This September, another batch of 1Ls will enter law school. Some will have a clear career goal in mind, while others will have gone into law because it seemed like a safe move. And, by the way, many students in the first camp will change their minds.
So if you’re starting law school in a few weeks, I’d encourage you to start thinking about your career goal now and planning how to achieve it. That way, you’ll have a better chance of landing a job that’s right for you after law school.
Looking back on how my career unfolded, I feel incredibly lucky to have ended up in an engaging and rewarding job. In 2009, I graduated from the faculty of law at the University of Toronto and clerked at the Supreme Court of Canada. After my clerkship, I got a job at Lenczner Slaght LLP, a litigation boutique in Toronto. I recently made partner. And I believe it’s a blend of luck and intentional effort that got me to where I am today. So I’d like to offer five tips to anyone starting out.
1. Learn as much as you can about the areas you find interesting
This may come as a surprise, but I didn’t always know I wanted to be a litigator. As a law student, I summered at a full-service firm, learning about many different areas of law. It was through trial-and-error that I learned what I liked and didn’t like, ultimately realizing that litigation suited me the best.
My advice, then, is to find out as much as you can about the day-to-day tasks of lawyers in certain practice areas. Once you understand the daily challenges faced by criminal-defence lawyers, for instance, you may lose your enthusiasm for the field. And it may interest you to know that the seemingly dry subject of tax law can yield endlessly fascinating problems in practice. The easiest way to get this information is to talk to 3Ls who have summered in different practice areas.
2. Start building your network
Success in the legal industry is heavily dependent on relationships. While the student-recruitment process doesn’t rely too much on connections, lawyers rarely spend their entire career at the firms at which they summered. When looking for new opportunities — like a new job or new clients — your network will play a big role. In fact, I’ve built up my practice thanks to my law-school network directing new files to me.
You don’t have to be a master schmoozer to expand your network—I’m certainly not! It’s as simple as being friendly and courteous. If a classmate asks you for help with something, help them. Go to pub nights and spend time in common areas in your school where you can mingle with classmates. The goodwill you build in your three years as a student will help you over the course of your entire career.
3. Get involved
Don’t just go to classes: be involved in the broader community. For me, it was law review and mooting. For you, it might be something else. The point is to explore activities that would allow you to use your burgeoning legal knowledge. Because beyond making your resume look good, those activities will help you figure out what you enjoy doing.
4. Take classes you’re genuinely interested in
Don’t take classes just to impress potential employers. If “Advanced Topics in Securities Law” doesn’t interest you, don’t take it. On the other hand, it’s important to take a few basic courses in the areas you’re broadly interested in. But make sure to leave space in your schedule for the classes that genuinely attract you. You’ll be happier in school, and it’ll point you to the right career path.
5. Keep an open mind
Even if you think you know what you want to do with your career, you might be wrong. Your goals and preferences will probably change over the course of law school, let alone throughout your entire career. Keep an open mind. That’s probably the most important way to figure out what type of career you will find rewarding.