Get Ahead on Career Planning: Tips for Students Interested in Legal Careers

It’s never too early to begin preparing for a career. Colleges and universities are becoming increasingly selective as the admissions process gets more competitive across the board. Every year, students have just a bit more experience, one more extracurricular, a few additional points on a standardized test. Careers in the legal field can be especially competitive, but there are things students who dream of careers as judges and lawyers can do long before law school.

Join extra-curricular activities.

In general, colleges like to see that students were involved. Clubs and sports add substance to a resume and create opportunities for stellar references from coaches and advisors. In addition, there are a few clubs that most high schools have that are great stepping stones for a legal career. Mock Trial is an accurate glimpse into advocacy, and the volunteers that judge the competitions are almost always lawyers or real judges that can be great career connections. Future Business Leaders of America helps students learn professionalism, etiquette, and public speaking and offers many opportunities to travel to conferences and interact with other students and professionals. Community organizations like 4-H and Youth Groups help foster hard work, community service, and social skills.

Take AP English.

There is no way around it: legal careers are all about reading and writing. Reading comprehension is a skill that can be honed and perfected, and it is absolutely necessary for law school. Having a solid foundation of proper grammar will help make legal writing classes much easier in the future. Students who don’t have to re-learn the basics can spend more time improving the specifics.

Learn to love non-fiction.

Reading for pleasure is much different than the case law and legal research that law school requires. While it is unnecessary to read Supreme Court opinions before law school, picking up a biography or history book instead of Harry Potter can be a useful transition. Grasping difficult concepts and being able to piece facts together to synthesize informed opinions not only helps students grow into responsible citizens, but also prepared academics.

Learn to type well.

Law school requires a lot of written assignments. If students can type quickly and efficiently, the time it takes to complete assignments invariably decreases. Students will be under time constraints for every project, assessment, and exam. In addition, most exams are timed and must be typed, and many students choose to type notes in class. Navigating the features and functions of a word processor is vital to format papers. The earlier students learn the basics, the better.

Use SAT preparation courses and materials.

To get into law school, all students will be required to take the LSAT toward the end of their undergraduate programs. Like the SAT, it is a standardized test that compares the performance of students in things like reading comprehension, analysis, writing, and problem solving (but without the math). The preparation for both the SAT and the LSAT is very similar, but the hardest part of either of those tests is learning how to take the test. Preparation courses and materials are exponentially helpful in learning how to work under time pressure and how to read multiple choice questions. A student’s LSAT score is one of the most important numbers of a law school application, so the better prepared to take the test, the better chance of improving that score.

Plan to major in a field you love.

Law school admissions programs are not concerned with applicants’ undergraduate majors. It may seem like Political Science, History and English are more desirable, but that isn’t the case. Find a major that is really interesting, and do well. A good GPA in something like Civil Engineering or Biology trumps an average GPA in PoliSci. In addition, expertise in another field can bring a different viewpoint to law school, and can present an opportunity for a niche career. Choose a college in a place that is inviting; avoid early academic burnout at all costs or graduate programs will feel nearly impossible. Use summers for meaningful internships to boost resumes and make connections. Make college count.

Talk to professionals that have the career you want.

It’s hard to know if a career is the right choice before experiencing it, but talking to someone that has that job is a great way to gain insight into a “day in the life”. There is more than one way to achieve a goal, and not every member of the Bar got there the same way. All professionals will have different tips on what helped them get where they are. It’s also a good idea to make connections now, so that an employer will stop and read the whole resume when they see a familiar name in the pile of applications for one extern position.

Understand that law is not all in the courtroom.

While most of the dramatization of the law shows litigation, most of the magic happens behind the scenes. Planning to land an exciting job that is all about arguing in front of a judge and jury right out of school is a huge mistake that can lead to serious disappointment and dissatisfaction. That is not to say that real legal jobs are not as exciting as on TV—quite the opposite, actually. Interactions with clients, discovering that critical bit of information among hundreds of pages of text, and whirlwind settlement negotiations are satisfying work.

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