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The Magical Powers of the J.D.
Posted at 3 p.m. on Nov. 5, 2013
Walk onto any Washington Metro car and you’re bound to find a lawyer. They’re everywhere: working in government, writing in newsrooms, making lattes at Starbucks. After three years of law school and a decent amount of debt, even the most starry-eyed of juris doctors can find the D.C. job market jarring. What do you do when you’re a lawyer and want to work on Capitol Hill? Hill Navigator discusses:
Q. After finishing law school, I spent a year living with my parents while in private practice so that I could save up enough money to move to D.C. and find a job on the Hill. Considering my lack of Hill experience and number of lawyers already on the Hill, I didn’t expect that simply having a J.D. would get me very far, which is why I was fully prepared to take an unpaid position so that I may gain experience and subsequently apply to a paid position in 6-8 months (how long my savings would last). In my head this should have been an easy sell, you get a lawyer (and political science major) with professional experience to work for free as an intern or fellow. Now it’s three months later and I have done everything I know to do with only a few interviews to show for it. Granted, two of the positions I applied for are still pending post shutdown and one of them would be paid, but I still can’t figure out if I’m selling myself the right way.
A. A lawyer in D.C. looking for work? You’re in good company — possibly too good company. Washington might be the one town where having that hard-earned J.D. lands your résumé in a pile of hundreds just like yours. The magical J.D. — even from some top law schools — does not differentiate your résumé on its own. But there are ways to get on Capitol Hill. And once you’re there, the skills that helped you earn your J.D.—hard work, deep analysis, memorizing lots of arcane legal jargon — will help you succeed.
I’m not sure why your intern offer didn’t work out, but you’re correct that yours is a good sell. Before you exhaust that option, follow up with your local Senate and House offices. Explain your situation, tell them your goals, and inquire about internship programs and requirements. Even if they don’t have an immediate opening for you, ask when you can apply and tell them you’re willing to answer phones and write mail just to get your foot in the door.
If those opportunities don’t yield a result (or at least a result quick enough before depleting your savings), try broadening your search. Consider taking a position off Capitol Hill that would allow you to make more Capitol Hill contacts, which then could turn into a job. Much of the Capitol Hill job search involves the right opportunity at the right time, which means if you keep sight of your goal, do good work and continue to network in earnest, you can still land that coveted position. It just takes time. And patience. And a little bit of pounding your head against the wall. But hopefully that is something you already mastered in law school.