Access to the inner workings of any legal employer is a gift. Take full advantage of every opportunity you have to be inside an organization as a law clerk, volunteer, or intern. While there, arm yourself with curiosity and observe, inquire, and evaluate. The observations you make and the people you meet can be impactful in charting the trajectory of your immediate and long-term career goals. Consider the five suggestions listed below to be a checklist that will help you maximize the takeaways from every placement and job.
The first step to unlocking the value of any work experience is getting to know the people you work with. These are the individuals who can provide you with an insider’s view of what it’s really like to work at the organization, what type of cases or clients they work on, and how they advance in their careers. To get started, take some time to review the organizational chart and identify key players in each department or practice group. Once you have a good understanding of the structure, start building relationships by seeking out opportunities to interact with as many people as possible.
Asking questions is a great way to show interest and enthusiasm, while also gathering valuable information. Be sure to ask not only about the work that people do on a day-to-day basis, but also about their thoughts on specific cases or clients, the legal industry in general, and their own career paths. If you’re unsure of what type of questions to ask, try to think of topics that would be interesting to you if you were in their shoes.
In addition to getting to know the people you work with, it’s also important to gain an understanding of the organization’s overall culture. To do this, pay close attention to how decisions are made, how conflicts are resolved, and how different departments or practice groups interact with one another. This will give you a good sense of the “way things are done around here,” which is often unspoken but nonetheless important to know.
One of the best ways to learn about the legal profession is to observe lawyers in action. If you have the opportunity to sit in on meetings or court proceedings, take advantage of it! Not only will you gain exposure to the day-to-day realities of being a lawyer, but you’ll also get a chance to see how different lawyers handle themselves in various situations. This can be an invaluable learning experience, so be sure to take plenty of notes and ask questions afterwards.
Finally, keep in mind that the relationships you build and the experiences you have during your time as a law student can have a lasting impact on your career. So be sure to stay in touch with the people you meet, and don’t hesitate to ask for advice or guidance down the road. By taking advantage of every opportunity that comes your way, you’ll be well on your way to a successful legal career.
1. Advance your résumé with diverse and interesting assignments.Certainly, you need to respect the structure of an organization and its expectations for your role in it. You can’t go rogue and file an appellate brief because you’re tired of drafting discovery requests. You should, however, inquire about increased responsibilities as appropriate.
A second-year student shared, “I spent the beginning of my 1L summer drafting complaints and reviewing deposition testimony, which was fine, but I really wanted to end the summer with a solid writing sample. I asked my supervising attorney if there might be a chance for me to draft a memo or brief. She arranged an assignment and it went well, so by the end of the summer, I had two strong documents to use during fall recruitment season.”
Another student commented, “I was placed with a trial judge for a semester as an intern and was disappointed because all I was doing was observing. I sat in the courtroom and watched and then sat in chambers and listened. I finally—very respectfully—asked the judge if I could maybe draft an order or do some research. He was fine with letting me try it, and said he’d never had an intern ask him before.”
It’s particularly important to advocate for your learning and growth if you’ve been with the same organization for several semesters. If your tasks are repetitive, thereby ensuring that the end date is the only dynamic part of the résumé entry, it’s time to either campaign for new tasks or considers another position.
It’s not enough to simply do the work; you need to demonstrate that you’re progressing in your skills and responsibilities.
You should be spending time outside of work hours reading and writing about topics related to your practice area, as well as developing relationships with professionals in the field. While it may seem like you don’t have time for anything else, these activities will pay off down the road. Not only will they help you keep up with changes in the law, but they’ll also give you a chance to develop a reputation as an expert in your chosen area.
A good mentor is someone who will help you learn more about the legal profession and how to be successful in it—someone whose primary motive is your professional development, not his or her own career advancement. Contact is simply someone with whom you’ve shared business cards; a mentor is someone with whom you’ve shared confidences. Although it’s important to have both, your time and energy are limited, so focus on developing relationships with people who can help you reach your long-term goals.
When seeking out a mentor, look for someone whose career path you admire and who seems willing and able to invest time in helping you achieve your objectives.
2. Build relationships.Network within organizations. BigLaw makes this easy with social calendars designed for this purpose. Networking within small firms, government agencies, and companies requires effort on your part. These organizations aren’t wooing you for future employment, so they don’t create infrastructures to facilitate introductions. That job is yours.
Commit to arranging informational meetings with attorneys with whom you’re not already meaningfully interacting. Ask lawyers if they have 20 minutes to talk through emails or in conversation. Legitimize your request by stating an interest in their practice area and overall experiences. Prepare for these meetings like you would for any informational interview. Research the lawyers and draft questions that substantiate your genuine interest in the individuals and their work.
Be approachable and available when you’re in the office. A recent graduate highlighted the value of doing so. “I don’t really drink coffee, but I would go to the kitchen area of the firm and get coffee anyway. It was an easy place to run into attorneys. I followed the pattern of a few of the attorneys, and I got to know some partners who I was told usually never interact with the firm’s law clerk. One of these partners ended up taking some interest in me. After I left, he made a connection that resulted in a full-time job offer with another firm. I guess my advice is, ‘drink coffee.’”
There are many organizations aimed at supporting the professional development of law students and young lawyers. These groups offer opportunities to network, learn from more experienced professionals, and engage in public service. Many also offer social events, which provide a welcome break from the demands of work and school. Getting involved in these organizations is one of the best ways to make the most of your summer internship or entry-level position.
