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Top Legal Recruiter Offers Job-Seeking Students Advice

USC Gould School of Law • September 24, 2010
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Career Event Offers Students Hope about Tough Economy

By Steffi Lau

Amid the recession, many soon-to-be law school graduates are pessimistic about their job prospects.

But on Sept. 22, law students who sacrificed their lunch break to attend a talk on the legal job market found that their situation might not be so bleak.

Rick Kolodny, president and founder of The Portfolio Group, an attorney search and placement firm in Los Angeles, spoke about the legal job market. Over the past 15 years, the firm has placed over 600 lawyers.

Kolodny said that when firms were expanding, there was a strong demand for associates. When the market imploded in 2008, large and small firms alike began cutting. However, Kolodny says that today’s law students have reason to be optimistic, with market conditions expected to improve over the next several years.

“The good news is that the cost-cutting, the restructuring, the bloodletting is over,” he said. “The tone is decidedly upbeat.”

He cautioned that things are not as bright as they used to be, but people are hiring. To increase the chances of getting hired, Kolodny said that students need to be proactive, whether it’s researching which Los Angeles firms have USC alums to finding an area of interest to specialize in.

Kolodny said that because law school doesn’t actually give students the practical skill set they need to practice, differentiating oneself from peers is key.

“When you get out of law school, you know nothing…You’ve suffered through three years of drudgery, but even after passing the bar, you’re not ready to practice,” he said.

Kolodny described the infamous 1979 incident in which CBS journalist Roger Mudd asked Ted Kennedy on television why he wanted to be president. Kennedy gave an incoherent and unprepared answer.

“Avoid the Roger Mudd moment,” Kolodny advised.

To do so, students need to prepare their elevator pitch, a 30-second soundbite used to differentiate themselves, Kolodny said.

“Let’s face it. When you’re talking to interviewers, no one is under the delusion that you know how to practice law. You’ve got to leave a lasting impression,” Kolodny said. “You’ve got life stories that got you into law school. Maybe you were a camp counselor for nine years, maybe you emigrated here from Denmark or maybe you’ve overcome adversity within your own family. No one will really care that you got an A in Contracts. Employers want to know someone is a hard worker…You need to find a way to paint that picture, using concrete examples.”

For many students, Kolodny’s presentation was a breath of fresh air.

“There’s hope!” one student exclaimed at the end of the presentation.

“I just had On-Campus Interviewing and I’m sending out resumes looking for opportunities and his advice seems to correspond with my experience,” said Siyuan An ’12. “I think this is very helpful. I wish it was longer because it seems like he has a lot of advice to give.”

An’s sentiment seemed to be shared by many students who found Kolodny’s 40-minute presentation too short. Many students gathered around him after the conclusion, taking turns to ask him questions.

“Everybody who was in it thought it was incredibly helpful. He offered really interesting alternatives to the traditional sending out of resumes,” said Michael Renner ’12.

The students’ newfound optimism was just what the Career Services Office, which organized the event, had hoped for.

“The market right now has a lot of uncertainty. We hope bringing in outside speakers can provide students with more perspective. Part of the battle is understanding the current market right now,” said Matt DeGrushe, assistant dean of career services. “Students have a lot of exposure to articles on the doom and gloom of the market. Bringing in outside speakers who possess valuable knowledge on the job market and can give them the information and advice they need to face the challenges in the market is a great way to reinforce the message we are trying to communicate to students.”


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