Job Search Methods

by Gary A. D’Alessio, Esq.
July 16, 2008

The secret to conducting a successful job search campaign is to remember four simple points. First, you must assume personal responsibility for obtaining another position. Second, don’t take a one dimensional approach; take advantage of the multiple and easily accessible resources available to you. Third, be extremely organized and keep a written record of all of your contacts and efforts. And fourth, maintain a positive attitude!

A combination, if not all, of the following resources should be used in conducting your job search to achieve optimal results:


There are numerous local, regional and national publications which advertise legal jobs. The publications listed below represent some of these.

Other publications worthwhile reading for their insightful articles regarding lawyers and law firms, and the current status of and future trends in the legal profession are: The American Lawyer, (monthly publication except for combined January/February and July/August issues by American Lawyer Media, L.P.) Law Practice Management (monthly publication by American Bar Association Section of Law Practice Management), Crain’s Chicago Business (weekly publication by Crain Communications, Inc.), Illinois Legal Times, and The Chicago Lawyer (monthly publications).

These are also several books which provide vital employment information regarding the Chicago market and its employers. A few of these are:

  • How To Get A Job In Chicago, 7th Ed., Thomas M. Camden and Susan Schwartz, Surrey Books, Chicago, IL 60611, 1997.
  • Jobs '98, Kathryn and Ross Petras, Prentice Hall Press, New York, NY 10023, 1998.

Law School Career Services Offices

Many law school alumni do not fully utilize the career counseling and the wealth of information (e.g. lateral job listings, reference materials, law firm practice area descriptions, alumni contact lists, etc.) readily available to them at their law school’s placement office. This information will definitely assist you in identifying new employers and will often give you a competitive edge in your job search. If you attended an out-of-state law school, contact that school’s placement office to arrange permission to use the services of one of the law schools located in the geographic area where you intend to practice.

Professional and Personal Contacts (a/k/a Networking)

Although most attorneys do not enjoy or have minimal experience in networking, it is a relatively easy exercise that can prove to be very rewarding. You should make a comprehensive list of your contacts (professional, business, trade, civic, academic, political, religious, personal and social) and send your resume and a cover letter to each of them. Naturally, you should stress the confidential nature of your search, if applicable.

It is important that you make sure your contacts know the following information: what you have accomplished; what you have been told are your strongest legal skills; what you consider to be your personal attributes; why you are looking; and what type of job(s) you are seeking. Often, this type of information is not or cannot be incorporated in a resume or cover letter.

If you are not focused on what type of job(s) you are looking for, conduct some informational interviews with individuals employed in your target market(s). Anytime, you initially make contact with someone, whether or not you feel they have been or can be helpful, you should ask them if they have any additional contacts. If they refer another person to you, make sure to ask their permission to use their name when you contact that person. A follow-up thank you letter with an enclosed copy of your resume and cover' letter should always be forwarded to them as a professional courtesy.

You should also join and actively participate in various professional, business, civic, political, religious, academic and social organizations. By attending bar association committee meetings and sponsored seminars, you are more likely to meet key partners and attorneys that practice in your current or desired specialty area(s). This activity will definitely broaden your contact base and most likely result in your identifying new job leads.

There are also numerous reference books which list organizations and associations that might be worth contacting during your job search. The following list is a sample of the types of directories available:

  • Law & Business Directory of Corporate Counsel (“Nonprofit Organizations” “Foundations/Charitable”, “Professional Societies” and “Trade Associations” sections) Vol. 2, Prentice Hall Law & Business, Englewood Cliffs, NJ 07632-2521, 1991.
  • Encyclopedia of Associations Vol. 1, National Organizations of the U.S.; Vol. 2, Geographic and Executive Indexes; and Vol. 3, Newly Formed and Newly Found Associations Not Listed in the Main Volume, Gale Research Co., Book Tower, Dept. 77748, Detroit, MI 48277-0748, 1991.
  • National Trade and Professional Associations of the United States and Canada and Labor Unions, 40th Ed., Columbia Books, Inc. Publications, Washington, D.C. 20005, 2005.

