Let’s be clear: There’s no “right” or “wrong” career track for a lawyer.
The best professional path forward is the one that makes the most sense for you.
That said, there are a number of popular tracks a lawyer’s career can take, and they can look quite different from one another. As you think about your future, it’s important to understand these differences and realistically consider what might be a match for you.
The most obvious and popular career destinations for law school grads are for-profit law firms. In fact, a little more than half of all J.D.s head to law firms for their first jobs post-graduation. While firms are often categorized by size (small, mid-size, large), they often have specialties as well, and before joining one, you’ll want to put effort into figuring out the practice area in which you want to focus. If you see yourself becoming a firm attorney, you should prioritize taking on summer associate positions. Larger firms often make job offers to second-year associates, hoping to lure them back on a fulltime basis once they’ve completed school.
Many law school grads who don’t choose firm life head to the business world, a blanket area that encompasses several lawyerly roles in a business setting. Lawyers in business can work as in-house counsel for corporations, but can also occupy less typical positions as consultants, financial analysts, or even investment bankers. If working in business is appealing to you, it might be worth looking into a joint J.D.-M.B.A. degree, though of course that’s not a requirement. As with law firms, summer positions during law school will help give you a leg up on postgraduate employment.
Becoming a law professor is a hyper-competitive career track, but those who teach law report a high satisfaction with their choice. Teaching is a fit for those who enjoy research, writing, and teaching others above all. While there aren’t summer jobs specifically for law students who want to teach, the most valuable thing you can do while still in law school is to begin working on scholarly articles you can publish after graduation. In addition, you do already have some extraordinarily valuable resources: your professors. Make sure to connect with professors you admire who can provide insight into the job as well as provide much-needed references when you’re applying for positions.
Clerkships are ideal for those who want to make a direct contribution to the judicial decision-making process, though actual responsibilities will differ depending on the judge you support. Spending time as a clerk can make you an even more attractive candidate to employers down the road (especially if you’ve considered becoming a litigator), as you’ll gain an insider’s view of the court system and gain practice in viewing court cases from the court’s position. As with teaching, becoming a clerk is an extremely competitive process. The best thing you can do to set yourself up for a position as a clerk is to excel academically and gain relevant experience during your law school summers.
Public Interest & Nonprofits
Working in the public interest allows lawyers to enjoy the intellectual challenge of practicing law while also finding meaning and fulfillment in their work. Like for those who work in-house at corporations, there are myriad ways someone with a law degree can be employed in this arena for the government, for public interest organizations, or for non-profits. As with other career tracks, there’s no one way to prepare for working in public interest. However, experts agree that because salaries are generally considerably lower than for those who practice law for-profit, it’s best to try to avoid racking up student loan debt.