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It's Never too Early to Prepare for Your Legal Career

By Joy Nesmith

You've just started law school and you think that you can now relax; however, you're wrong. It is the steps you take early in your career that will light the path for what you do in it. Prepare now for your legal career. You can be proactive by following the ten steps below.

1. Work Hard in Your First Year of Law School

First year law school courses can be really hard. Due to the difficulty of first year courses, you want to take the work seriously. If you're having trouble with the work, form a study group, seek help from your professor, or seek help from anyone else who is knowledgeable about the subjects. It is important that you do your best, because first year grades are important. They determine what type of summer associate positions and clerkships that will be available to you. So, the first step in preparing for your legal career is to work hard in all of your first year courses.

2. Make Summers Count

You shouldn't just sit around during the summers relaxing, partying, or going to the beach. I'm not saying you shouldn't enjoy yourself, but you should try to get some type of legal experience during the summertime. You want to begin to build your resume so that when you graduate you will be able to market yourself to potential employers. There are many things you can do to gain legal experience. For instance, be a paid summer associate at a law firm, volunteer and do pro bono work in a legal office, work in a legal department for a nonprofit association for a small stipend, work for a company in their legal department, or do research for a law professor. So, make your summers count by gaining some legal experience.

3. Research Areas of the Law

Read books and articles about various areas of law. Additionally, speak to attorneys who practice the areas of law you are interested in. See what they like or dislike about those particular areas. Once you hear what they have to say, you can decide for yourself whether those areas would be of interested to you. Also, take courses in your second and third year of law school in areas of law that you are either interested in or that you have decided you want to practice. If you're not sure what areas of law you want to practice after you've done your research, do some more! You should also speak to any attorneys and legal professionals that you know. Get a sense for what motivated them to practice their area of law. If you are still not sure about where it is you will ultimately choose to practice, take a good cross section of courses in school. Doing this will give you a better range of options down the road, rather than focusing on only one or two areas. The more research you do now, the more informed you will be about making choices in Years 2 and 3.

4. Examine Your Strengths

Examining your strengths will allow you to see what type of legal career is best for you. When you examine your strengths, you are evaluating your personality. Academics aside, we all have particular strengths, and yes, one or two weaknesses. You should think honestly and carefully about whether you are suited for the role that you are thinking about. For example, are you more adversarial in nature? If so, those areas with an element of litigation may appeal to you more than something which is transactional in nature. Also check to see what types of environments you work well in. There are several types of personality tests you can take to determine this. Many internet sites have personality tests that you can take. So, make sure you evaluate yourself as part of your preparation for your legal career.

5. Revise Your Resume and Cover Letter

Redoing your resume and cover letter is your one opportunity to shine. You only have 15-30 seconds to capture the attention of the person that's reviewing your resume. You want your facts to be well presented. Use action verbs throughout your resume. Be specific about your work experiences. The more specific you are, the more you let the person reviewing your resume get a feel for what type of work you've done. Emphasize your strengths, such as management skills and analytical skills. These are what will distinguish you from others. Get free resume reviews from career counselors, friends, peers, attorneys, and recruiters. Also, there are several services that specialize in resume and cover letter revision. If you don't want to use a service or can't afford to spend that much money, there are a lot of great resume and cover letter books for law students and attorneys. So, take time to revise your resume and cover letter because it is an important step in preparing for your legal career.

6. Apply for Jobs and Send out Mass Mailings

Once you've gotten your resume and cover letter together, you should check out employment listings, bulletins, job boards, classified advertisements, the Internet, and reference publications. Some sites you may want to check out are lawcrossing.com, monster.com, and careerbuilder.com. In addition to applying for posted or advertised positions, you should do a mass mailing. 80% of attorney jobs aren't advertised or posted on job boards. They are obtained by marketing yourself to employers.

7. Network

One of the easiest ways to network is through local city, county, and state bar associations. Bar associations usually have some type of student membership section which you can join. You can also network through your school's social events and legal seminars. Additionally, you should ask your career counselor at school for a list of alumni who work in fields that interest you. While you're at it, check out the alumni from your undergraduate college, too. Also, don't forget to network through those you interact with every day, such as your friends, colleagues, and classmates. A lot of legal professionals have gotten started in their careers by networking. So, make sure you network in preparation for your legal career.

8. Be Persistent

Be persistent in preparation for your legal career. You can begin by consistently visiting your career services office at school. I know many career service programs don't have a reputation for helping anyone outside of the top 10% of the class. However, you should still go to them. After all, you have paid thousands of dollars in tuition, and you should utilize the services that come with that tuition. Additionally, take advantage of your school's dedicated career counselors. Employment Advocates at Legal Authority meet with many dedicated career counselors every year at the National Association of Legal Services Consultants (NALSC) annual conference. Career counselors have many connections and resources available to them. You can also be persistent by checking all job boards, continuously networking, following up on job leads, and utilizing all your resources. It's the squeaky wheel that gets fixed, so, be that squeaky wheel and be persistent in preparation for your legal career.

9. Prepare for Interviews

Preparing for interviews is critical in preparing for your legal career. Familiarize yourself with everything that's on your resume. Practice answering questions that they could possibly ask, and do this with someone. If you can't find someone to practice answering questions with, practice in front of a mirror. You'd be surprised at some of the annoying habits that you have. Some people use an excessive amount of hand gestures, while others pull on their ear each time they are asked a difficult question. Whatever your annoying habit is, recognize it and don't do it. Body language is important, and you don't want yours to keep you from getting the job. So, make sure you prepare thoroughly for interviews.

10. Don't Forget to Relax

In the midst of the hustle and bustle, don't forget to relax as part of the preparation for your legal career. You don't want to stress yourself out. Although it is important to study hard and to network, it is just as important to relax. If you are too stressed out to study and to take the steps to prepare for your legal career, then you won't be successful. So, make sure you relax periodically when preparing for your legal career.

Remember, preparing for your legal career is very important. It may not be as easy as you anticipate. However, just like anything else, with hard work and dedication, you will be able to achieve your desired result. By using the ten tips above, you will gain valuable information that will allow you to properly prepare for and (hopefully) light the path ahead for a great legal career.

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