Top 3 Ways Law Students Can Stand Out

Alice Stein, the president of AMA Boston

Stand out as a law student

John McDougall:  Hi, I’m John McDougall, and I’m here today with Alice Stein, the Chief Marketing Consultant at Stein and Partners and President of the American Marketing Association of Boston.

We’re talking about the top three ways law school students can stand out in an overcrowded field. Alice, I’ve been hearing a lot of anxious talk, from legal marketers and law firms alike, that times have changed and things are much tougher now.

Applications to law schools are approaching a 30‑year low. We’ve even heard of one posted annual salary of just $10,000, if you can believe it, for a lawyer with a pretty sizable debt.

Are you in the pessimistic or optimistic camp, in terms of what the prospects are for new law school graduates and law firms in general?

Alice Stein:  I am definitely in the optimistic camp here. There’s a situation impacting the global workforce in general. If you look at the most recent Gallup data, you can see that 30 percent of the workforce is engaged.

When you look at the statistic of only 30 percent of our workforce being engaged, that’s dismal. If you look at the typical profile of a law student, they are individuals that have tremendous communications ability.

They’ve got tremendous analytical thinking skills. They’re the ones that could really change that engagement statistic here in the US workforce. I would say I’m very much in the optimistic arena, based on the skills that law students bring to the marketplace.

John:  That’s some good insight. Does it also matter what law school you attend, in terms of overall job prospects?

Alice:  At one point, it was definitely a key differentiator. At this point, it doesn’t guarantee you a good job after graduation. If you look at where the hot legal jobs are headed, it’s in the corporate sector. It’s not your traditional law firms.

There are still opportunities in small to mid‑size law firms. They’re still hiring. They still want talent. My recommendation to the recent graduates and to those nearing graduation is to dig deep and see where your skills are transferable.

When you think about the pessimists about the legal profession here in the US, it’s not going away. It’s not dying. It’s just changing. It’s taking a much more relevant role.

If you look at where the economy’s headed, you see growth in hot practice areas, in financial services, energy, and health care.

As recent graduates start exploring what their next step should be, they should look to the economy and those signals, in terms of informing them where they should move and what should be their next step.

John:  There are potentially key practice areas that may be smarter to focus on because some things are either trending or less susceptible to overseas outsourcing or sites like LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer. Does that make sense?

Alice:  Absolutely. I spent several years in supporting brands that were focused on e‑discovery and the biggest fear there was that we’re going to be outsourced to Asia, and let’s make ourselves indispensable.

I think that as any profession goes, you should really be less concerned with what you can’t control and what you can control. Where we’re seeing hot practice areas are in health law, intellectual property law, privacy law, and international law.

Other areas to watch are labor, unemployment, and real estate. Those are all hot economic buttons and they’re the ones that are going to have areas of growth going forward.

This fear that in many ways is breeding xenophobia in our culture, needs to go away because for those emerging lawyers that are figuring out their next parachute, there are opportunities to practice international law. There is demand in countries like Asia and in Latin America that are looking for talent. I wouldn’t necessarily focus exclusively on the US market even.

I would be very open. I would also be very clear as you’re figuring out what your next step is. What’s going to make you happy because at the end of the day, the last thing you want is to be part of that unengaged work force ‑‑ that really unhappy individual. The onus is on the candidate to figure out what they want to do in their next profession.

John:  With that said, are there three, maybe, key things you’d suggest that law students can do to market themselves or take advantage of the things that you were mentioning.

Alice:  Absolutely. Get clear on which practice areas get you excited. Is it IP law? Are you interested in international law? Are there key sectors that are interesting to you? For example, energy is really hot in Houston and other areas of the US. Does that appeal to you?

Does financial services law appeal to you? There’s a lot of opportunity in the financial service’s vertical for individuals that have a background in law.

In terms of advice, I would say leverage your social capital. There is tremendous opportunity for you to go back to your alumni office and leverage what you paid for. That network is a gold mine of opportunity and it’s not readily employed in many cases.

But go back and shake that alumni tree and get connected with the people that are going to potentially help you. Social capital is extremely rich and completely, in many cases, under utilized in the legal profession especially.

Also, establish your presence on LinkedIn. LinkedIn is the top professional social network. People look at LinkedIn to get a sense of who you are as a professional, your ability to contribute, and your ability to influence. Leverage that tool. It’s a phenomenal tool.

Once you get clear on what you want to do, develop your specific point of view. When I say, develop your specific point of view ‑‑ leverage social media ‑‑ leverage different channels to disseminate your respective message ‑‑ whatever that is.

If you have a specific bent into international law, then get out there. Talk about it. Build connections. Build your credibility. You may not necessarily have a six‑figure job fresh out of school. If you can pay down your debt ‑‑but know what ‑‑ you’re going to be building up a point of view.

Be open to opportunities in the corporate setting. Corporate setting can present you with a lot of opportunities in finance and business. Build up your acumen. Be nimble and understand that the market, even though it’s changing dramatically, there’s still opportunity for people to have a legal background.

John:  That’s some good advice. I was at a criminal defense attorney appointment ‑‑ a prospect that I think is going to sign up with us today. I met him for the first time this morning. For a second, I want to compare two new business prospects that I have.

One is the one I had this morning where the guy has been in business ‑‑ the classic 30 years in business. He’s been interviewed for New England Cable News for over 20 years. He’s in the news every single week, he said. We’re going to be able to leverage him being constantly featured in the media. He’s also the author of a book. ‑‑ an editor at Mass Lawyers Weekly.

We’re able to then take someone like that and leverage who they are and all that built up credibility and writing.

