An occasional look at how job hunting legal professionals cope with a crisis economy.
If these frightening times find you young and unemployed, here’s some advice from a prior downturn: Do anything it takes to get experience, even if that entails accepting a low salary, relocating, or taking a detour through Egypt.
Saeltzer said he had hit the summer job market before his third year with a focus on litigation. Civil or criminal, plaintiff or defense side, it didn’t matter. But the summer was pretty dry. “I remember I sent out hundreds of letters and I think I had three interviews,” he recalled. “I ended up getting a job. I felt incredibly lucky.”
The summer went well, but the firm he was at shrunk, so Saeltzer didn’t have a job coming out of law school in 1994. The market for fresh graduates was almost dead. Firms were laying off (though perhaps not as drastically as they are now). Corporate work had dried up completely, Saeltzer said, so any litigation jobs available had 10 times the number of applicants, and they required experience. Finding employment felt “like an impossible task in front of you,” he said. “And everybody’s very polite about telling you that they wish that they could hire you but they can’t.”
So Saeltzer interviewed with the U.S. Army and became a captain in the JAG Corps.
How he got from there to Walkup, after the jump ...
“I always had some interest in the back of my mind, and circumstances pushed it to the front of my mind. And at that time, there wasn’t a lot of interest in it,” he explained. “It would let me do what I wanted, I could litigate, and it was a job.”
Small downside: “I earned $26,000 in my first year.”
“I didn’t have seven years of college debt so I could afford a low salary,” Saeltzer said. “It let me try cases and get exposed to some really exceptional people. Every time you turn a T.V. on and listen to a general talking about the war in Iraq, that was someone I’d met.” For instance, Saeltzer said he served as an adviser in General David Petraeus’ unit for a time.
Also, Saeltzer had to move to Fayetteville, North Carolina, for about three years. To get an edge, he volunteered to spend some time in Egypt, where he said few others wanted to go. “I went to Egypt and sat in a desert for six months. But I got back, and I got a trial slot and tried a lot of cases and got my experience.”
In 1998, Saeltzer was hired at Walkup, Melodia in San Francisco. He had tried about 13 cases by then. “I gave them my officer evaluation reports from the military,” he said. “I wasn’t someone who knew Bruce Walkup.”
Saeltzer, who has been at the Walkup firm since, now offers this tip to job seekers: “Do everything and anything to get experience. Salary doesn’t matter, benefits, connections, location can’t be the driving force,” he said. “When hiring’s going to start again they’re going to be looking for somebody they can give those 30 files to … and ethically say: Deal with this. That’s exactly what happened with the job I got.”
— Petra Pasternak