Finding My Place in the Legal World
Although a few more finals, graduation, and the bar exam still stand in my path to landing my first job in the legal profession, lately much of my attention has been focused on exactly that—my future career aspirations. My thoughts have largely centered on one question: what exactly do I want to do with my law degree? Although I have had a tough time of it, seeing how I can honestly say that I have enjoyed studying just about every area of law that has been presented to me, my goal for the past year has been to narrow my areas of interest, at least somewhat. I have succeeded in that goal, but I have yet to gain a clear picture of where I expect my legal career path to lead. I often struggle with the common interview question, “Where do you see yourself in ten years?” As the answer “Umm, I don’t know” runs through my mind, I am usually able to come up with a vague but promising assessment of my career plans for the next five or ten years. But, each time I answer the question, I can’t help but think about all those areas of interest and possible career paths I have left out.
In an effort to provide some focus to my own career ambitions, I recently set out to discover how many of the lawyers I know started off their law-related careers and the paths that led them to the positions they occupy in the legal field today. Although I must admit that the comments I received from a few of my elders were rather disheartening, most of the legal professionals I spoke to over the past few months seem to be quite content with their jobs. Whether they found their calling right out of law school, or took more of a meandering path to a professionally fulfilling position, most of them have happily found their niche.
I recently met a criminal defense attorney who said that upon graduating from law school the only thing that he was certain of was that he never wanted to set foot in a courtroom. He has now been practicing law for about five years, finds himself in at least one courtroom on a daily basis, and says he wouldn’t want it any other way. Also, it seems that most law professors I have talked to didn’t walk out of the bar exam with plans to teach torts or contracts to first-year law students either. A professor explained to me recently that she tried a number of different career choices before finding her place as a professor and director of a law school’s clinical program. She worked as an associate at a law firm following law school. But for a woman who wanted to raise a family, she said the lifestyle that a law firm had to offer, with late nights and long hours, just did not fit. In an effort to find more of a work/life balance, she started practicing on her own. However, working as a solo practitioner, while more flexible, had its drawbacks for her too. Ultimately, though, she found a career that could provide her with the available family time she was looking for along with opportunities for professional success.
Seeking out the stories of those who have come before me has definitely been a worthwhile activity — not because I have a firmer grasp on where I expect my legal career path to go, but because I have less anxiety about whether I will end up in a place that is right for me. In talking to all of the individuals who seem to have found their niche in the legal profession in one way or another, I noticed one main theme running through their stories. Despite what each of them may have set out to do in the beginning, the positions in which they ultimately settled seem to have found them. Their dream jobs were not the result of lengthy job searches full of mass mailings to every law firm in the country, or long hours posting résumés to one of the popular Internet employment sites. Instead, it was personal contacts and the power of networking that helped many of them tailor their careers. Others explained that it is important to find something you are interested in and stick with it, even if it means doing the work that no one else wants to do. And, finally, something that all of them had in common was the importance that they placed on building a reputation. Ultimately, it was their attention to reputation that seems to have led to their success, or at least to their contentment.
Sara J. Seidle is a 3L at Duquesne University School of Law.