It’s graduation season and law schools are turning out thousands of graduates, many of whom will sit for the bar exam in the coming months. Some law school graduates know how their career will start, some have a general idea, and some have no clue at all. Despite where a recent law school graduate may fall within a category, there’s still opportunity to reflect on experiences throughout law school and to set out a plan for the early stages of one’s career.
Though many of our clients are solo practitioners or are a part of small firms, even graduates starting at big law firms can formulate some type of plan for the beginning of their career. There are a few factors to keep in mind when figuring out your place in the legal realm: education, office setting, law firm culture, and practice area.
Further Your Legal Education
Whether you sit for the bar or exam or not, you can enroll in a post-juris doctor (JD) degree program. In pursuing an advanced legal degree, you can specialize in a particular area of law. After spending 4 years to earn a bachelor’s degree and another 3 years to earn a juris doctor, you probably cringe at the thought of going back to school. However, specializing in a specific field of law will position you better with firms and with clients. On the bright side these programs range from just 1 year to 5 years. Examples of post-JD degrees are: LLM, SJD, JSD, MJ, and several more.
There are many settings where attorneys practice law. The most common place is obviously a law firm or in-house at a business. Other settings include: government, non-profit organization, or academia. Different settings may be more or less formal than another. If you rather take the non-legal route, there are plenty of JD-advantage careers like a contract manager, an alternative dispute resolution specialist, an analyst, or even a FBI agent.
Law Firm Culture
With such a progressive world we live in, a law firm or business should reflect society today. If you’re interested in a legal setting that fosters diversity and inclusion, take a look at the other attorneys and supporting staff. Also, be sure to look for firm programs that support these efforts.
If you want to see how progressive a law firm is, reports like NALP’s Report on Diversity is helpful. NALP usually reports on mid-size or big law firms. So, if there’s a smaller firm you’re interested in, you’ll have to do your own research in examining their staff, programs, and clients.
While in law school, students take a variety of classes, and have the chance to experience various areas of law and practice settings through clerkships, internships, and externships. Law students can take these lessons and experiences to narrow down what they like and what they don’t like. There’s a practice area for almost anything you can think of, so you shouldn’t worry about having the ability to practice what you’re interested in.
When starting out with a firm or company, it’s important to keep an open mind. Even if you’re unfamiliar with a certain practice area, don’t shy away from it as it may be something that you enjoy.
The Final Step
Remember that you’re just starting out in your career. You have plenty of time to “figure it out.” Graduating law school is just the first step. As long as you know yourself, keep an open mind, and maintain a strong network, you will succeed.
Best of luck to the recent law school graduates! If you’re sitting for the bar exam this summer, study hard. If you’re not sitting for the bar, best of wishes in your job search. Either way, congratulations to the class of 2019!