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Attorney Roundup: Learning to Practice Law, Part 3

Attorney Roundup: Learning to Practice Law, Part 3

Lawyers from around the country share tips and lessons from their experience attending law school and practicing law.* [Part 3 of a series on learning to practice law. Read Part 1 and Part 2.]

Take the Test Drive

Craig McLaughlinAbout the Author
Craig McLaughlin is a partner at the law firm of Elk & Elk. He represents people throughout Ohio and Kentucky who have been seriously injured or killed as result of car wrecks, medical negligence, defective products, and safety violations in the workplace. He has tried nearly 40 cases to a jury and obtained one of the highest verdicts for a car wreck case in a conservative county in Ohio.

Law students: Get as much exposure to the different careers in law as you can. This will help you figure out the best career path for you.

Some of my fellow classmates had little to no exposure to the various legal careers. They just took the first legal job they could get after law school. Some of them now hate the area of law they practice in, but they feel stuck where they are because they are making money, have families, and have financial obligations. Other classmates became so disenchanted with the law that they quit practicing altogether! I often wonder if they would be happier now or still practicing law and getting a return on their investment if they had worked harder to explore the many different areas of law and different ways to practice law (solo, in-house counsel, non-profit, etc.).

A Worthwhile Journey

During my last year of college and first year of law school, I worked as an office assistant at a large law firm. The work was not glamorous (delivering mail, making copies, filing documents at the courthouse, etc.), but I was exposed to what life is like for young associates in a big law firm setting. I then got a job as a law clerk at a medium size firm that had a diverse law practice (insurance defense, employment law, family law, and personal injury). I had the opportunity to sit in on client meetings, attend depositions, and help the lawyers prepare for trial. I loved the people I worked with and the work I was doing more than going to class, but I left that job because I wanted exposure to what it would be like working in a prosecutor’s office.

So my next job was as a law clerk working for the county attorney, even though I was making less money per hour. At that job, I was helping the assistant prosecutors in court, listening to them negotiate plea bargains with defense lawyers, and attending DUI trials. It was fascinating, but I started to realize I wanted to represent people and handle personal injury and medical malpractice cases. I researched and found a solo practitioner who concentrated his practice in those areas of law and needed a law clerk. I ended up working for him as an associate for seven years after law school. He was a great mentor to me and prepared me for the position I now have at a large personal injury firm with a statewide law practice.

Always Do Your Homework

No one buys a house without walking through it or checking out the neighborhood where the house is located. And most people don’t buy a car without at least taking it for a test drive. Spending three or four years of your life and going thousands of dollars into debt in order to attend law school is a similar substantial investment. Therefore, it makes perfect sense to try and get as much exposure as you can while you are in law school to the different careers in law that are available so you can decide which career path is the best fit for you.

Where to Start

Dallas HartmanAbout the Author
Dallas W. Hartman is the principal partner at the law firm, Dallas W. Hartman P.C.. He primarily focuses on personal injury such as car accidents, motorcycle accidents, and wrongful death cases. He also handles cases involved in legal malpractice and workers’ compensation in Pennsylvania and Ohio. A dedicated attorney who strongly cares about his clients, he has been listed in the top 5% of lawyers in Pennsylvania.

What I wish I knew prior to law school is how important it is to define your endgame, your post-law school goal, and how important it is to stay ahead of schedule in achieving that goal. 

The top goal of nearly every law student is to get a job upon graduation. Whether your goal is to work at the top large law firm (prioritizing making money); your goal is to work in the public interest sector (prioritizing helping others); or somewhere in between, the reason you are going to law school is to get a job. 

Plan Early for Success Later

To maximize your chances of reaching your end goal — your dream job — it’s important to define your goal as early as possible. Step one in obtaining a competitive advantage over your peers is defining the steps needed to accomplish your end goal, then beginning to take those steps before your competition. 

Law school is a competition. From the end of your first semester of 1L year, you will be ranked and compared to your other classmates based upon your grades. And when you attempt to enter the world of being a lawyer, you will constantly be compared to other job applicants from other law schools.

Because of the competitive nature of this environment, finding your “dream job” can be difficult if you get behind schedule. Chances are, your dream job is also the dream job of numerous other law students that will be competing with you for the same position.

For example, if your goal is to work in big law firms, it’s imperative to realize the timing of the hiring process before starting law school. Generally, big firms that offer large starting salaries look to hire law students as summer associates, and the summer associates have a high probability of landing full time jobs. Most large firms conduct the hiring process for summer associates in the 1L summer, the summer associateship takes place during 2L summer, and the summer associates are generally offered jobs prior to even starting their 3L year. Therefore, if you define your goal before law school, you will realize that your 1L grades are tremendously important if you want a big firm job. These are the only grades the big firms will have to consider when interviewing for summer associate positions. If you pinpoint this goal early, you will know to focus on your grades when you start your first semester. And you can avoid the first semester pit that so many law students fall into when they prioritize socializing with their new friends.

Cast a Wide Network

The importance of building relationships and networking in law school is another piece of advice I wish I listened to prior to law school! Talk to people in the field you want to join, career services at your respective law school, your professors, family, and friends. Google is also a great consultant. In addition to the numerous advice articles/blogs it makes available, the internet can serve as a metaphoric rolodex with thousands of professionals’ contact information in the field you wish to join. Reach out to those individuals. Cast a wide net. Don’t stress about being ignored. And when someone does volunteer to help with advice, take them up on it. This will help define what you need to do to get to your dream job. 

* Note that not all of the suggestions and tips shared by these attorneys are applicable to Abraham Lincoln University, which is a distance learning law school.

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