Picking a Direction After Law School

There's a lot of pressure these days to land "the legal job of your dreams" when you graduate. The truth is, almost no job right out of law school is anybody's definition of a good dream. If it were, half of all new associates at large law firms wouldn't be changing jobs within first three years of graduation!

Let's be realistic. The most you can expect from your first job after law school is to find a place where you can hone the skills you like to use, and learn what you need to learn to develop-over time-a rewarding career. Accomplishing this is not only a lot easier, but more realistic, when you take the time to figure out what skills you prefer to use and what positions match your natural abilities.

One major problem for young lawyers is that many are unaware of what their ideal job would be. Parents, teachers, and peers may all have opinions of what the best law job would be, but ultimately the answer depends on your interests and motivations. If you properly understand the environment best suited to your style it will make finding and landing your dream job a lot more likely.

Here are three simple questions that will help you identify an initial career direction:

  1. ARE YOU DRAWN TO PEOPLE, OR TO DATA AND IDEAS? In general, you'll find more of a people-orientation on the plaintiff's side of personal injury; in criminal advocacy; in family, elder, immigration, employment and sports law; and in general practice. If you gravitate toward data and ideas, you'll be suited to such areas as insurance defense and coverage, bankruptcy, environmental and health law, commercial transactions, tax, and real estate.
  2. ARE YOU MOTIVATED TO SOLVE PROBLEMS OR ANALYZE PROBLEMS? "Problem-solvers" prefer the concrete, relatively short-term projects in elder law, adoption, small business representation, simple estate planning, criminal law, guardianship and general practice. "Analyzers" like the complicated, large-scale projects readily found in environmental law, commercial transactions, complex litigation, trusts and intellectual property.
  3. DO YOU WANT TO DO MORE WRITING OR MORE TALKING? Thriving in the library or when you prepare class notes is a good clue that you tend to writing. Preferring to learn through study groups or loving moot court and clinical education classes means you're happier when you're talking. At the beginning of your legal career, you won't do much talking except in general practice, criminal or quasi-criminal advocacy, or litigation in a mid-size or small law firm. Later in your career, it will be hard to concentrate on writing unless you choose appellate work, insurance coverage, intellectual property, or complex business transactions.

By the time you finish just this simple analysis, you'll have identified several areas of law that suit you. That knowledge alone will replace the fantasy of a dream job with a concrete and realistic career direction. Even later in your working life you may find it helpful to return to these questions to guide you to the most rewarding and satisfying legal career possible.