When people learn that I am a lawyer, their most common reaction is to ask a quick question or two about a legal problem they are facing. The second most common reaction is that someone they know is thinking about going to law school and asking if I could provide any pointers to help them out. Recently, TheLadders reached out and asked us if we could give some advice to others in our field, which is the perfect opportunity to share my thoughts and experiences with aspiring attorneys.
My half-joking first piece of advice is usually “don’t go to law school.” I say half-joking because there are serious considerations that you should make before going to law school that most people (including myself) do not think about until much later. Becoming a lawyer is not the sure-fire ticket to a good career that it used to be. Tuition has soared, leading to massive amounts of student debt for law students. The number of law schools increased dramatically over the past couple decades, leading to a glut of lawyers. The profession was hit hard by the Great Recession, leading to fewer available positions for that glut of lawyers, in turn making it harder to pay back those student loans. It’s an expensive field to get into and the competition for jobs is fierce.
Now that I’ve terrified you, I’m not here to say that you shouldn’t become an attorney. Aspiring attorneys, however, need to be more focused and plan their path far better than I did. I am very fortunate to be where I am, but more planning and thought would have eased a lot of stress in my life when law school ended and the job search began.
For Those Considering Law School
Go Part Time
I strongly advise that you go to law school part time. Full-time law school is three years. Part-time, it is generally four years.
Most part-time classes are in the evening, allowing you to work during the day. You’ll have to work your butt off, but you will be able to pay at least some of your tuition from your day job and minimize the amount of loans you need to take out. Further, if you are able to get a job in a law-related field, you are gaining valuable experience that makes you much more appealing when you are looking for that all-important first job.
The Type of Law You Practice and Where You Practice It
This is really important. Being a lawyer is probably not like what you think and, even if it is, it might not lead to the kind of life you want. Being a trial attorney is not like it is in the movies. Environmental lawyers aren’t generally protecting endangered habitats; instead, they are more likely negotiating who will pay for the clean-up of minor contamination when industrial real estate is being sold.
Some types of law are more demanding than others, and some firms are more demanding than others, which can impact the type of life you lead. Many lawyers are married to their job; many others want to have a more typical day job that gives them more time to spend with family and friends. Finding what works for you will take some exploring and some thinking on your part. So how you do you learn about different types of law and firms? Easy: you talk to lawyers.
Develop Connections Now
Developing connections with lawyers now will help you immensely in the future. As I said earlier, you will be able to learn about the different types of law you can practice and the different types of firms you can practice at. You will also be meeting people who will be invaluable in your future career, including possible employers.
I’m not saying for sure you’ll get a job out of it. But the more people you know, the better positioned you will be when you begin to practice law. And you just never know who you will meet.
There are plenty of ways to start meeting lawyers. You can find lawyers you know, you can call up law school alumni networks, you could even cold call some law firms in your area. Many bar associations have young lawyers groups that are meant to reach out to new and aspiring attorneys. Even some high schools have alumni attorney groups that would be more than happy to talk to aspiring attorneys.
Advice for those recently graduated
Finding a job can still be hard for those graduating law school. I got pretty frustrated myself, but I found a temp job that turned into a career. You have to keep at it. Almost all of my friends who graduated from law school found a job at firms or as contract attorneys with enough perseverance and time. It’s all about who you know. You need to keep meeting people, joining groups, asking your fellow lawyers if they are aware of any openings and searching online for job postings in your field. You should also consider non-legal related careers. Once you get those first two years of experience, you become a more attractive employee as you translate that job into résumé experience.
The law can be a very difficult field to get into, but that does not mean it is impossible. You just need to be very deliberate and think it through carefully before you walk through the door at law school.