How To Gain Solid Information About Careers In The Field Of Law

Read on to learn more about where to find legal career information, as well as answers to common career questions.

Finding Information About Law Careers

Q: I'm interested in learning more about all the different types of careers in law. I would like to read general descriptions of various careers in law such as environmental law, energy law, patent law, etc. Where can I find such detailed information? Thanks.

Or: I am beginning the process of applying for schools. Although I have narrowed my choices, I don't know if I should be thinking about areas of specialization. Where can I find information on what exactly each area entails? I see so many different choices, and I think I'm interested in either labor, constitutional or international law. Are there any resources that explain these areas in-depth?

A: For a general overview of careers in law (including nature of the work, places of employment, training, qualifications and advancement, job market outlook, earnings and more) one can consult the Occupational Outlook Handbook.

More in-depth information on different areas of law is available through the American Bar Association. In its discussion of Sections, information on 21 areas of the legal field from Antitrust to Tort and Insurance Practice. By clicking on Forums you can gain information on some of the newer areas of law such as Entertainment and Sports Industries, Affordable Housing and Community Development and more.

Two resources available from VGM Career Horizons are: Careers in Law, by Gary Munneke and Real People Working in Law, by Blythe Camenson.

After doing some research I would suggest talking with family and friends to see if they know a lawyer that you could meet and do an informational interview with. These 15-20 minute interviews can help answer questions that your readings generate and can be the beginning of building your personal network of contacts. Resources on the informational interviewing process include: Quintessntial Careers or Harvard's Office of Career Services. In addition, check Michelle Tulliers Networking for Everyone: Communicating with People for Career and Job Success (Jist, 2000) one of the best overall books on networking, including informational interviewing.

Would a Couple of Years as a Prosecutor Make Me More Valuable to a Firm?

Q: I just graduated from law school and passed the bar. Currently, I am clerking for a federal judge in Virginia. I have an offer for a lucrative associate position in a large law firm, but I'd really prefer to work for a Commonwealth Attorney's office. I am having such a hard decision because I have to leave the security of the offer and wait until early spring to even apply for a job as a prosecutor. Moreover, I would be taking about a $40,000 pay cut. In the end, however, I really do want to have the trial experience right now and want to work as a prosecutor. Would a couple years as a prosecutor prior to joining a firm make me more valuable or would many firms simply consider it neutral or negative?

A: The more logical choice is to accept the offer with the large law firm, get a couple years of litigation experience, and then apply to the prosecutor's office. You're much more marketable that way than the reverse, and the extra income can reduce your student loans and make a low salary more feasible. But I've also seen many assistant prosecuting attorneys who move into private practice to earn more money a few years into their careers. You just have to do a good job, and earn strong recommendations from lawyers and judges who see you in action.

Before you make your choice, though, think about why you have such strong feelings about working as a prosecutor. Do you have actual experience working there, or are you imagining what it will be like? The same applies to your trepidations about accepting the offer from the large law firm. Have you worked for them, or another large firm, in the past, or are you reacting to what you've heard from other people?

Whatever your choice, be sure it's based on solid research, and a good understanding of your strengths and preferences.

Is a Paralegal Certificate Appealing to the Legal Industry?

Q: I am currently taking a paralegal course through a correspondence school. It only offers a certificate, not an associate degree. How does this appeal to the legal industry? What is the possibility of working as a freelance paralegal?

A: At one time, I was going to write a book on the education of paralegals. I never wrote the book, but I did a lot of research. All I can tell you is that there is a wide disparity in paralegal schools. The very good schools place their graduates into very good jobs, the lower tier ones do not even try. I already think you know the answer as to where a correspondence school would fall along this continuum. You need hands-on work in this field. The paralegal profession has their own professional society that lists the certified schools. I suggest that you contact them.

How Do I Pick a New Title for My Quasi-Legal Job?

Q: I work in the legal department of a mid-size media company. I have a JD, but am not a practicing attorney. I was hired to perform traditionally paralegal-type functions, but the parameters of my job have expanded tremendously. I prepare SEC compliance filings; perform contract administration work; review commercials to make sure they comply with our advertising guidelines; conduct pre-publication review of news stories; monitor our pending and threatened litigation matters; draft all manner of contracts, etc.

I was recently asked to select a new job title. Any ideas?

A: What is your reluctance to request a job title as counsel, or attorney? The functions you perform certainly are those of an attorney. When you say you are not a practicing attorney, perhaps you mean that you are not admitted as a member of the local Bar. If so, you will definitely need to study for the exam, take it and pass it. But if you are admitted to practice law, I see no reason why your job title should not reflect the nature of your work. Go for what you want, which appears to be to practice law. You are an "attorney."