by Caroline Fuchs
Five Ways to Explore a Legal Career this Summer
If you are considering a legal career, chances are you’ve been asked more than once if you’re “sure.” Likely, at least one person has tried to dissuade you from your path. It is important to understand that law school is essentially vocational training, primarily teaching students how to read, interpret, and apply the law. In most cases, the goal is to prepare for a professional licensing exam (the bar). So, how does one know whether they need to go to law school to meet their career goals?
There are two critical questions each aspiring lawyer needs to ask themselves: What kind of work do I see myself doing? And, do I need a law degree to do that work? Essentially, ask where your interests or passions overlap with work that requires a lawyer’s unique skills or license. Here are a few ways to use your summer to explore the profession and your path:
- Start to think critically about your values and needs. Passion for an issue or interest is not necessarily best realized through work as a lawyer. Summer is a great time for introspection. What do you want your work to look like? Whom do you want to serve? If your goal is to have an impact or help people, there are many ways to do that without a law degree. If achieving a high salary is important, many careers pay better. If you wish to develop tools for advocacy and implementing change, the law might be the right path.
- Maximize your current job or internship experience. Many aspiring lawyers have trouble finding legal internships or a job in a law firm. That is because legal internships are typically reserved for law students and firm work is given to legal professionals (trained paralegals, investigators, clerks). But, that does not mean you can’t use your current job or internship to explore the legal field. Every organization, business, and nonprofit has to navigate legal requirements and issues. From your local bar to billion-dollar companies, there are lawyers somewhere. Being curious about how the law touches your current position can teach you a lot about the different kinds of work lawyers do and how it intersects with your skills and interests.
- Talk to lawyers. The best way to learn about a profession is from professionals. If you can’t find a lawyer at work, reach out to your network. If you’re sure you don’t know any lawyers (or know someone who does), email me. I’m a lawyer; I’ll talk to you. There are many different types of legal specialties and work environments. Hearing how different lawyers spend their days, what kind of tasks they focus on, and what skills they find most valuable can tell you a lot. The type of lawyer you are and where you work are going to deeply impact your life – from the money you make, to the hours you work, to the work culture you experience. Some lawyers are in court almost every day. Some never see the inside of a courtroom. Some lawyers work 60, 80, or even 100+ hours a week. Some clock in 9-5.
- “Try-on” other career options. Proving a negative is a great way to narrow your path. If you can figure out what types of jobs or careers do not interest you, you can learn a lot about what does. Are interested in education policy – what about teaching? Administration? Considering family law? Are you such that the role of a social worker isn’t for you? Exploring what you enjoy or dislike and the attributes and limitations of different career paths can help answer whether a law degree is required to meet your goals.
- Plan for the fall. Start searching for upcoming opportunities to gather information. The fall is filled with events for prospective law students. These events can be found at law schools, colleges and Universities, and off campus. Attend a law school fair or forum, visit a school and ask to sit in on a class. For college students, plan on adding a law course to your fall schedule. For those who have already graduated, looking into auditing a class at a local institution. Time and information tend to answer most questions. It is never too early to start exploring.