You’re about to complete your law degree program – or perhaps you have. Either way, you’re undoubtedly excited to be launching what is sure to be an outstanding legal career. But where do you set a real-world foundation for a fruitful legal career? You’ve been to see your career counselor, looking for inroads into the legal industry. In fact, it may be that you are not sure you wish to become a practicing attorney.
The path you choose today may or may not last for the rest of your life. Many changes occur in a person’s professional life. There are steps you can take right now that will help you make a decision or launch your successful path to legal glory.
First Five Steps to Starting Your Legal Career
Kangan Institute suggests these first five:
- Many attorneys choose to specialize, finding their niche within the legal field. If this sounds like you, go ahead and take an advanced degree. If you can get any kind of certification in your chosen field, avail yourself of the opportunity. These two actions will enhance your credibility as well as advance your knowledge in your field of choice.
- Assess your skills, aptitudes, and experience to analyze whether a legal career is truly for you. According to Kangan, “The skills required for all legal professionals include strong writing and communication skills, strict adherence to deadlines, highly organized, strong attention to details and strong technology skills.” Be as sure as you can at this point in your life that you would not only be good at but primarily enjoy being an attorney.
- If lawyering is not your first career choice, use the knowledge accrued throughout your prior professional experiences to enhance your legal career. The skill you’ve garnered in other fields is both irreplaceable and invaluable. Take advantage of it.
- It almost goes without saying that you should research your potential field or specialization (of course, it doesn’t hurt to say it anyway). Read, read, and then read some more about your desired job. Don’t be afraid to pick the brains of your colleagues within your specialized field.
- Networking is and always will be a terribly important activity, regardless of the particular practice area you choose. Whether you decide to work in a big law firm or go solo, the ability to network will sustain you through your professional highs as well as your lows. Put yourself and your arsenal of skills out there – go to meetings, conferences, and seminars, and always seek to learn from those who are more experienced or knowledgeable because finding a mentor is the gold mine of networking.
Decide where you wish to use your law degree
There are basically six areas where legal training can take you. If you choose to pursue the practicing attorney route, you can work in private practice, government, public interest, in-house or find a judicial clerkship. All offer fine legal careers.
What can you do with a law degree? There are various legal jobs available, some which include becoming a practicing attorney and others that remain within the grand scope of the legal field without requiring that you practice law. Some legal jobs include law firm administration, politics, legal publishing and journalism, higher education, financial planning, investment banking, or estate planning.
Launching Your Legal Career As An Entry-Level Associate
If you’ve chosen to become a practicing attorney, there are many steps of which you should remain mindful as you launch your career. In “Tips for Successfully Launching Your Legal Career,” Anthony Grumbach in outlines four great tips that will not only serve you in your first legal job but will sustain you throughout your career. Let’s say you’re working in a successful law firm and you just got your first real assignment.
6. First things first. It is critical that you get your assignment right. Grumbach lists five ways to do this.
- Restate the assignment back to the person who gave it to you;
- Get a clear deadline;
- Clarify when and how to check in;
- Ask the best place to start; and
- Ask how long it should take.
7. Own the case. Take initiative. Here’s how to do that, according to Grumbach:
- See the big picture. Remember, there is a client on the other side of all of this work and that client has a clear goal. Align your work with that goal. Your client, your supervising attorney, and your law firm will appreciate it.
- Speak up! Contribute ideas and make recommendations. Think things through; don’t shoot from the hip. Develop worthwhile solutions or arguments that the assigning attorney may not have thought of.
- Organize projects and create schedules. This will help you as well as your supervising attorney.
- Don’t let your novice status prevent you from setting priorities. Don’t wait for someone to do it for you. After you’ve set the priorities, check in to make sure you’re on the right track with them.
- Play by the rules. Enter your time as quickly as possible. Attend and participate in group meetings, training, and events held by your law firm. Treat the staff courteously.
8. Inspire confidence in yourself and your work. Use your attitude and actions to accomplish this. Show interest and enthusiasm for your work, colleagues, and clients. If you find yourself bored, look at the work as a challenge. If you uncover a problem, explore a solution before you bring it to your supervising attorney.
- Honor deadlines and provide status updates. Don’t make your supervising attorney nervous – check in every so often.
- Organize your talking point. You want to ensure that the person to whom you are speaking immediately knows what you’re doing there and what your point is. Grumbach advises, “If you’re reporting back on research or analysis that you’ve been asked to perform, lead with your conclusion or recommendation, explain why that’s the best answer and what you did to reach that answer, and be prepared to discuss potential limitations, weaknesses, and alternatives.”
- Deliver client-ready, error-free work product. Don’t make your supervising attorney have to fill in incomplete work or correct mistakes. Proofread a hard copy and ask someone else to proofread the document as well. It’s an old axiom: you can’t proof your own work accurately.
- Learn to be a great attorney. Take advantage of learning events that your law firm sponsors find a mentor, complete your CLEs. Never stop learning.
9. Focus on others’ needs. In the initial phase of your career, you’re going to need quite a bit of help. Inspire others to help you when you need it by helping others when they need you.
- Find out what your collaborators, be they colleagues or clients, need. Find out about your clients and peers’ work styles, preferences, and quirks. Adapt your style to suit their needs.
- Don’t simply wait for the other person to quit talking so you can slip in your two cents. Really think about what the other person is trying to convey.
- Focus on helping others shine. For instance, think of that outline you’re drafting as an instrument to help your partner to succeed alongside you. Treat the staff respectfully. Treat your clients’ staff well, too.
- Be a successful giver. Give your time and effort to others, but do so in a way that does not damage your schedule or efforts.
There are many types of legal careers available for exploration. You may wind up in a large or small law firm, a public interest group fighting for the indigent, or ensuring that a law firm runs as a perfectly oiled machine. It largely depends on your research, your hard work, and your own inclinations. One thing is for sure: if played right, you have one of the most valuable academic degrees possible. Use it wisely.