Of all the advice pre-law students will receive as they embark upon their journey to J.D., that which comes from actual lawyers is likely to carry the most weight.
But as an actual lawyer, what should you tell them when they seek you out for guidance?
The truth is, there’s no tried-and-true script. But there are a few nuggets of advice that are probably worth highlighting.
Below, some words of wisdom to share with the next generation of lawyers, according to those of us who have been there.
Be Realistic About Finances
Thanks to the portrayal of lawyers on TV and in the movies, it’s hard to blame pre-law students when they imagine a law career leading directly to a lavish lifestyle. However, as someone who knows the truth, you’d be doing any advice-seekers a service by encouraging them to be realistic about what the financial lives of lawyers really look like. This includes both the debt they’ll likely incur just to go to law school (the average for grads these days is more than $100,000), as well as what salaries for most first-year lawyers are like (the median was $68,375 in 2016—which can make paying off six figures of debt a challenge).
Don’t Feel Forced to Choose a Pre-Law Major
The ABA doesn’t recommend any specific undergraduate majors for aspiring lawyers, and neither should you. For every undergraduate degree out there, a case can be made that it will be useful for a career in law. Classics, for instance, teaches students to think analytically while they learn Latin, the root language of most legal vocabulary. Chemistry would come in handy for an in-house lawyer at a pharmaceutical company. Environmental science could be advantageous for someone interested in environmental law. In fact, it’s good to remind pre-law students that the “best” pre-law major is probably whatever they’re most interested in—engaged students tend to get better grades, after all.
Learn to Network
Networking skills are crucial for lawyers, something that students may not fully appreciate. Make sure you underscore how networking will help them get into law school, succeed while in law school, and build a career as a lawyer. They’re already on the right path by asking you for advice, but urge pre-law students to work on developing their networking skills right away by building relationships with their current professors. They can continue networking at bar association events and by conducting informational interviews.
Focus on Your Writing Skills
Another often overlooked lawyerly skill is the ability to write well and write quickly. Thanks again to the aforementioned portrayal of lawyers in popular culture, it can be easy to imagine we spend most of our time in court rooms. Of course, you know the truth: Way more time is spent in an office in front of a computer screen, and much of that time is spent writing. This is especially important to communicate to pre-law students who are majoring in an area in which they don’t have to spend a lot of time analyzing complex ideas and writing papers about them (primarily math and science majors). Remind them that strong writing will help them get into law school, succeed once they’re there, and excel once they’ve made it to the real world.
Figure Out Where You Fit In
There are many ways to practice law. Encourage any aspiring lawyers that come your way to do whatever they can to determine the type of law they want to practice and the kind of firm or organization they’ll be happiest working for. The best way to do this is through experience, so highlight the importance of summer associate positions and internships. Informational interviews are also helpful in determining career paths, so push pre-law students to talk to as many lawyers in different practice areas and in different stages of their careers as you can. Remind them to be honest with themselves about the kind of law they want to practice, as well—there’s no shame in realizing the BigLaw path isn’t for everybody.