One of the things you can do to make the most of your second and third years of law school is to use your electives and other law school resources to figure out what type of lawyer you would like to be.
After the first year of law school, you will have the opportunity to choose your courses. You want to make sure that while you are in law school you take a course in every subject area that could potentially be tested on the bar exam in the jurisdiction in which you plan to practice law. In addition, there are certain courses you should take just because the legal concepts covered in these courses will come up in many different legal specializations.
Electives All Law Students Should Take
You should take a course in Business Entities (sometimes called Corporations). Many legal clients will be some type of business, and you will need a general understanding of the laws that govern businesses in order to counsel your clients effectively.
Taking a course in Basic Federal Taxation is also vital because tax issues can arise in unexpected areas. For example, if you are a family law attorney working on a divorce, the way you advise your client to divide up the marital assets may depend on certain tax issues. Even if you end up bringing in a full-fledged tax attorney for advice, you need to be able to at least spot that there are tax issues when these issues occur.
You should also take a course in Administrative Law because so much of the law individuals and businesses deal with is in the form of regulations issued by administrative agencies. Many administrative agencies, including the Internal Revenue Service and the Patent and Trademark Office, also have their own administrative court system. You will need an understanding of the powers and limits of administrative agencies in order to effectively advise your clients.
Types of Attorneys
Once you have enrolled in the courses described above, you can use the rest of your electives to help you discover what type of an attorney you would like to become. There are two general categories of attorneys: Litigators and Transactional Attorneys.
Transactional Attorneys help their clients plan and execute various types of transactions. They assist their clients in buying and selling businesses, documenting business transactions through written contracts, obtaining patents, trademarks and copyrights, and drafting wills and other estate planning documents. In contrast, litigators engage in all parts of the litigation process before administrative and state and federal courts.
How to Find Out if You Prefer Litigation or Transactional Practice
It is best to explore each type of legal practice while you are in law school. You can explore a litigation practice by participating in a legal clinic that represents people in front of an administrative or state or federal court. Many law schools have Immigration Clinics, or Housing Clinics that represent people facing evictions, or Veterans Benefits Clinics, where you can represent a veteran regarding his or her veteran’s benefits. For experience with transactional practice, some law schools have clinics that help inventors, writers and artists obtain patents, trademarks and copyrights. These types of clinics focus on transactional law.
Taking advantage of an externship is another way to help yourself determine if you would prefer to be a litigator or transactional attorney. Your law school will certainly have a list of available externships. However, do not limit yourself to your law school’s list. If there is a particular type of law that you are interested in, contact the administrative agency that specializes in that type of law directly and ask if they have any externship opportunities available. For example, if you are interested in immigration law, contact the Immigration and Naturalization Service. If you don’t know which administrative agency to contact, ask a law professor who teaches in the area of law you are interested in, or a counselor at your law school’s career services center.
Sometimes you will discover an affinity for a certain type of law when you take a substantive course. You may discover that you really enjoy figuring out the complexities of tax law while the law student in the seat next to you is snoring softly through the tax professor’s lecture. This enjoyment suggests that you would be happy being a transactional attorney, and should take more transactional courses. Or, you may be chugging your fourth double espresso desperately trying to stay awake in your environmental law class while the law student in front of you is passionately arguing for or against enforcement of a particular environmental law provision. This suggests that the law student in front of you would be happy as a litigator and should take more litigation classes.
Your Law Professors
Finally, your law professors can help you pinpoint the type of practice and area of law you are most suited. If you find yourself enjoying a particular class, go to office hours and ask your law professor for advice. Is this area of law more litigation or transaction oriented? Where do attorneys who practice in this are work?
To maximize your chances of success and happiness in your future legal career, make use of all the resources available to you in law school.
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