I have worked with law and pre-law students for over a decade in a variety of roles including administrative roles at three different law schools, and I served as the executive director of a nonprofit dedicated to supporting and advancing law students of color. While in these roles, I learned valuable lessons, which led to the advice that I am providing here for recent law school graduates and students who are about to graduate law school. In my current role as a speaker, consultant, and executive coach, I also share many of these lessons with experienced attorneys as they progress in their legal careers.
- Connect with your network online now! I encourage those of you who are still in law school to make strategic connections with your classmates, faculty, and alumni using LinkedIn. Staying abreast of their career trajectories will better enable them to stay connected with you and invested in your career.
- Assess and build your brand. Recent graduates should work with law school career services office to develop a strategic plan for building a professional brand after graduation. This process should include assessments of skills and areas where improvement is needed. Reviewing any deficits in your current brand allows you to take a snapshot, set a goal for where you would like to be, and hold yourself accountable as you progress in your career. On future review, you will be able to see how far you have come and what you still need to accomplish.
- Know that gratitude goes a long way. On your way out of law school and into the legal profession, it is important to reflect on the people who helped you on your journey to and through law school. These people can continue to be a resource as you launch your legal career, so take the time to thank law school administrators, professors, mentors, and other supporters who were instrumental to you on your journey.
- Finish up strong. As you near the end of your law school career it is important to finish with as much energy and enthusiasm as you had when you were a 1L. While the rigor of law school is challenging, many students tend to wane in their efforts as they near graduation and this is a mistake. The attitudes, effort, and perceptions that you embody as you close this chapter of your life will shape how you move to the next phase—the bar exam.
- Celebrate after the bar exam. Many students decide to celebrate graduation with trip before the bar exam. If you are taking the bar exam right after graduation, I strongly advise you to transition immediately into bar study rather than take a break. Bar exam prep and passage should be your utmost priority upon graduation. Passing the exam, whether you currently have a job offer or not, should be viewed as the final step in your law school career. Having bar passage as a credential (hopefully achieved on your first try) will enable you to begin your career as an attorney without any remaining barriers.
- Learn bar exam success strategies. What I have learned from personal experience and from supporting hundreds of law students during study for their bar exams is that success on the bar requires two very important things: (1) Deep commitment to using the tools and following the processes recommended by your chosen bar exam test prep course and (2) disengagement from all things that don’t serve you on your path to passing the bar including demanding friends and family and social media.
- Commit to learning (excellence). Oftentimes, when beginning a new role, junior attorneys struggle to find the balance between the education they have received and the practical experience that they require. My suggestion on how to best navigate this issue in the workplace is to lead with humility and understand that there is much to learn. You should endeavor to learn from more experienced colleagues, to increase your skills and to accomplish tasks well. This strategy can help lessen workplace perceptions of you having an inflated ego or lack of ability and will encourage others to mentor and support you as you grow as an attorney.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. A combination of fear and ego tends to prevent recent graduates from asking for help when needed. I recommend that new graduates lead with humility and understand that the vulnerability required to ask for assistance, whether it be on how to correctly complete a task or how to access their network for job opportunities is not an indicator of weakness or lack of ability. On the contrary, asking for help and knowing that you need to tap into resources in areas where you are not as strong is a core leadership competency.
- Engage, volunteer, lead. As you emerge into the profession, one way to deepen your learning and your network is to join bar associations and volunteer on a committee. This will provide you with access to a network of experienced practitioners who can be potential mentors, sponsors, employers or eventual clients.
- Be humble but ambitious. While leading with humility is my recommendation, this does not mean that you should be invisible or silent as you progress in your career. In fact, I encourage recent graduates to be ambitious. Your ambitions should align with the goals set out in your professional brand strategic plan. The tasks you are trying to accomplish should not seem easy at the outset. In fact, they should be challenging in order to ensure that you continue to grow, learn and ultimately become a better attorney. This is why I remind students and attorneys of my business tag line, “Engage Your Hustle.”
- Engage Your Hustle. The next steps in your career may at times appear daunting. Understand that a primary key to success will be your ability to harness and maximize the power within you that comes from reflecting on why you started on this path to becoming an attorney. Celebrate your accomplishments; remember and learn from the challenges you have overcome. Finally, prepare for the road ahead, stay focused, and meet (and exceed) your career goals. Congratulations on what you have accomplished thus far, and welcome to the profession!
Paula T. Edgar is CEO of PGE LLC, a speaking, executive coaching and diversity consulting firm based in Brooklyn, New York.