Welcome to Ahead of the Curve, our new series for incoming 1Ls. We’re getting lots of questions about what law school to attend, how to pay for it, and what people can be doing now to set themselves up for success in law school. Stay tuned, and be sure to sign up for our free mailing list and check out the Start Law School Right course to ensure you’re ready to go on Day One!
Welcome to another article in our series designed to help you get Ahead of the Curve as you start law school. Today, I want to encourage you to spend some time thinking about your career this spring and summer. Yes, you read that right—before you even spend a single day in law school, I want you to start learning about and planning for your legal career.
Why Think About Your Career Now?
There are solid reasons for thinking now about what direction you plan to take with your law degree. The summer before law school is a good time because you actually have some time! You aren’t yet stressed with case briefs and legal memoranda, so you have time to do some investigation and exploration about what kind of lawyer you might want to be.
What Can You Do This Summer?
You’ve seen criminal trials on television, but does the screen bear any resemblance to the day-to-day work of prosecuting or defending criminal cases? You know that many lawyers practice civil (or non-criminal law) but you may not know that civil cases often take years to resolve; finding out what happens during that time seems important before you decide to be a “civil litigator.” This list could go on and on: you may not even know what kinds of questions to ask about the practice of “doing deals,” handling the legal aspects of real estate transactions or estate planning, or how the law can be used in the public sector or for social justice, and that is exactly why you need to do some fact finding. This is a great time to learn about the wide variety of legal career options.
Conduct Some Informational Interviews
One of the best things you can do to learn about the many options out there for attorneys is to talk to real-life attorneys, both those who practice law and those who have left the practice of law. Start by making a list of the people you know who are attorneys. If you don’t know anyone who is an attorney, get to work finding someone. Be creative: ask on social media, ask friends, ask neighbors, or contact your law school and ask if they have some alumni who would be willing to talk to you. Then, call or email a few people from your list of “experts” and ask them if they would be willing to spend half an hour talking to you about their career.
It may seem strange or intimidating to ask someone that you don’t know well to meet you, but most people will happy to meet you for a cup of coffee. The key here is that you aren’t asking for anything—you aren’t looking for a job, or a reference, or a big commitment—you are just trying to learn about your chosen profession by listening to someone else’s story. Many people will be flattered to be approached and most people genuinely enjoy talking about themselves.
Prepare by learning a little bit about your “subject”; look them up on LinkedIn and learn something about their career path or their company, but let them do most of the talking. Your goal is to listen to their story. If you need to move the conversation along, here are some suggested questions:
- What was your first job out of law school?
- How did you end up doing what you do today?
- Are there any classes that you took in law school (or wish you had taken) that you found helpful?
- What do you wish you had known to prepare yourself for this type of work?
- Describe your typical day.
- What skills do you think are most important in your job?
Practice professionalism at each informational interview. You certainly don’t need to dress formally, but think about the setting of your meeting and make a good impression. Shake hands when you meet and make eye contact throughout the conversation. Save taking notes for after your meeting. (I know of one young woman who went on an informational interview with one of her parent’s friends; she took notes, as she always did, on her laptop, and was later very embarrassed to realize that she hadn’t made eye contact at all.) Conclude your meeting with verbal thanks and follow up later that day (or the next) with an email or letter thank you.
Collect some stories and then spend some time reflecting on what you learned. What jobs sound like they would be interesting to you? What areas of law might you want to explore? Keep an open mind throughout the process and continue to meet with and talk to lawyers whenever you get the opportunity.
Your goal is to get information to help guide you as you make choices in law school and beyond. Yes, your 1L classes will generally be selected for you, but soon you’ll be thinking about 1L summer jobs, course selection for your second year, journal competitions, and clinic opportunities. Exploring what you might want to do as a lawyer helps you choose classes, extracurricular activities, and journal opportunities that make you more competitive in the job market. You want your law school resume and transcript to make sense in light of the job you will eventually be competing to earn; the earlier you focus on your options, the more your resume and transcript will speak to your interests.
Law school is challenging and you’ll be competing for grades and jobs with other high achieving students; thinking about your career before day one is just one more way you can get ahead of the curve.
For more information on how to Start Law School Right and get Ahead of the Curve, see the following:
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