- Career planning is a process that requires time and thought. Here are 10 tips to help you identify and land the legal position that fits your skills and interests.
Career planning is a process that requires time and thought. Perhaps you’ve known what you want to be when you grow up for as long as you can remember. Or perhaps you’re still trying to figure it out. Most of us fit somewhere on the spectrum between “born to serve” and “stay loose and adjust.”
Wherever you land on that spectrum, you’ll still need to get a job. Here are 10 tips to help you identify and land the position that fits your skills and interests.
Before you start applying for jobs, some self-reflection may be helpful. In an interview, you’ll be asked why you applied for a job at the firm. You need to research the firm so that you can discuss the areas in which the firm practices. Be prepared to explain why a particular practice area interests you.
If you’re interviewing with a firm with multiple practice areas and you’re not ready to commit to a single area, ask the person interviewing you if the firm allows associates to rotate through specialty areas before choosing a practice area and a group of lawyers with whom you’d like to work.
Understanding the culture and expectations of specific employers will help you decide whether you’ll be happy with your work environment. You want to avoid joining a firm with an environment that does not mesh with your lifestyle and compensation expectations.
Read the biographical information for everyone at the firm who’ll interview you. If possible, find common ground with the interviewer. Did you go to the same undergraduate college? Did you major in the same undergraduate subject? Were you in the same fraternity, sorority, or other service club during undergrad? Did you play the same varsity or club sport? Are you fluent in a language listed on their bio?
Also, research some of the major cases the firm has handled so that you can discuss the cases with the interviewers. And if you’re interviewing with a judge, be ready to discuss at least one opinion the judge wrote that you agree with and one you disagree with, and be prepared to justify your answers.
During interviews, you’ll be asked about your strengths and weaknesses. Avoid vague generalizations. Be very specific with your strengths, using examples of concrete instances that demonstrate your point. If you say you’re good with deadlines, be prepared to offer one or more specific examples of challenging tasks that required you to go the extra mile to comply with the deadline.
The same holds true for your weaknesses. It’s unacceptable to say that you don’t have any weaknesses. Choose one that won’t disqualify you from the job and avoid saying that you can never get to work on time or that you prefer to work alone so that you don’t have to listen to the opinions of others.
Instead, choose a weakness that demonstrates self-awareness. If you say that you’ve been told that you waste time by paying too much attention to details or that you over-research a problem, explain that you’re aware of the issue. Also, state that you appreciate the advice of experienced practitioners who can advise you on when it’s appropriate to proceed with what you have without additional research. Also, state that you know you’ll become more efficient as you develop as a lawyer.
Be prepared to discuss your favorite and least favorite subject in law school. Again, be prepared to justify your answer. If you’re interviewing with a litigation firm, evidence and civil procedure should be on the favorite list rather than the least favorite.
If the interviewer attended your law school, you might be asked about your favorite and least favorite professors. It’s not a good answer to say that a professor was too demanding.
The work you do during your first- and second-year summers can help you decide which practice areas you prefer. It can also help you eliminate areas that don’t interest you. If you can’t secure a summer legal position, enroll in summer school and volunteer at a legal nonprofit or for a judge. Listing the volunteer position on your resume will show ambition and dedication to the profession.
A joint degree earned while in law school will separate you from the other members of your graduating class and may give you interesting options for employment. Many schools offer a joint JD/MBA program, but the list of joint degrees varies depending on the school. Consult your career planning office or your joint degree coordinator for application requirements. Your career planning office should also be able to share statistics on the costs and benefits of a joint degree.
There are LLM programs in just about any specialty area of law. Some LLM programs allow you to design your own program, and you may be able to earn an LLM from a school that’s higher ranked than the school in which you’re currently enrolled. You’ll also be able to use the career planning office at your LLM institution in addition to the office at your law school.
Your career planning office will be able to help you develop your resume, fine-tune your firm setting and subject matter preferences, and help arrange interviews with firms interested in students like you.
Talk to associates who work at the firms you’re interested in to get an idea of the number of hours required to meet the firm’s billable hour minimum. Also, talk to as many people as possible to find out about the realities of their practice situation.
And remember that networking with alums and local lawyers will pay off in the long run. While you don’t want to get too distracted with outside activities that your grades suffer, you do want to join a limited number of organizations that offer opportunities to meet lawyers who practice in your areas of interest.
The American Bar Association allows students to join divisions, sections, and forums focusing on specific practice areas. Joining these groups and attending their meetings is an excellent opportunity to meet practitioners who can help you as your career evolves.
The Law Student Division offers leadership opportunities that can help introduce you to practice and bar leaders. It also has liaison positions with each of the divisions, sections, and forums that allow one lucky student to participate with the lawyer members of the group. Pursue these connections and use them to help you find the right practice setting for you.
If you’re lucky, you’ll land your dream job before you graduate from law school. But most new lawyers will have several jobs before they find the one that motivates them to wake up in the morning. Keep an open mind. The list of jobs that a law school education prepares you for is as vast as your imagination.