I get a lot of emails from people who might want to be lawyers, asking if it’s the right move, and from current law students, asking whether they should continue. Today, I’ve called in a career expert, Lainee Beigel of Career Esquire, to offer her counsel.
Take it away!
I’m a 3L who’s graduating in a few months, and I’m not sure I still want to be a lawyer. How can I figure out the right path for me?
Many law students question whether they really want to be lawyers at one point or another. I often found myself daydreaming about other careers when I was extremely stressed out.
My honest advice to a 3L in this position, although some may disagree, is that it never hurts to try.
In my experience, employers love a law degree and highly respect someone who has practiced (or made an attempt). If you are a 3L, you have made it through a huge challenge successfully. Believe it or not, this says a lot about your drive and work ethic.
Unless you are 120% sure you never want to be a lawyer, you should practice for a few years. If you don’t think you would like a large law firm then try a smaller, more specialized firm.
The reason I give this advice is because if you never attempt it, you will never know what you missed.
You don’t want to think back in five years and have regrets.
Also, you might actually enjoy being a lawyer (shocking). If you go straight into an alternative legal career, you will always wonder whether you made the right decision and whether you missed out on something.
During an internship of mine, I spoke with my mentor about not practicing after I graduated. She advised me this was a big mistake, and it was some of the best advice I ever received.
Don’t get me wrong, I practiced for a few years and ended up outside a firm.
However, I experienced what it was like to be a lawyer.
I went to Court, I took depositions, I wrote briefs, and I argued them before judges.
If you are a 1L or even a 2L strongly questioning yourself, I might have some slightly different advice. However, for someone who has made it through law school, invested the money and the time, you owe it to yourself to see what it’s like to be a lawyer.
If you later decide it’s not for you, at least you know you won’t have any regrets.
I’m considering applying to law school, but I’m intimidated by all the bad news out there. What are the three most critical things I should do before I apply, to ensure this isn’t a huge mistake?
When clients ask me this question, I am brutally honest.
Law school is hard, stressful, and costs a lot of money. This is not something you should enter into lightly.
You need to ask yourself why you are taking this path:
- Do you love the law?
- Do you want to be in Court?
- Do you love to research and write?
- Do you work well in a stressful environment?
- Do you have a thick skin?
If you said yes to any of these questions, you should do some further research.
Speak to Law Students
Visit a law school, and sit in on a class. Get a first hand view of the endeavor you will potentially take on.
Sit down with a student and ask them to describe a typical day. What classes are they taking? What is a typical day like for them? Are they happy with this decision? If not, why?
Speak to Lawyers
Set up informational interviews with lawyers, as well as with lawyers who have decided on alternative legal careers. Look at both sides of the story.
Ask a lawyer about their typical day, stress level, job flexibility, and whether they are generally happy with their career.
You should also speak with someone who moved outside of the law, and talk to them about why they made this decision. The key to being successful is gathering as much information as possible, so you can make an informed decision.
Do an Internship Before Applying
I highly recommend you intern at a law firm or in a legal department before applying to law school.
See what it is like to work as a lawyer. Take time to observe the environment. Do you like it? Can you see yourself here?
If you like the internship and still feel passionate about studying law, consider applying.
Could you talk a bit about what you do in the average day at work and how it’s similar to (or different from) what you thought you’d be doing when you started law school?
When I started law school, I thought I wanted to litigate. I gave it a try and it wasn’t for me.
I now have a full-time job in the Insurance Industry wherein I manage various types of litigation. I work with lawyers on a daily basis, but I don’t go to Court.
I have also founded a legal consulting firm with a focus on alternative legal careers.
I had no idea when I started law school that providing career advice was a strong suit of mine or that I would become so passionate about helping law students and lawyers network and interview.
Through the choices I made for myself, I came to learn my strengths and ended up with a career I never imagined. However, without going to law school I would never be where I am today, and for that reason I have no regrets.
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Thanks, Lainee! Solid advice all around.
More about Lainee:
Lainee Beigel is the founder of Career Esquire, a legal consulting firm with a focus on alternative legal careers. Lainee also assists law students and lawyers with networking and interviewing skills, and provides insight and consulting on work/life balance. You can follow Lainee on Twitter @CareerEsquire or find her on Facebook at CareerEsquire. Say hello!
Want more great advice about figuring out your career? Check out these interviews:
- Will You Be a Happy Lawyer? Fantastic interview with Jennifer Alvey, lawyer turned career coach for “thwarted creative” lawyer types. She’s got great insight to share about what personality types are most likely to be miserable working in the law.
- Wondering if Law’s Right for You? A Lawyer Turned Positive Psychology Expert Shares Her Insights Another former lawyer, Paula Davis-Laack, who later did the master’s program in applied Positive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, shares her insights about the legal profession, and who’s likely to be happy there.
- Trying to Figure Out Your Legal Career? Expert Advice From a Career Guru After seven years in BigLaw and several years in-house, Katie Slater decided to shift into career coaching. She shares her hard-won experience about how to figure out what you want from the legal profession — and then get it.
Or check out all of our interviews here: Interviews with Helpful People.
And take a look at the conference I’m throwing in April — super exciting!
Catapult 2013: Tools for a 21st Century Legal Career
Want more advice from Lainee? Leave questions below!