Law Firms

Law Firm Career Search

Many YLS alumni spend some portion of their post-graduate careers working at law firms. Some will do so immediately out of law school, while others do so after a clerkship or fellowship, or after significant amounts of time in the public sector. Accordingly, alumni interested in pursuing private practice at law firms may be looking to reenter this field or, instead, may be looking to enter it for the first time. They also may be looking to lateral from one sort of law firm to another for a variety of reasons, including the nature of the work, clients, or lifestyle; geography; or ability to rise to higher levels of management or partnership.

Whatever your background, CDO is glad to work with you on a law firm-geared job search, and to help you to strategize your approach to this search. You are welcome to contact CDO to arrange a counseling appointment with a CDO attorney-counselor at any point of this process.

As an initial step, it may help you to spend some time thinking about exactly what sort of law firm you would like to work for, in terms of size, clients, practice areas, geography, and atmosphere. Consider whether you are interested in entering (or returning to) “Big Law,” as it is called, or whether you are more interested in, for example, a smaller size, or more regionally focused firm, or a “boutique” firm that focuses on a particular practice area. What skills are you looking to develop and employ, and what aspects of your future work experience do you hope to optimize? Get started with the Law Firm Practice section of the website.

Post-Clerkship Hiring Market

Alumni who are looking for law firm jobs out of a clerkship enter what is sometimes termed the “post-clerkship hiring market.” They should reach out to law firms in which they are interested between the late fall and early spring of their clerkships, depending on their judges’ specific rules with respect to contacting potential post-clerkship employers. Prior to doing so, alumni looking for law firm jobs out of clerkships should update their resumes to reflect these clerkships and the most important and relevant work they have done in chambers. Outreach to potential law firm employers in this instance can be as simple as sending a cover letter and updated resume to a law firm’s recruiting department. However, post-clerkship law firm applicants should also consider reaching out to other YLS alumni who are currently working at the firm via The Courtyard and other alumni networks.

While some alumni who seek law firm jobs out of clerkships have backgrounds in law firm work, either over the law school summers of post-graduation, others do not and are nonetheless successful in obtaining these positions. All of which is to say, if you are currently clerking and wish to apply to law firms, you should do so regardless of your prior work history, though you should understand that depending on its nature this prior work history may raise questions from some potential law firm employers.

Lateral Market

Alumni who are looking for jobs at later stages of their careers should consider carefully what sort of law firm would be a good fit given their prior work experiences and history. While it is helpful to be realistic, do not limit your thinking. Depending on your work history, even if you have had little to no prior law firm experience, you may be a compelling candidate to law firms. For example, a YLS graduates who have spent little to no time working at a law firm but who have gained extensive litigation or regulatory experience at, say, a government agency may find that they are very desirable to law firms with strong litigation and regulatory practices.

You will likely wish to network with YLS alumni via The Courtyard and other alumni networks, as well as with other professional and personal connections. Many lateral positions are obtained through networking, which you will likely find to be a fruitful avenue not only for learning of and securing opportunities, but also for gaining information and insight about the current state of the market and employers in which you are most interested.

Many lateral positions are also obtained through work with a recruiter, and so you may wish to take a look at CDO’s advice regarding Using a Professional Recruiter.

Additional Resources

In addition, you may wish to send applications directly to the hiring departments of law firms in which you are interested in working, as well as check out various law firm job listings.

We encourage you to consult the following resources in order to gain additional insight into potential law firm employers, and in order to locate and connect with fellow YLS graduates who currently work, or have worked, for these employers. You should also review the Toolkit for Alumni Job Seekers, which includes additional advice about resumes and cover letters, and a variety of other job search-related issues.

Law Firm Practice website section

NALP Directory of Legal Employers

Chambers and Partners


The Courtyard


National Association of Legal Search Consultants