Those of you who don’t work in the legal field may not be familiar with AboveTheLaw, a law gossip website. (I know! Dorkitude at its finest! I also read a Supreme Court watch blog!  I am too cool for words!)

Anyway, ATL used to be largely a place where lawyer-on-lawyer weddings were reported, and where law firm sex scandals first broke, or where you could hear the best stories about summer associates getting wasted and doing stupid things.   These days, though, ATL is widely-read by people looking for news of the latest round of lawyer layoffs. While there are doubtless many people who take some pleasure in watching pompous BigLaw associates tumble, I derive no joy from this news.  These are my friends (some of them), and losing your job sucks no matter what your industry.

But it’s not just layoffs.  Many firms are delaying start dates for their incoming class of associates, and this has led to some interesting new developments.  As this story and others explain, many firms are offering their incoming associates substantial sums of money – $5000 a month from some firms, others $75,000 a year – to go work for a non-profit. It’s not quite the $160,000 they’d have made as first year BigLaw associates, but it’s nothing to scoff at.

On the one hand, I think this is great.  Non-profit legal agencies are chronically underfunded, and in times like these the need for their services is even greater.  Programs like this essentially give these agencies much-needed help for free.  Win-win.

On the other hand, and I don’t want to be a total grouch about this, I feel a little miffed.  Getting a non-profit legal job out of law school in ordinary times is hard, often way harder than getting a firm job.  In tough economic times its even harder.  I worked my ass off to get my job, and I know several excellent public service-minded lawyers who struggled even harder than I did in the job market.  It’s hard not to feel a little grumpy that these BigLaw associates, some of whom initially turned up their noses at doing poverty work, are now getting paid (literally) twice as much as I am to do it while they wait for their firm position to open up.

But that’s not the point of this post.  The point of this post is to provide a very few quick tips for any laid-off or deferred law firm associate types who may suddenly find themselves on the public interest job market.  I’ve seen a couple of these resumes already, I will doubtless see more, and I can already identify some mistakes that I’ve seen multiple people make.

Pseudo’s hot tips for lawyers who suddenly find themselves on the non-profit job market:

1. You should probably be able to say why you want to work here beyond “my firm is paying me if I can find some non-profit work.”  We like free labor, we do, but we’d like to see some indication that you are actually at least kinda sorta interested in the work we do.  You don’t need to have lots of experience in public interest (though that’s a huge plus), but you do need to show that you’re interested in learning and doing a good job with the kind of work we do.  If you aren’t, it’s not really worth it for us to bring you on board, free or not.

2. Don’t tell us the name of the fancypants designer who made your suit.  And probably leave the Tiffany cufflinks at home.

3.   Actually, there is no 3.

Really, that’s it!  Seriously!  Not many tips, but you’d be amazed how many people blow it on #1. Please think about the story you want to tell us before you send us your stuff!  Find a way to explain how the corporate for-profit work you’ve done has given you skills that will help us and our clients.  Please don’t just assume that we’ll be grateful to have such a stellar former BigLaw candidate as yourself offering to help out.  Non-profits are often small, people skills matter, and we want to believe you’re not going to be a total pain in the ass to work with.

Good luck out there.

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