In my final days of law school, I made a mistake that could have cost me a career. After enjoying just a few too many at one of the numerous graduation parties, I made the decision to drive home, and was actually pulled over for suspicion of DUI. Having blown .11 (.03 over the legal limit), I was taken to jail, fingerprinted, and then released with an order to appear in court. Being just a few days from graduation, I was well versed in the Arizona DUI process, but I opted against representing myself in favor of a more experienced attorney. Where hubris lost, I won. I was able to plea down to a 90 day license suspension, community service, fines, and the conviction would drop off my record after 18 months.
My mind started to wonder at just how much trouble I’d be in when it came to actually using my three years of law school in order to get a job upon graduation, or worse yet, would I have any serious repercussions with the State Bar of Arizona?
Luckily, I managed to get by my previous transgression wiped, and ultimately ended up at a great firm representing clients that are the victims of workplace accidents, malpractice and other injuries. I knew from the time I entered law school that I wanted to end up with a firm that handled accident and malpractice suits. I guess if I had to choose what made me want to get into the slip and fall type accident space, it’d be just the amount of money floating around in the space that injured people are entitled to. One local firm specializing in this sort of “slip and fall” legal practice, Goldberg and Osborne, has received more than 2-billion dollars in settlements for their clients–and that’s just one firm. While money is great, my primary intention is to make sure my client gets as much of that as they should be receiving from insurance companies who would like to pay next to nothing for what often amounts to gross negligence by another party.
But in order to practice in the area of my choosing, first I’d need to clear this cloud hanging over my head. I sought advice from everyone I knew on just how to handle the matter when it came to applying for positions in local firms, and it can all be summed up in three little actionable bytes:
It turns out that legal firms know an awful lot about the law, and are very good at seeing if and when you broke it. If you lie during your interview, they’re almost certain to find out about it at some point. Maybe they won’t pull your record before hiring you, but inevitably it can and will come up at some date in the future. I was advised to just be forthcoming about the matter to all future employers, and to explain that it was a one time mistake, and that I wasn’t going to let it define me, or my career. It was something I had learned from, and didn’t expect to repeat.
Explain the Situation and What You Learned From It
In my case, it was a pretty simple explanation. I had had one drink to many, and I blew slightly over the legal limit. Now, the degree by which I broke the law isn’t an excuse, in fact had I only blown slightly over the legal limit I would have, in fact, still been breaking the law. I explained to them that I was wrong, and that even though it was only slightly over the legal limit – a mistake that anybody can make – I wasn’t justifying my actions, and that I accepted full responsibility. I explained that I learned a valuable lesson that day, and now I don’t drive at all if I plan on drinking, even if it’s just one drink with dinner. In short, I’m a better person because of it, and I’ve certainly learned my lesson.
Be Willing to Take What’s Available In Order to Prove Yourself
As good as all this advice was, and as much as I want to tell you that the firms I applied at took pity on me and gave me a chance, I can’t tell you that. You see, the legal field is a competitive one, and each year some of the best and brightest minds graduate law school and attempt to find a job. The problem is, there are far more new lawyers than there are jobs, and as such, the firms have their pick of a number of quality candidates. While my grades were good, and I had excellent recommendations, it seems that it just wasn’t good enough to cover up the fact that I had made a mistake, and a costly one.
So, I ended up taking a job as an attorney at a non-profit, for a fraction of what I could have made at one of the big firms. After my DUI was expunged from my record 18-months later, I began the process all over again and sought out the job in my chosen niche, accident law. I was still forthcoming about the legal issue, but I explained that it was my first offense and that it had since been wiped from my record. After my third interview, I was offered a job, and now I’m happy to report that I’m practicing law in my chosen niche.
The lesson here is that a lot of doors are ultimately going to be slammed in your face when you have legal issues, but want to work in law. Obviously the best course of action is to avoid the trouble in the first place, but if you’re unlucky enough to end up in my situation it’s important that you persevere. Knowing where you are, and where you want to end up are keys to success in this profession, and with the right amount of willpower, a positive attitude and the willingness to prove yourself after these sorts of transgressions, you can and will get to where you want to be.