Career Corner—Advice and Resources for Alumni
Successfully Navigating the Course From Private Practice to Nonprofit: Jora Trang ('01)
After the recession made continuing her private practice of seven years impossible, this alum engineered a career transition culminating in getting her dream job at a nonprofit.
I had my own private practice representing parents and minors in Juvenile Dependency and co-counseling civil rights litigation. The recession finally hit my practice and being able to successfully run my practice became impossible. I have always been interested in working in the legal non-profit world and being able to balance impact litigation, direct services, and advocacy (community and legislative). However, I had absolute NO experience in the non-profit world and very little references with law firms sufficient to land me a position in what I knew to be a highly competitive job market. There are a very finite number of positions in the world of non-profit law – being able to practice public interest law is a privilege few can break into.
So, I set a plan for myself in the seventh year of my private practice, right about when I was under the threat of receiving “Arnold bucks” from the state for public defense work I had done the previous year. This was about 2007. The plan included getting myself acclimated into the non-profit world and building connections with potential employers. The plan also included gaining experience with impact litigation. Since I was a solo practitioner with no real connection to any law firm, the only way that I could gain that experience was through working pro bono. Since I was interested in issues that affected foster youth, I ended up volunteering 20 hours a week with the National Center for Youth Law as a staff attorney on their class action impact litigation, Clark K., in Nevada. I also joined legal professional associations to allow me to network with people and gain more experience with respect to doing policy and legislative work as well as an amicus briefing. I proceeded in this manner working diligently and struggling financially for about two years while I continued to build connections.
I also reached out to Boalt’s Alumni Career Development Center and met with Robert White to talk about my options. Robert introduced me to several different avenues for job searching. He sent me several possible jobs and looked at my resume and helped me revise it. He encouraged me to do the one thing that made a huge difference in my application process – which was to talk to the judicial officers that I knew to better develop my list of references. I had already been applying to whatever jobs I could find but I re-entered my job application process with renewed energy and a fresh perspective.
Shortly after meeting with Robert, I noticed a position for the Senior Staff Attorney position at Equal Rights Advocates (ERA) that had been posted for about six months. I had seen the position before but was not sure that I was qualified since it asked for someone with a high level of class action experience. Although I had some class action experience, I did not have a significant amount. I was also completely new to the non-profit world and no one knew me – except the one person that ended up making a big difference.
I landed an interview at ERA and I was overjoyed. I was really surprised that I even got the interview. The person setting up the interview told me that I needed to come in within a week’s time. For the next week, I am serious when I say that I ate, slept, and walked ERA. For at least 8 hours a day, I spent time pouring over my resume and the job description and parsing out all the things I needed to be able to articulate well in an interview. I reviewed every single case I had ever been involved in. I met with two of my best friends and had mock interviews – at the beginning of my preparation process and when I was invited for the second interview. I borrowed books from the law library concerning the areas of the law that ERA focused on and read up on the law.
I researched all the most up to date interview questions and PREPARED lengthy answers to each one (note – do not under-estimate how important this preparation is). To the extent possible, I read and analyzed ERA’s website and prepared what I believed to be intelligent questions (little did I know that the website was woefully outdated). I called up former colleagues I had worked for and quizzed them on the work that I did for them. I called all my references and prepared them for potential reference calls. I made sure to have three types of references: Judicial, Legal, and Personal.
I had endless sessions with myself in which I answered all the interview questions I had prepared outloud. When I was finally called into the first interview, I have to say that the majority of the questions asked of me were questions that I had meticulously written answers to and spoke out-loud over and over again for the last week. When I was called back for my second interview, I went on a rampage and decided that there was nothing more they could ask me than even more specific questions regarding the legal work that I had done. So I tried to research as thoroughly as possible the past litigations I had been involved in. Then I looked at ERA’s practice areas and decided to create in my mind this mock case with a mock client. I went through the steps of how to develop the case and how to represent the client through the administrative process (ERA focuses on employment law) as well as the litigation. Then, in my exhaustion, I kind of went crazy with it and just kept working through the case adding more and more difficult fact patterns to my hypothetical case until I almost forgot that it was a pretend case. Finally one day before the second interview, I slapped myself and told myself to snap out of it. I knew at that point that the only thing that would get me hired was my personality and whether or not I would fit in with the ERA staff culture.
I stopped doing anything exactly 24 hours before the interview and just zombied out on video games.
On the day of the interview, I showed up playing my theme song (a song I had chosen to bring me back to who I was and what my passions were). In the second interview, I was interviewed by six people on the legal team at once! Lo and behold, can you believe the biggest part of the interview was this crazy hypothetical case that they had created for me to work through in front of them!! It had all the elements of my crazy hypothetical that I had been working through for a week and included facts to address all areas of the law that ERA focused on. I breezed through it since I had lived it for a week.
ERA called every single one of my references but most importantly, they called people they knew in the non-profit world that they knew had worked with me regardless of whether I had listed that person as a reference or not. Luckily I had developed really good relationships in the last two years that I had been doing pro bono work. Several weeks later I was offered the position out of hundreds of applicants!!! And I LOVE working at ERA – it's definitely my dream job!
Jora Trang (2001)