The legal profession is notoriously slow to change, so don’t expect things to move quickly. It may take years for you to find the right job or develop the skills you need to be successful. In the meantime, enjoy the process of
3. Invest in the work and the organization.Not every internship and job you’ll have will be appealing. The work may not interest you. The organization’s culture may not complement your personality and workplace preferences. The opportunity for full-time employment may not exist. Even in these instances, it behooves you to invest fully in the work and the organization. The interconnectivity of people and organizations in the legal community is considerable. It’s rather reckless to write off any experience or relationship.
In every job, identify what you can learn. If nothing else, you’ll hone your transferable skills, such as writing, communication, and analysis. As one attorney commented, “the first job I had out of law school was not ideal, but it was a great learning experience. It taught me how to work hard and be patient.”
There are many ways to get involved in public service through your summer internship or entry-level position. You can take on pro bono projects at your firm, work with a legal services organization, or volunteer for a nonprofit that needs legal assistance. You can also look for opportunities to serve on boards or commissions related to your practice area or the causes you care about.
Public service work is an excellent way to develop your skills, gain experience, and build your professional network. It’s also an opportunity to give back to the community and make a difference in the lives of others.
As an attorney, I have always felt a strong desire to give back to the community. Public service work is an excellent way to develop your skills, gain experience, and build your professional network. It’s also an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others. I have had the opportunity to work with a variety of clients, from low-income individuals to non-profit organizations. Each case presents its own challenges, and I have learned a great deal from each one. In addition, I have been able to build relationships with other attorneys and professionals who are committed to public service. These relationships have been invaluable in my career, and I am proud to be able to contribute to the success of others.
4. Observe and evaluate.An associate with a mid-sized firm noted, “I was nearly memo’ed to death as a student. I researched and wrote internal memoranda all day, every week, all summer. I actually hesitated to accept the offer for permanent employment because I thought I might have memo burnout before I was 25. I’m relieved to report I have worked for the firm for 18 months and have only drafted one internal memorandum.”
Pay attention to the junior and senior lawyers in the organizations where you clerk and intern. Their work and days are your future. Do you like what you see? Consider what tasks consume their time, how often they are out of the office and with clients, and whether what they’re doing is something you might enjoy. Observing those ahead of you allows you to more accurately assess whether the nature of the work and the setting offer opportunities that will excite and motivate you toward achievement.
When choosing an attorney, it's important to consider their daily tasks and how often they're out of the office. Attorneys typically spend a lot of time in court, meeting with clients, and preparing for cases. If you're someone who enjoys being out of the office and interacting with people, then being an attorney might be a good fit for you. However, if you prefer to work independently and don't mind spending long hours in the office, then another career might be a better choice. It's also important to consider whether you have the right personality to be an attorney. Attorneys need to be able to think on their feet and handle stress well. If you're not sure whether being an attorney is right for you, consider shadowing one for a day or taking a law class. This will give you a better idea of what attorneys do on a daily basis and whether you could see yourself doing it.
5. Be present.It’s easiest to violate the “be present” principle in the context of for-credit internship placements. Temptations exist to front-load hour requirements early in the semester or to cram hours into a single day of the week. Doing so may create a more manageable schedule for you in the immediate semester, but it comes at a price. Approaching hour requirements like obligations rather than opportunities is unprofessional and undercuts your potential to optimize the experience. Frequent, positive, and meaningful interactions with lawyers are necessary in order to gain mentors and references.
Moreover, time in the office is one way to stand out amongst the law students who came before you and those who are to follow.
If you’re doing law school “right,” you’re busy. You’re balancing copious demands. As you shuffle priorities and attach importance to your activities, be attentive to internships and jobs, especially during the academic term, as they compete for your time. Don’t squander opportunities to develop skills, gain insight, and build your network. Maximize each experience. Engage and achieve.
At any given moment, you are likely juggling a number of different demands on your time. You may be working on a school project, interning at a law firm, and trying to maintain a social life. It can be difficult to know how to prioritize your time, and it is important to be attentive to the different demands on your time. During the academic term, you may have less time for your job or internship, as you will be focused on your studies. However, it is important to make sure that you are still putting in the effort at your internship or job, as this will impact your future career prospects. In addition, you should also make sure to keep up with your schoolwork, as this will affect your grade point average and could impact your ability to get into the college of your choice. Ultimately, it is important to be mindful of all the different demands on your time and to prioritize accordingly.
As an attorney, your time is constantly in demand. You have deadlines to meet, clients to see, and paperwork to fill out. It can be easy to get overwhelmed and start feeling like you're constantly playing catch-up. That's why it's so important to be mindful of all the different demands on your time and to prioritize accordingly. by taking a few minutes each day to assess your priorities, you can ensure that you're always putting your time and energy into the things that are most important. This will not only make you more efficient, but it will also help you avoid burnout. So next time you're feeling overwhelmed, take a step back and ask yourself what your priorities are. Chances are, you'll find that a little bit of planning can go a long way.
ConclusionLaw students should seize every opportunity to improve their legal skills. Opportunities abound in law school, and law students should take advantage of everyone. Participation in moot court, for example, can help students develop their oral advocacy skills. Law students should also seek out opportunities to work with real clients and participate in internships. By seizing every opportunity, law students can become well-rounded lawyers with a wealth of experience.
Opportunities like these should not be missed. So take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way in law school, and you'll be on your way to becoming a great lawyer. Who knows, maybe you'll even find your dream job in the process!
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