Career Tips for New Law Students
It's not too early to start thinking about your future jobs
If you’re starting law school soon, you’re probably worried about a variety of things: where you’re going to live, how much you’re going to have to work, whether you’ll make a fool out of yourself when you get called on, if you’ll be at the top of the class, and so on.
Along with all of these valid first semester concerns, it’s worth spending some time and energy thinking about your legal career as you get started in law school. Why? Because time passes quickly, and you’ll be looking for a job before you know it! One oddity of law school is that you don’t really get three more years to decide what you want to do with your life (sorry!). Because of the way the job hunt is structured, you need to have a pretty clear idea what you want, much earlier than many new law students realize.
For example, it’s possible as a 1L to apply for summer jobs starting on December 1st of your first year. And it’s possible your school might have even earlier deadlines for summer funding (mine did). It’s important to have your ducks in a row early, so you don’t miss out on interesting opportunities.
Don’t Go to Law School Because You Don’t Know What You Want to Do With Your Life
Before you start law school, it’s critical to have some idea what you want to do with your life. Do not just go as a default option! There are already too many unhappy lawyers in the world, and there’s no reason for you to be one of them. If you’re not sure you want to practice law (and you don’t have a pretty good idea what type of law you want to practice), don’t start! Take a year off and spend time talking with lawyers and ex-lawyers about their lives. Get an entry-level job in a law firm or public interest organization, or volunteer with your local bar association, to find out what life as a lawyer is really like.
Even if you make minimum wage, you’ll be better off than someone who went $50,000 into debt for a year of law school, before realizing it was the wrong choice!
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. In the beginning, it doesn’t have to be much time, but you want to develop the habit of routinely meeting new people and exploring new options, so you don’t find yourself with no connections and no relevant experiences when the job search really heats up. Even if it’s an hour a week to work on your resume and cover letter, or to go to coffee with an interesting lawyer you met, spend some time each week building your network and your career.
Get to Know Your Professors
There are many reasons to go to office hours and get to know your professors, but one reason is that they might be able to help you in your career, directly or indirectly. It’s possible that a professor might hook a favorite student up with a job. But, even if that doesn’t happen, you’ll need letters of recommendations for things like clerkship applications, and it never hurts to have solid references, since some law firms require those before they’ll hire a new associate.
Have Your Application Materials in Order Early
You never know when an interesting opportunity might present itself, so it’s a good idea to get your basic resume and cover letter together before classes start. 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. Go ahead and get your potential recommenders on board, whether it’s former professors or former employers. Your goal should be to be able to apply to an interesting career opportunity within 24 hours, which means having everything collected, formatted, scanned, and ready to go at all times!
Enjoy your time in law school! But don’t forget to take small, regular steps towards the career you want.