Prelaw students and 1Ls — What type of law do you want to practice

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Prelaw students preparing to apply to law school and 1Ls will likely benefit from some self-reflection and research that attempts to answer the big question, “what type of law do I want to practice?”  Starting with what type of lawyer do you want to be – litigator or transactional attorney, big city or small town, big firm or small firm or even solo?  Then, think about the type of practice area and maybe even a niche within a particular area (with the caveat that it may be helpful to first confirm that there are various opportunities available in your desired practice area or subspecialty such that you do not limit yourself unnecessarily by narrowing your focus).  If you research the career and lifestyle you want to have, then you can readily implement an effective (and cost effective) way to reach that end goal.

Generally, the earlier one can make that decision, the better for at least two reasons. First, once you are focused, you will be able to recognize and take advantage of educational, work experience, and other opportunities (i.e., networking with relevant people) that will help you secure employment in the area in which you want to practice. And, employers are interested in law students that are focused and have tailored their law school careers in this way toward gaining skills that will be helpful in the specific practice area.

To help make this decision consider taking the following three steps: 

  1. interview, shadow, or intern with an attorney
  2. evaluate that meeting or experience
  3. consider where you want to practice and tailor your current search for opportunities and long term job search with that preference in mind.

First, you can interview, shadow, or intern with an attorney.  These are effective and affordable ways to determine what an attorney actually does, what a typical workday may involve, and whether you can handle those tasks.   You may not want to base your decision on just one experience, however.  For instance, if you’re interested in criminal law, consider shadowing a prosecutor, judge, defense attorney, clerk, and a legal aid attorney.  If you are interested in transactional work but you are not sure about the practice size you may be interested in, visit with an attorney or two practicing some type of transactional type law (i.e., contracts, corporate law) at a Biglaw firm (100+), medium sized firm, and even a solo practitioner.  Each type of firm has its own pluses and minuses, but you can evaluate the workload and lifestyles of these attorneys and decide what will be a good match for you (in this case, both in terms of type of practice and firm size).

Evaluate the meeting/experience
From there, make a pro/con list.  Write about the different jobs and the parts of each of those jobs that you have liked and disliked. What are your deal breakers?  Is your pro list realistic?  Consider asking follow-up questions (assuming the attorney is open to that) for items that you may think of later.

Evaluate opportunities in place you want to practice
Look into the location where you want to have your career.  For prelaw students, this preference will affect which schools you apply to as most students remain in the state of their legal education due to state-based education, bar applications, networking, and reciprocity, meaning you will likely spend the next 8 to 10 years in that location.  Once you determine the location, you can review the job market in the area and determine the practice areas that have the most opportunities.  You can find the answers to these questions for free with basic searches on the internet, with employment reports by the U.S. Labor and Statistics and the National Association of Legal Placement, and by contacting state and local bar associations.

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