Doctors and lawyers are often regarded as having reached the pinnacle of career accomplishment. You’ve studied long and hard, attended school for years, passed specialized tests, and now it’s time to find that law firm that is your perfect fit.
The quasi-idolatry that comes along with qualifying as a lawyer may make you feel intimidated about finding your first job—or a new job—in the legal industry. The good news is, when you know where and how to look for potential employers, some of this anxiety falls away.
To help, we’ll first summarize the different job offerings you may encounter. Then, we’ll find out the interesting and sometimes surprising fields where lawyers and other professionals actually work.
As you commence your job search, you’ll need to research the firms you are interested in and customize your resume and cover letters to each job you apply for. Having a look at resume format examples and cover letter guides can help with this, as well as reaching out to college alumni or career advisors for more personalized advice. They may well have a better idea about what each of the firms you are targeting will be expecting.
So, let’s get going, starting off by examining the different areas you might apply to work in.
Types of Employment in the Legal Industry
There are various career paths in the legal industry that can match your level of training and help you reach your career goals. You may well be familiar with these, but let’s outline some of the basics:
- Legal or litigation assistants or secretaries perform clerical or administrative tasks in law offices or legal departments.
- Paralegals work for law firms or in companies’ legal departments, conducting research or performing other legal tasks to assist the attorneys they work with.
- Lawyers have graduated from law school, but the possibilities for employment and specialization are endless. Many become counsels or advisors for businesses and other organizations. For example, they may go into labor law, compliance, or corporate law.
- Attorneys are lawyers licensed to advise and represent clients in court. Some may specialize in certain types of cases, such as family law, divorce law, business law, or criminal law.
Once you have worked out where you fit in terms of professional level, you then need to consider where the kind of opportunity that fits with your values might be the most easily found.
Go Where the Lawyers Are
First, you can find out where the lawyers work in your area. “In the courtroom” is not the answer we’re looking for here. You can seek employment at independent law firms, large companies, or government organizations.
A judicial clerkship is an amazing opportunity for entry-level lawyers. As a judicial clerk, new graduates will obtain one to two years of experience working with a judge. This experience may help them find a position with a firm. Clerkships can lead to permanent clerk positions in some cases.
Law firms are the first thing many people think of when considering a career in law. Some attorneys start their own firms, while others seek employment with well-known and established firms.
If you want to start your own business—known as a private practice—you must follow local requirements for registering your business.
Openings at law firms are often announced on LinkedIn or other job search websites. New hires may be considered based on the school they attended (if they are a recent graduate) or their professional experience. After remaining at a firm for a number of years, an associate lawyer may become a partner – a partial owner of the firm.
In-House Legal Teams
Large corporations or organizations often hire in-house attorneys or legal teams to conduct legal research, advise on company policies, address employment issues, handle litigation and lawsuits, or lobby to influence legislation in the company’s favor.
In-house lawyers differ from solo practitioners in that they are on the company’s payroll and serve only one client. Sometimes, companies offer a permanent in-house position to a lawyer with whom they worked extensively through a private practice or law firm.
At other times, they may actively seek someone to fill an opening much as they would any other position. You can use job-search websites to find listings. It is also advisable to create a detailed LinkedIn profile and adjust your settings to allow recruiters to reach out to you.
Some legal positions are government jobs, whether local, state, or federal. These positions include public defenders, prosecutors, district attorneys, or state attorney generals.
Legal professionals are hired by every branch and agency of the government. That means the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Homeland Security, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and many others have lawyers in their ranks. This means your specialization options are pretty varied, and you can look at the department that best aligns with your interests or specific training.
USAJOBS is a government website designed to help job seekers find and apply for positions at the federal level. They offer special hiring path programs for veterans, military spouses, disabled persons, Native Americans, and recent graduates.
For jobs at the state level, you must locate the websites and contact information of state government entities, such as the Office of the Attorney General. Look for links like “Careers” or “Work With Us.” You can also search local governments by city.
Local governments such as city governments may use job search websites—especially those geared toward government jobs—to list openings.
Legal Aid Organizations
Public interest lawyers (PBLs) work with legal aid groups ad nonprofit agencies to provide legal services to disadvantaged individuals.
Openings may be listed online, or circulated by word of mouth. They also offer internships and seek to hire new graduates, helping them gain entry-level experience.
Some lawyers must become teachers in order to educate and train more lawyers. This interesting career path is especially appealing to those who wish to continue their studies or conduct and publish academic research.
Teaching at law schools or universities can also provide a welcome break from the hectic pace of practicing lawyers. Some attorneys choose to teach for a few years before returning to the courtroom or even “retire” into a teaching position.
Networking is often essential to this path. Make contacts with professors and attend university events.
Finding the Right Fit
No matter your education and experience, you likely realize that finding the right fit—whether with a firm, a company, or elsewhere—is important to your career satisfaction.
Get a Look-in
How can you ensure a good fit before you get hired? Knowledge is key. If you are still a student, look for internships or request shadowing opportunities. Look for opportunities to talk to and observe professionals from different firms and in different positions. With this first-hand experience, you can get a real feel for how the firm operates, what the job involves, and if it would be a good fit for you.
Visit the offices before you accept any job offer. You can learn a lot through simple observation of the place and the people who work there.
Another thing you can do is attend industry conferences or local networking events. Sometimes, meeting the right person from a firm or business can inspire you to seek work opportunities there. It’s always a good thing to expand your contacts in the law industry too, and these events can help you do just that.
Don’t Forget Your Core Values
Finally, when considering employment with a particular firm or organization, research what they do and what cases they’ve handled. Look for news items or articles about high-profile cases. Ask yourself, “Do my core values align with theirs? Am I passionate about the type of cases or legal field they pursue?”
Legal professionals are needed across a wide range of fields. Government organizations, aid groups, and businesses hire legal teams for both research and representation. Others work for private law firms.
To find the right job for you, you should do the following:
- Create a LinkedIn profile matching your resume and allow recruiters to contact you.
- Search government websites or job search websites for openings.
- Attend networking events.
- Pursue opportunities for job shadowing or internships.
- Research articles about cases the firm or department has handled to get a good idea of the company culture.
- Visit the offices or get to know the people who work there, and don’t forget to see if the culture fits your core values.
Your future law career is waiting for you. All you have to do is employ these tips to go find it!