You compare that with a guy that called me from The Lead Review last week ‑‑ really nice kid. He’s in his final semester of law school. He said, “How do I get started”? He was comparing my prices to the prices of some of our competitors ‑‑ some people like us that have a focus on law firm marketing and do a great job.

I was trying to help explain to him what it’s going to take to get established, and like you said, leverage social capital and LinkedIn.

What is it about at the end of the day? A lot of it is about trust building. I think the tough thing probably for students is they’re coming from ground zero, unlike the guy I talked to this morning who is in the media every week. He’s had so much ‑‑ experience. credibility, TV appearances, and books.

Would you say that students not only should get on LinkedIn and leverage social capital, but then extend that into having a blog and using Google Plus so their face shows up right in the search engine, and having a YouTube account? So you’re also sort of pro taking that whole nine yards approach to getting your career off the ground?

Alice:  I definitely am. Marketing yourself and personal branding is not a guerrilla marketing tactic. You have to get into more grassroots outreach as well. For the young gentlemen that you mentioned earlier, I would recommend that he touch base with his alma mater and have informational interviews with people who have potentially transitioned into corporate.

And the reason why I keep talking about corporate is the connection between legal practice in the world of business is so connected. The opportunities you find within that point of intersection is tremendous. It’s from a grassroots standpoint.

This individual can reach out to his network ‑‑ leverage his social capital. He’s able to not only learn in an indirect way ‑‑ through mentors, through apprenticeships ‑‑ but really get a better accurate sense of where the profession is going and where there are opportunities.

The piece about social media blogs, developing your thought leadership acumen and your presence online ‑‑ That’s a complement to the grassroots activity.

John:  I would agree. That’s one of the things I was telling the criminal defense attorney this morning. He’s connected in that grassroots way. He gets most of his business from referrals.

I said, “If you have a blog ‑‑ we’re able to leverage those media appearances ‑‑ and you’re able to then send ‑‑ say a police office who might be sending business his way ‑‑ you can send a link to a podcast or a video on your blog, so you can extend the offline networking.”

After you have that conversation ‑‑ you meet a police officer somewhere and you get the person’s email address ‑‑ you can shoot them an email with a link to your thought leadership so you can couple.

What you’re saying is great. That offline stuff is still so essential. I think it’s nice if you can couple that with using links in an email, for example, as a way to quickly bring that offline real person up to speed on your credibility, your thought leadership, etc.

Alice:  Absolutely. I think a big part of that, too, is developing and thinking about, what is your unique point of view that you bring to the sector ‑‑ to the legal profession. What is it that you bring that’s unique? Figuring out from a contents standpoint, how do you leverage content marketing effectively.

What we talked about was a bunch of channels. Those are great for defending your message. At the end of the day, if you don’t have a memorable point of view, you’re not necessarily going to get the credibility. So it takes a bit of time for someone who may be young and starting out to develop their point of view.

By talking to great people, including your friend there from the New England Cable News Channel, he may be able to accelerate his presence online by being clear in terms of what’s the young gentleman’s differential in the market.

John:  I would definitely agree with that. We’re big advocates of developing ‑‑ what I’m sure you’re aware of ‑‑ is a unique value proposition.

Alice:  Absolutely.

John:  Websites that don’t have a clear value proposition ‑‑ or for those that aren’t exactly familiar with that term ‑‑ it’s about why would people buy from you versus someone else. When you go to a website ‑‑ I think this is tough for law firms sometimes. I’d say maybe many law firms ‑‑ I’ll use personal injury as an example.

You go to a personal injury site, and they do drunk driving and slip and fall. The litany of things that they do is so broad that when people want to hire them, what really differentiates them from the next guy down the street? I think what I hear you saying to a degree is a young person starting out, coming out of law school, has a clean slate. You don’t have all that history and credibility.

What you do have is you can do what some of the established firms that have a lot to lose if they drop off a bunch of different practice areas off of their site because they don’t want to lose ‑‑ like, “Oh. Well, what if we did get a whistle blower case? Well, we want to put that on our personal injury site also.” They’re trying to be all things to all people.

Is what you’re saying that the young person starting out ‑‑ it’s important for them to think long and hard before they try and do everything ‑‑ maybe get a little more clear on what they’re most passionate about and drill down into that even more?

Alice:  Absolutely. That’s where these conversations with potential mentors come into play because you’re talking to experienced professionals that can give you insight that you just don’t have. A great avenue for that and linking up with different individuals is through LinkedIn. LinkedIn gives you a great platform for accessing people that may be of interest.

I find that in talking to a lot of my colleagues in my own experience, that when someone reaches out to you and they’re young and impressionable, it’s very flattering to get that type of inquiry. When you get that kind of inquiry, you typically respond and you have a great conversation.

I find that serving as the president of the American Marketing Association, I get a lot of these types of inquiries daily from younger folks. I also get some solicitations that are trying to get me to share leads with them. These young individuals are very impressionable. It’s a great way for them to learn.

They’re very, I would say, small barriers to entry by engaging people on LinkedIn that may or may not meet your criteria for what interests you in your next professional move.

John:  Now that’s great because that’s a essentially free. There’s a lot of low cost stuff you can do which is good news for students just getting out of law school with a big debt, and a tumultuous, changing landscape of the legal space ‑‑ so great advice.

John:  We shot for the top three ways law students can stand out, but we gave them a lot more. Thanks for your time today, Alice. We look forward to talking to you again soon.

Alice:  Thank you, John.

John:  All right. Talk to you later.

Alice:  Talk to you later. Bye

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