Legal and Executive Search Firms (a/k/a Headhunters)

There are numerous legal search firms located in Chicago and most major U.S. cities. It is preferable, though, to select a search firm in the geographic area where you intend to practice because its recruiters will usually be able to provide you with more detailed information about a greater number and various types of employers in that market. More importantly, these recruiters will often have a better established and longstanding relationship with the local employers. They will also typically know about more current job openings.

When choosing a legal recruiter, ask your colleagues and law school placement director for recommendations of reputable firms. You should also obtain a list of legal recruiters before deciding which recruiter(s) to use. Each year The American Lawyer publishes a “Legal Recruiters Directory” (supplement in the January/February issue) and The National Law Journal publishes an “Annual NLJ Guide to the Legal Search Profession” (supplement in one of the four June issues). In addition, an annual updated version of The Directory of Executive Recruiters, which contains a “Legal Services” section, is published by Kennedy Publications.

Once you contact a legal recruiter, some or all of the following questions should be asked. Are you an attorney? If so, discuss their legal background (e.g. Where and for how long did you practice law? In what practice area(s)?). Is your firm a member of NALSC (National Association of Legal Search Consultants)? (NOTE: NALSC is the only national professional organization of legal search consultants and its members must adhere to its Code of Ethics. Copies of this Code can be obtained from NALSC members and NALSC in Washington, D.C.) What cities or regions of the country are your primary markets? What types of attorneys (e.g. practice areas, levels of experience, academic credentials) have you worked with and placed? How many attorneys have you personally and your firm placed in the past year? What percentage (or how many) of you and your firm's attorney placements in the past year or two have been with law fIrms, corporations, financial institutions and government agencies? What methods or strategies do you use in conducting a lateral attorney search? Do you typically meet with a candidate before working with them? How do you ensure confIdentiality (if applicable)?

You should work with a recruiter only after you feel confIdent that they are ethical, professional and competent, and will be able to assist you in your job search. Although there are many recruiters to choose from, the key is to find which one(s), if any, will be most helpful to you.

If you are interested in learning more information about recruiters and how they operate, the following reference books are insightful:

Career Counselors

In addition to the career counseling services at law schools, you may want to consider. private career counseling. If you decide to work with a career counselor, you should make sure they have a thorough understanding of the legal profession and have experience counseling attorneys. There are even more career counselors than legal recruiters to choose from and your decision of who to use should be based on the following criteria: recommendations by attorneys who have worked with them; their reputation in the legal and counseling community; their training and years of experience; the type of services they provide; the description of their counseling program and the process involved; the expected results; and, most importantly, your rapport with them.

Several reputable career counselors that are experienced in working with attorneys include:

  • Kathy Morris, Esq.Under Advisement, Ltd.—Offers career planning and job search guidance in confidential, individual consultation sessions for lawyers. 101 West Grand, Suite 200, Chicago, illinois 60610. (312) 321-9448.
  • Cheryl Rich Heisler, Esq.Lawternatives—Offers individualized career consulting to lawyers exploring alternative career paths inside and outside of the law. 203 North LaSalle Street, Suite 2100, Chicago, Illinois 60601. (312) 558-1536.
  • Sheila Nielsen, Esq.Nielsen Career Consulting—An attorney and trained social worker who provides general career counseling for lawyers and information, advice and practical strategies for attorneys seeking alternative work time schedules, including part-time and flex-time work. 155 North Michigan Avenue, Chicago, lllinois 60601. Chicago office: (312) 616-6646; Home office: (847) 441-0773
  • Judith L. Lansky—Lansky Career Consultants—Committed to assisting job seekers, career changers and professionals in developing truly satisfying careers. The firm specializes in working with people who are making mid-life career changes or job transitions. 233 East Erie Street, Suite 611, Chicago, lllinois, 60611. (312) 461-1065.
  • Arlene S. Hirsch—Career counselor and psychotherapist who provides individual consultations, vocational testing and job search guidance for professionals. Chestnut Place, 850 North State Street, Suite 27K, Chicago, lllinois 60610. (312) 642-1535.
  • Jewish Vocational Service (JVS)—Career Development Services’ counselors offer individualized counseling to professionals and assist them in finding a legal job or making a career change. 1 South Franklin Street, 2nd Floor, Chicago, lllinois 60606. (312) 346-6700.

