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by Carter Nichols (L’16)

Carter Nichols2

Finding a job is a job itself. The irony is bittersweet. For us law students, the job search process (i.e., applications, interviews, callbacks, etc.) can be all consuming and even for the successful, it takes a toll. The purpose of this piece is not to offer advice on how to secure a job, there is too much of that to go around. Rather, this is a piece about recognizing the effect the job search has on us, identifying the cause of that effect, and how to push forward when things don’t go the way we [thought] we wanted.

Before pushing forward, a moment of levity is helpful. Law school is an inherently competitive institution. For those of us who have made it to this point, failure is not a familiar foe. So when law students are thrown into the job search process – pitted against their peers in a winner-take-all competition for professional success – the end result is the feeling of validation and success for some, and the feeling of failure and defeat for many others. That was how I felt at the end of my third semester when many of my friends and classmates had secured their 2L summer associate positions with a variety of firms. In my mind, their path to success was guaranteed and mine was not. Although I felt that I had missed my only chance to succeed, I could not have been more wrong!

Admittedly, after failing to secure a firm job during my 2L fall semester, I was lost and not sure what to do or where to start. I had, to my own detriment, created a peak – a 2L summer associate position – and had not reached it. It was not until I stepped back and recognized this first mistake that I was able to push forward. You see, I had fallen into a trap, one that I’ve seen many others fall into as well and one that I hope you can avoid. I had let someone or something else define “success” for me. I had created a definition of success that was not based on my own desires or expectations of law school. For example, I knew then that I wanted to be a litigator and wanted to spend my 2L summer in a courtroom using my Third Year Practice Certificate as much as possible. But I also knew I wasn’t going to get that experience as a 2L summer associate at a firm downtown. Despite these known facts, I still let myself fall into the trap of letting something else define “success” for me. This was a mistake and I am here to tell you now, “pushing forward” requires defining success in your own terms, and nothing more.

Understanding that the path to “success” is not a one-way road to a pre-determined destination was not an overnight realization, and coming to terms with that was not easy. Many law students who have been through at least one job-search cycle can relate to the anxiety and mood-killing atmosphere that attends the whole event. Of course, it is hard to rationalize apparent failure after the fact. But today, words of encouragement I received from my faculty advisor could not have been more accurate, “you’ll look back on this and say, ‘I’m so glad that things worked out this way – I wouldn’t change a thing.’” If you’re a 2L who just finished the fall job search without success, I know how those words look and feel to read – complete nonsense! Don’t believe them now, I admit they offer no instant relief, but keep them in mind because I believe they will become true for you too. And indeed, hindsight now informs me that sometimes the journey is much more important than the destination.

After taking time to reflect on my own definition of success, I recovered from the disappointment of my fall job search – I pushed forward. It was with that renewed sense of personal expectation that I went on to secure a job with the Federal Public Defender’s Office in Richmond during the Government and Public Interest Interview Program. What followed was the most rewarding and fulfilling summer job I have ever had. Not only did I accomplish my goal of trying cases in federal court, the opportunity gave me experience and professional connections that were integral in securing my judicial clerkship after graduation.

Perhaps I was lucky – personally, I think I dodged a bullet by not getting a firm job last fall. My experience will certainly look different than yours. But again, the important take away is that your path to success is not pre-defined. You will push forward, that is certain. All that is left is to take the next step in your journey.

After his 2L summer internship with the Federal Public Defender’s Office, Carter Nichols graduated and clerked for a year with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Norfolk. He is now a litigator with the law firm of Troutman Sanders in Virginia Beach.

Carter Nichols joined 3Ls Suzi Bass, Dylan Bishop and Meg Donovan for a CDO panel on October 26, 2015 to share their experiences of finding 2L summer employment after OCI, and pushing forward in their employment search with some positive inspiration and practical tips on targeting their search. Click here to view the CDO program on Pushing Forward: Tips for 2Ls for Landing a Summer Job.

Would you like to share your Tales from the Trenches? Submit your stories to Carole Yeatts.

Originally posted November 10, 2015