So, you are considering a legal career but don't know where to begin. The legal services industry is exploding and legal employers are willing to pay top-dollar for competent professionals with in-demand skill sets. Below are eight tips for jump-starting a career in the legal field, whether you are a student evaluating career opportunities or an experienced professional transitioning into the legal field.
One of the best ways to put your legal career in drive is to advance your education. To get ahead in some specialty areas you may need an advanced degree or professional certification. For example, paralegals and legal nurse consultants are obtaining certifications in their field to demonstrate a commitment to the profession and enhance their professional credibility. For lawyers employed in certain niche fields such as tax, an LL.M. might enhance employability. Legal secretaries with bachelors' degrees may have an edge over those without a college education.
Leverage Your Expertise
If you have experience or background in another field such as accounting, nursing, engineering or the physical sciences, you can leverage your expertise into new career opportunities in the law, either through consulting or through specialization in your niche area. For example, a strong foundation in engineering or the physical sciences may give you an edge in the field of intellectual property, a background in nursing may open opportunities to work as a legal nurse consultant, and a CPA or accounting degree may open doors in the area of tax law.
Perform a Self-Assessment
Before embarking on a career path in the law, it is important to conduct an honest self-assessment to determine if a career in the law is a good fit for you. Make a list of your strengths and weaknesses and objectively review your experience and credentials to determine if a career in the law is for you. Skills required for all legal professionals include strong writing and communication skills, strict adherence to deadlines, organizational ability, attention to detail and strong technology skills.
Research the Field
Career disillusionment is not uncommon in the legal profession, particularly among lawyers and paralegals. Therefore, it is wise to read literature and explore websites for information relating to the qualifications, duties, educational requirements, salaries and job outlook relating to the legal position in which you are interested. You might also visit the career center of a local law school to learn more about law school and the legal field. Talking to lawyers, law students and other legal professionals about the nature of the profession will also increase your knowledge base.
Cultivate Professional Contacts
One of the best ways to learn about the legal profession in general and job opportunities, in particular, is through word of mouth. You should network feverously to gain professional contacts and learn about the profession. Contact area law firms, corporate legal departments, and legal staffing agencies. Attend local chapter meetings, conferences, seminars, and luncheons and talk to people who work in the field to learn more about the profession and available job openings.
As technological advancements revolutionize the legal industry, it is important to become adept at the technology applications pertinent to the field you wish to enter. Tech-savvy lawyers, paralegals, legal secretaries, litigation support personnel and other legal professionals have a significant advantage in today's' legal marketplace.
Locate a Mentor
Finding a mentor with experience in the legal profession you would like to enter is a great way to jump-start a career in that area. A mentor can educate you regarding the benefits, pitfalls, job prospects, employment outlook, salary and daily tasks of the profession. A mentor can also guide you through the transition to a legal career, arm you with knowledge about the field, refer you new clients and point you toward new opportunities. To find a mentor, contact your local bar association. Many mid-size and large law firms also have established mentoring programs which assign summer interns, law clerks and junior associates to an experienced associate or partner.
Shadow a Legal Professional
Job shadowing is a useful career tool that involves following in the footsteps of another professional for a short period of time, usually one or two days. Job shadowing allows you to learn more about the realities of the legal field by observing a professional on the job. Shadowing gives you the opportunity to ask questions about the job, gain a glimpse of a typical work day and make connections in the field. Shadowing also benefits the employer, allowing them to scout out new talent. To find a job shadowing position near you, visit job shadowing websites. Some legal career schools also offer job shadowing programs.