“I’d say that my third year at law school, I went crazy in terms of immersing myself in the industry and context that I was going to work in – for me that was Silicon Valley and venture capital. I went to the business school, I read every book that was ever written on the history of Silicon Valley, the history of venture capital, how V.C. works, how startups work. And again, this was above and beyond what I did as a third year law school student. Regardless of where you’re going or what industry you’re working in, you need to go all in or not at all.”
- Joel Espelien, former Corporate Attorney at Cooley and General Counsel at several tech companies. Duke University School of Law, 1996.
“It really depends on what type of environment you’re in that determines what you’re day-to-day life will look like. Unsurprisingly, at a firm you’re doing more document review, office-based work; but if you’re in a public sector job you tend to do a lot more hands-on work with clients and working in court. My first year in misdemeanors in Seattle I did six trials – so you really learn on your feet. That wasn’t necessarily a surprise, but it was the biggest learning curve for me. Learning how to get a case, prep it for trial and take it to trial within 60-90 days.”
– Molly Campera, King County Public Defender. Northeastern University School of Law, 2015.
“The biggest thing that’s different than when I was in law school is that I had envisioned you get a job and then that’s your life, and my career has been the exact opposite. I had left my first job [after a year] because the firm was undergoing changes at the time and it just wasn’t a good fit for me. When I was younger I never really thought about that, and now that I’ve been practicing for a while it’s something that I would focus on because I don’t think when you’re going through the interview process you necessarily look at what’s the best personality fit for you. But on a day-to-day basis, that’s really important.”
- Amanda Uphaus, Snohomish County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney. University of Washington School of Law, 2010.
“One thing I would say is that I was THE middle of my class at a non-top 10 law school. Literally the pivot – below the top half and above the bottom. I was lucky enough to hustle my way into a federal clerkship because of an internship opportunity that I had with the federal judge during school. That gave me the ability to punch above my weight otherwise.”
– Chuck Morton, Jr., Partner at Venable LLP and Adjunct Professor at Johns Hopkins University. University of Maryland School of Law, 1990.
“A lot of what you’re taught in law school is theory and not a lot of practical applications. Like with geometry: who uses that on a day-to-day basis unless you’re a mathematician? That’s probably the most frustrating thing in terms of how it differs between law school and when you’re actually out in the real world.”
- Anna Othman, Snohomish County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney. Seattle University School of Law, 2011.
Our interviewees all noted something different about their first few years in a full-time legal career following graduation, from leveraging in-school experience into a practical career to the differences between their public interest and private firm experience. Amanda brought up a good, yet often ignored, point about her experience as a new lawyer: although she worked in an office that specialized in her chosen practice area and loved the work, she chose to leave her job because of the work environment – the people, the management and company structure, etc. Despite the seemingly never-ending burden of school loans, you should try to remain selective in your job search. The people you’ll be spending time with in the workplace, the office culture, and company structure are all just as important as the salary and actual work you’ll do. Most new grads give little to no weight to these things when considering job prospects due to debt and the uncertainty that comes with being unemployed. This is especially true for anyone who went straight from undergrad to law school since they are unlikely to have experienced a 40+ hours/week job for more than a summer, if at all. This can lead to early dissatisfaction with work, and you may be looking for a new job sooner than you’d like.
You should use your time in law school to identify what your ideal workplace looks like, both in terms of projects and environment/culture, and develop connections with agencies and firms that are a good match. Foster those relationships throughout law school, not just your second or third year, and you’ll stand a better chance of landing the right job at the right firm or agency. Like Chuck Morton notes about his own experience, the relationships built during school can provide you with an advantage and allow you to “punch above your weight” when competing for job opportunities. If you’re having trouble identifying compatible fits, the advisers in the CDO can help you in your search.
Spending time in professional legal settings while you’re in law school is the best way to experience what a potential career and office will be like. McGeorge’s Externships Program provides law students with meaningful experience in various legal offices, and several externs have been able to secure full-time positions at their externship site upon passage of the Bar. You can meet with Professor Colleen Truden, Director of Externships, to help you decide what externship(s) would be best suited for your career goals.