my in-laws suggested I see a career coach, and figuring it couldn’t hurt, I did. The session was pretty hilarious and I’m now the proud owner of two “web books,” but the guy gave me a bit of useful advice: don’t be conventional. Now, his career was in advertising, and advertising covets originality more than law. Still, I figured what I was doing had led me nowhere so it couldn’t hurt if I tried to be a bit more creative.
I tested the waters with a few cover letters to jobs I didn’t have a chance in hell of landing. Once thoroughly inebriated with my newfound courage to just write whatever I wanted and push send, I hatched a plan to contact Mark Herrmann, Vice President and Chief Litigation Counsel of Aon. Mr. Herrmann didn’t go to Chicago-Kent. He had, however, sent me a signed copy of his book, The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law, while I was a 3L at Kent, in hopes that I’d read it and use my editor-in-chief powers to persuade others to follow suit. I read it, but if I knew how to persuade anyone, I’d probably be employed. (The book is terrific, by the way. And even better, it’s really short.)
I used the book as a backdrop to contact Mr. Herrmann and see if I could get an interview. I figured my regular five sentence letter about getting advice wasn’t gonna do much for the cause, so I put together a tongue-in-cheek thank-you note. In it I thanked him and his book for revamping my perspective on law school and work for the better. And then I blamed him for making me feel compelled to work. Unemployment’s a lot easier if you don’t actually want to practice law! I said he could make it up to me by granting me an informational interview.
Now, he wrote his book from the perspective of a curmudgeonly old lawyer who cares more about competence than saying the nice thing. He shared a dark, sarcastic sense of humor throughout, and I figured he could relate to the thank-you/hate-you note. Worst case scenario, I never hear from him. So I wrote the letter and snail-mailed it to him (it’s a lot more difficult to get the email address of corporate counsel) expecting never to hear from him again.
But I was wrong. To my surprise, he got right back to me. He immediately explained that he didn’t have a job for me, but that he admired my spunk and would be happy to buy me lunch. I said I can’t do lunch because I keep kosher, and we settled on coffee (I don’t drink coffee, but mini-golf wasn’t an option.)
About a week before the meeting, he sent me a proposal: what if he used his book, my letter, and our meeting as a topic for his column on Above the Law? If he couldn’t offer me a job, he could offer me some publicity, which as he put, could be good or could be bad. Up to that point I had no idea he even wrote for ATL; I stopped following the blog a long time ago because it’s not exactly uplifting stuff for the unemployed. But, the proposal intrigued me: in my mind, the potential gain in terms of employment outweighed the risk, my friends would be shocked to see me on the front page, and god knows I love the attention.
Mostly, though, it’d be a change. Sitting around unemployed isn’t fun. I look for jobs, I apply to jobs, I volunteer, I interview, I watch tv, I eat potato chips, I rinse and repeat. And then, every 15th of the month, I spend the remainder of my savings on a stack of student loans just so that I can avoid deferring for one more month, in hopes that I’ll find something within those next thirty days. It really isn’t fun. So a change — a change would be appreciated, even if it meant I’d have to endure the notorious ATL commenters for one day. (Best one, by the way, was the one claiming I impersonated Mike Borella, a friend who came to my defense in the comments. I wish I was Mike Borella. That guy’s awesome.)
So he sent me a draft of the article. It wasn’t easy to write because neither of us wanted to damage Chicago-Kent’s reputation. To show that it wasn’t the school’s fault (it really isn’t), we threw in the part about me not finishing at the top of the class. It’s true: I finished in the top 34% of the class, not even good enough to put on my resume. During law school, I fluctuated between top 39% at worst and top 27% at best. But I never cared much for decimals, so I edited the draft and approved it, and off it went.
Last Friday we finally met for coffee and I really had one of the most positive experiences of the job search. “Positive” because I didn’t just sit there hearing about how I should be doing what I’ve already been doing. Instead, he treated me as an equal. I mean, here’s a guy who spent the last 25 years building up an extremely strong litigation reputation for one of the biggest law firms in the world — a VP and chief litigation counsel of an enormous company and author of a terrific book (see, not very persuasive) — and he’s spending his morning listening to me, valuing what I have to say, and answering anything I ask him both candidly and completely.
Tomorrow it’s back to the job boards. Stuff like this makes it a lot easier.