Thursday, December 3, 2009

Review: Guerrilla Tactics For Getting the Legal Job of Your Dreams

For those unfamiliar with this book, it's written by Kimm Walton, a graduate of Case Western Law School, who broke into the law school publishing industry by creating the "Law in a Flash" study aid. Walton actually graduated from law school with an "Esq. Never" attitude - she decided against pursuing a career in the law and instead thought she could create and market her line of flash cards. In fact, she even went one step further and didn't even bother taking the bar.

Despite never actually working as an attorney herself, Walton was apparently approached by a publishing company to write a book about finding legal employment. The result was Guerrilla Tactics (GT), which was first published in 1995. The book itself is really a collection of guides for approaching the different aspects of the job search. It has now ballooned into a tome that is well over 1,000 pages long.

Despite branding itself as a guide for challenging the legal job search orthodoxy, GT is very much a part of the law school industry establishment. In my experience, throwing this book at law students has been career services' tactic for pretending they're doing their jobs. In addition, GT is now published by Thomson-West, the Lockheed Martin of the Law School Industrial Complex, which owns BarBri, Westlaw, and a legion of law school study aids. You'll also rarely find a greater apologist for law school career services than Walton, who leans heavily on them as sources for her book.

That said, GT certainly isn't a bad book. If one is dead set on finding legal employment despite the over saturation of the market, miserable working conditions, and the industry's inflexible business model, Walton's advice is probably the way to go. She offers up numerous tactics for getting in contact with the sorts of people who may eventually be a in a position to help you find employment. Aside from using Matthies' strategy of becoming friends with everyone you can in the legal industry the day you start law school, this is probably the only way of ever getting a decent legal job.

Walton, however, first wrote this book in the middle of the 90's. I won't pretend to know what the legal market was like back then, but at the very least there were fewer law schools and law students. Moreover, this was back towards the beginning the economic boom of the 90's. You know, when economists were telling us this was "the new economy" and recessions and other such depressing topics were things of the past.

Just as the those economic forecasts seem outdated, Walton's advice now also seems a bit stale. Letting attendees at CLE courses know you're trying to "break into entertainment law" or stopping by a fellow alumnus' office to try sneak in an impromptu interview seems like it would be a little more profitable in an era where recent college grads were printing money at internet start-up companies. Even during the last economic expansion when plenty of law schools were feeding their best and brightest into the document review assembly lines, some of the book's optimism seemed far fetched. Today, with unemployment at ten percent, not even some of the best connections can help salvage your legal career.

To Walton's credit, this book isn't marketed to prospective law students. In fact, nowhere does she actually encourage anyone to go to law school. At one point she likens networking to find a legal job to going on a diet to lose weight: It may not be fun or fair that you have to do either to reach your goal, but that's just the way it is. I would amend this sentiment a bit by noting that if you don't want to (or better yet don't have to) find a legal job or lose weight, then there's also no need to network or diet.

Walton's most honest and best point comes in her chapter, "I want to be Not-A-Lawyer: Alternative Careers". While she dedicates a lot of space in this chapter to try to convince students to give law a chance, she seems to do so because she recognizes that's its not so easy to gain non-legal employment after graduation. As she puts it "Don't be misled by the idea that it's easier to get a non-legal job than a legal one.". In fact, later in the chapter and elsewhere in the book, she even recommends to people looking to get out of law that they may want to consider actually dropping out!

That's right, folks, Aunt Kimbo (at she often refers to herself), one of the biggest cheerleaders for the "Yes, we can!" attitude for your legal job search, doesn't buy into the "versatility of a law degree" argument. Can we ever expect the law school deans to be so honest?

I've already addressed the perils of legal networking in a previous post, so I won't critique the "meat" of the book again. I will say that many of the examples she uses of "networking success" don't really seem to inspire confidence. Many are just random instances of good luck: A law student strikes up a conversation at McDonald's with a federal judge who just happens to be looking for a summer clerk. A Starbucks customer watches an interview for a legal position fall apart and then strikes up an impromptu interview of her own (getting the job).

These unlikely scenarios are similar to people who happen to find their significant others through random encounters. Sure, you may bump into the love of your life on the elevator today after complimenting her on her jacket, but if you plan on getting married, I'd find a plan B.

Some of the other examples in the book also leave a bit to be desired. For example, she talks about one guy who just contacted everyone in the local Martindale-Hubble who went to his law school. He got a bunch of the attorneys to give him advice. Great, he got people to talk to him. Did it ever lead to a job?

The rest of the book - interviews, resume writing, negotiating salaries - seem to be things you can find in most job search guides. The real benefit of this book is that it lets the reader know what the job search is like for those searching for legal jobs. As Walton claims, this is what you need to do to find a legal job (outside of OCI).

While the book isn't marked to 0L's, maybe it should be. This book isn't being offered by Thompson-West as a charitable act. They publish it because it's profitable for them. Most law students don't get offers through OCI. Most law students have to resort to 'Guerrilla Tactics'. They need to talk every lawyer they've ever met. They need to grovel for internships. They need to take on volunteer work. Have their parents hit up their friends. Knock on doors. Harass alumni. Work at Wal Mart until a guy running for Attorney General just so happens to recruit you for his campaign and appoints you to a top position when elected. (Yes, that's an actual GT example.)

If you want to be a lawyer, this is what you'll be doing. It's not bad advice - I will probably even try a few tactics myself when looking for non-legal work, but I sure as heck don't want to do this to get a stressful $35k job fighting traffic tickets and chasing ambulances. I also didn't really have to waste three years and pay six figures to have the opportunity to implement these tactics either.


  1. The guy who ran into a federal judge is a great example. Hence, why I refer to these types of books as faith-promoting materials. In this case, it was even published by the Grand Oracle itself, Thomson-West (it is now Thomson-Reuters).

    One classmate was an editor at one my school's law journals. He literally sent out about 400 resumes and cover letters to every firm and solo he could find on Martindale, and the local phone book. Not one damn response. Not one offer (at least prior to graduation). He has clerked before (and told us how he had to teach a Harvard Law student to file motions one summer). He was a strong writer, friendly, and did well in law school.

    Maybe this lady needs to put more examples like this in the next edition of her book. The fact that she did not even take the bar exam, and still promotes law school, is pretty disgusting.

  2. I remember going to a seminar at my law school with Kimm Walton in 2004 when I was a 2L. Definitely chipper, with a go-get-'em attitude.

    However, like esq.never said, while the advice is generally helpful in some respects, and there is some honesty, the book does rely a lot on serindipitous anecdotes to spread the faith - lots of cutesy-funny-in-your-face sales tactics that worked to worm the candidate in.

    Aunt Kimmbo does reference the fact that some people have to work hard and some people don't, and that that can be a "cold drink of water" if I recall correctly. Too bad that no amount of advice can level the playing field in that respect.

  3. Some people are lucky. Some people make their luck. Some people are unlucky. Some people make themselves unlucky.

    Thanks Kim! No fucking way I could have figured that out on my own.

    Best of luck to you EN,

  4. There's also attitude. Huge if you want to work in fields like entertainment. Why should anyone else believe in you if you don't believe in yourself?


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