Career Tips for New Law Students

It's not too early to start thinking about your career as a law student

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You’re probably worried about a whole lot of things if you're about to start law school soon—where you’re going to live, how much you’re going to have to work, and if you’ll be at the top of the class. But it’s worth spending some time and energy thinking about your eventual legal career along with all these valid first semester concerns,

Time passes quickly, and you’ll be looking for a job before you know it. You don’t really have three more years to decide what you want to do with your life. You should have a pretty clear idea right now because of the way the job hunt is structured. It’s important to have your ducks in a row early, so you don’t miss out on interesting opportunities.

A 1L can apply for summer jobs beginning on December 1 of the first year, and your school might have even earlier deadlines for summer funding.

What Do You Want to Do With Your Life?

Don't attend law school as a default option. There are already too many unhappy lawyers in the world, and there’s no reason for you to become one of them.

If you’re not sure you want to practice law, and if you don’t have a pretty clear idea of what type of law you want to practice, take a year off before you jump in. Spend time talking with lawyers and ex-lawyers about their lives. Get an entry-level job in a law firm or a public interest organization, or volunteer with your local bar association. Find out what life as a lawyer is really like.

You’ll be better off financially than someone who went $50,000 into debt for a year of law school before pulling the plug, even if you just make minimum wage during your year off.

Don’t Just Focus on School

Yes, law school grades are important, and getting better grades will typically expand your career opportunities. But it’s critical to carve out some time each week to focus on your career as well.

It doesn’t have to be much time in the beginning, but you'll want to develop the habit of routinely meeting new people and exploring new options. You don't want to find yourself with no connections and no relevant experiences when the job search really heats up.

Spend some time each week building your network and your career, even if it’s just an hour to work on your resume and cover letter or to have a cup of coffee with an interesting lawyer you've met.

Get to Know Your Professors

There are many good reasons to go to office hours and get to know your professors better, but perhaps the most important is that they might be able to help you in your career, either directly or indirectly.

A professor might hook up a favorite student up with a job, and you’ll need letters of recommendation for things like clerkship applications if that doesn’t happen. It never hurts to have solid references because some law firms require them before they’ll hire a new associate.

Have Your Application Materials in Order

It’s a good idea to get your basic resume and cover letter together before classes start because you never know when an interesting opportunity might present itself. It’s also wise to have copies of any existing educational transcripts because those can take time to track down when you actually need them.

Get your potential references on board as well, whether they're former professors or former employers. Your goal should be to be able to apply for an interesting career opportunity within 24 hours. This means having everything collected, formatted, scanned, and ready to go at all times.

Ace the Interview

Don't go in blind when a firm notices what you have to offer and grants you an interview. You'll almost certainly be asked, "Why this law firm?" as part of the process. Have an answer ready. This means researching the firm you're interviewing with so your answer is personalized and knowledgeable.

Get online. Find out what the rest of the world is saying about the firm, and what information the firm is circulating about itself. Did they nail a big case three years ago? Mention that.

You'll probably also be asked where you went to law school, why you chose that particular school, and what it is about the legal system that led you to pursue a career in law. Prepare your answers ahead of time, but take care not to come off as sounding rehearsed.

Finally, don't pass up the opportunity to ask your own questions. Find out what your anticipated role will be within the firm. You might also want to delve more deeply into comments and information given by the interviewer.

Enjoy your time in law school, but don’t neglect to take small, regular steps toward the career you want.