How do you get that all-important first job out of law school? Besides earning your JD and passing the bar exam, of course, there are a few things you can do as a law student to make yourself a more attractive post-graduate job candidate.
I interviewed a group of recent law school alumni who all had a job offer in hand before they graduated. Here are the three things they suggest you do in law school to set yourself up for the same kind of post-law school job search success.
1. Use law school to figure out what you want
Some students come to law school knowing exactly what they want to do. Other students have no idea and use law school to test the waters of different legal specialties. Wherever you fall on that spectrum, be sure to take advantage of the many opportunities you have in law school—clinics, internships, externships, academics, student organizations, etc.—to see how you really feel about different practice areas.
Suzanne Donnelly ’15 had worked in health care prior to law school and knew she wanted to explore health law as a career. So she took courses in health law and interned with the Massachusetts Health Appeals Board. These experiences made it clear to her that she had picked the right legal focus. She pursued other health law opportunities throughout law school and got a position in the field after she graduated.
Justin Banks ’15 thought he wanted to practice corporate law but on a recommendation from his mentor, he did his first law school internship with the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court. He ended up loving it and changing his focus to family law. Ultimately, Banks was recommended for his post-grad job as an associate because of the work he did at a summer internship with a family law firm.
Rachel Tillison ’15 thought she wanted to pursue a career in public interest law but to her surprise she really enjoyed her 1L property and contract law classes. This led her to a summer internship in the in-house legal department of a railroad company, where she worked on a variety of contract and labor law matters. This experience solidified her decision to stick with contract law and taught her that she preferred working in a corporate environment rather than in the public sector. “It ended up being the best choice I made because in the fall of my 3L year they offered me a full-time staff attorney position once I graduated and completed the bar exam,” she said.
All three students recommend using classes and speaking with practicing lawyers to figure out what area of law you do (or don’t) want to practice. By 2L year, you should have a pretty good idea of what type of law you want to practice so that you can build your résumé in that area.
2. Talk to a lot of people
Networking was a strong theme throughout these law students’ stories. Joyell Johnson ’15 knew she wanted to practice public interest law. She used her time in law school to attend public interest conferences and networking events where she met other lawyers. Her connections led her to a position as a fellow with the Family League of Baltimore.
Samantha Rosen ’15, who landed an in-house counsel position at Popmania, a small entertainment company in Los Angeles, credits her job search success to networking as well. While in law school she attended as many events as possible, such as speaker panels and bar association events. She also attended the Toronto Film Festival, where she met attorneys who offered her an internship at their firm—which later led to a job.
Through internships and clinics, Teniola Adeyemi ’15 figured out that she liked criminal prosecution. Her next step was to reach out to anyone she knew who could help her get more experience. After a summer internship with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office in Texas, she spent her 3L year interning with the Norfolk County District Attorney's Office and the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office in Massachusetts. Her internship experience with the Suffolk County District Attorney's office landed her a post-grad position as an Assistant District Attorney.
All things being equal, people like to work with people they know. At the end of three years, most law student résumés look pretty much the same to an employer. To overcome this challenge, these students did not solely rely on their résumés to get them their jobs. They took the time to build relationships with lawyers who got to see their personality and work ethic first hand. It is no wonder then that in a competitive job market these were the students who found themselves employed before many others.
3. Remember that your job search starts during law school
All of these students started their job search early on in law school. They didn’t wait until their final semester or tell themselves they would get to it once they had graduated. They incorporated their career exploration into their law school experience, laying the groundwork for a successful job search. They understood that class work, internships, and networking combined would lead them to their ideal jobs. And they knew that focusing on only one of these things at a time would leave them at a huge disadvantage come graduation.
Think of law school as an incubator for your budding legal career. It is a safe place where you can try new things and explore your options. As you learn what you do and don’t like, you begin to build a portfolio that shows you have the right knowledge and experience for your chosen area of law.
Pursue these opportunities relentlessly in law school, and by the time you graduate you will hopefully have a large network of lawyers who could help you land a job—if not a host of job offers to choose from.
Mo Chanmugham is the Senior Associate Director of Career Services at New England Law | Boston. He ensures students and alumni have the necessary training and tools to find fulfilling postgraduate employment.
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