Remember, you are paying a fee for the services provided by a career counselor. Therefore, make sure you feel very comfortable with the counselor you choose. You should also feel confident that the counselor you decide to work with will best serve your interests in securing the type of position you are seeking.

Targeted Mailings

Whenever you mail an unsolicited resume, it is always more effective to use a targeted (vs. mass) mailing approach. All letters should be specifically addressed to the appropriate hiring person (e.g. Department Head of desired area of practice, Hiring or Managing Partner, Recruitment Coordinator, General Counsel or Assistant/Associate General Counsel, Director of Human Resources, etc.) by his or her name and title, if applicable. This enables you to receive more direct and immediate feedback regarding your resume and, when appropriate, the status of the employer's search for an attorney when you make a follow-up telephone call. It is also important to conduct the necessary research to identify those employers that have or are in the process of developing a practice area that is compatible with your primary area of practice.

Resources that will help you identify employer’s specific areas of practice include: The National Association for Law Placement (NALP) Directory of Legal Employers, the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, and the following four books published by Prentice Hall Law & Business: Law & Business Directory of Bankruptcy Attorneys, Law & Business Directory of Corporate Counsel, Law & Business Directory of Environmental Attorneys, andLaw & Business’ Directory of Litigation Attorneys.

Making a job or career change is not an easy task and often presents significant challenges. It takes time, effort and commitment. However, if you follow a well conceived plan of action and utilize the aforementioned multiple strategies and resources available to you, the rewards of obtaining the right job will be well worth the effort.

(Editors’ Note—In a tight job market It may be advisable to make phone calls to targeted individuals before sending a letter. In addition, it may be more effective to initially contact the attorney who is the ‘department head’ rather than the hiring attorney or human resources department.)

[This article originally appeared in Lawyers’ Guide to the Chicago Job Market, 1992, Chicago Bar Association.]

About the Author

Portrait photo of Gary A. D’Alessio, Esq.

Gary A. D’Alessio, Esq.


Gary has been involved with the legal profession for more than thirty years. After receiving his B.S.B.A. cum laude from Villanova University in 1976 and J.D. from Tulane University School of Law in 1980, Gary practiced law for five and one-half years at McKenna, Storer, Rowe, White & Farrug. For the past thirty-two years, he has been a legal search consultant. Gary was the Co-Chair of the Careers Committee of The Young Lawyers Section of the Chicago Bar Association for two years. He is also a Certified Professional Consultant with the Academy of Professional Consultants and Advisors. His in-depth legal experience and knowledge of the Chicago legal market is well known in the legal recruiting industry. He has been extensively quoted on a variety of issues regarding the legal profession in The National Law Journal, Sun Times, Chicago Lawyer, Crain’s Chicago Business, and Chicago Daily Law Bulletin. Gary also has been published in the American Bar Association’s Changing Jobs: A Handbook for Lawyers for the 1990’s and the Young Lawyers Section of The Chicago Bar Association’s Lawyers’ Guide to the Chicago Job Market. Gary is a member of the Lesbian and Gay Bar Association of Chicago and the Chicago Area Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. In addition, he is a world traveler, an Eagle Scout and an avid moviegoer.

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Testimonials about Gary A. D’Alessio, Esq.

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  • I was recommended to Gary after some time searching for a job without the results I had originally envisioned. Right out of law school, I was anxious about the interview process. Gary offered to meet with me immediately and we were quickly able to pinpoint some successful strategies. Gary's insight and advice were absolutely pivotal towards finding a position I would succeed in. 

    Gary has clearly seen it all and is always completely honest. No matter how much experience you have or where you are in your job search, I highly recommend him. He is willing to help anyone, and you can tell that he truly enjoys doing it. 

    Paul Sowa, Associate

    Schroeder Law Group