Highlight your independence and responsibility
When I was a young lawyer, a senior partner at the firm where I worked began his career at a gritty high street outfit before moving to our sleek city-center establishment. I remember him rather gruffly telling me, “The young lawyers at this firm get their hands held – they get coddled”.
In a sense, he was right. Beginning your career at a large firm involves training sessions, introductions to the librarian, and emails being checked by a manager before they’re sent. My friends from law school who went to smaller firms, on the other hand, were simply handed a bundle of files on Day 1 and told to get to work.
So which approach makes a better lawyer? The answer, of course, is that you can draw strengths from both. Working somewhere smaller certainly means you’ll have had to take on more responsibility – you’ll have had less support, meaning more thinking on your feet and working things out for yourself. And that’s good for sharpening your skills. After all, Pele didn’t start out playing soccer on a manicured lawn while wearing the latest Nike boots – he learned his trade kicking a burst tennis ball around the dusty backstreets of Bauru, São Paolo. Think of responsibilities you’ve had that you wouldn’t have been given at some big-league multinational, and make sure you stress what they’ve taught you.
Get referred by an existing employee
Do you know someone working at the firm where you’d like to be? Perfect – a good word from them could be all that you need! Indeed, the reason that having a major name on your resumé is a good thing in the first place is that it proves there’s at least someone trustworthy out there who’s put faith in you. But if the recruitment manager hears positive things about you from someone they know and trust themselves, that could accomplish the same thing!
Of course, not everyone has contacts all over the place. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t make them. Whether it’s by networking or work-related contact, building relationships at the places you see yourself going won’t do you any harm.
Find another way to get strong names on your resumé
Another advantage of having a prestigious firm on your resumé is the hope that some of their reputation might rub off on you – giving you a bit of ‘prestige-by-association’. But your employment history isn’t the only way to attach yourself to a reputable name. If you live near a good university, can you offer to tutor, mentor, or give a talk there? Could you become involved with your State Bar Association? How about writing a piece for a well-respected publication in your field? These are all great ways to get some heavyweight brand names on your CV.
Wherever your career has taken you so far, you can find ways to draw out your strengths and establish the credibility you need – and not a 19th-century portrait in sight!