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Life After Law School: What New Lawyer’s Need To Know

Ultimate Guides

You’re one of many who have spent years in school studying the intricacies of law and spending thousands of dollars to get to the bar exam. Then, after all that hard work, what’s life like after law school?

You may have ambitions to become the best state lawyer or you may simply want to become a partner at a local firm. Whatever path you choose to go on, here you’ll get a glimpse of life after law school.

Competing for a Place in Law

There are only so many big law firm’s offering high paying positions. Often these firms are selecting the top of class from the world’s best law schools.

If you’re unfamiliar with these school, every year the National Law Journal (NLJ) publishes a report on which schools are sending their graduates to practice biglaw. Here is their list of the top 5 schools:

  1. Columbia Law School
  2. University Pennsylvania Law School
  3. University of Chicago Law School
  4. Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law
  5. Duke Law School

To see the entire list from NLJ, go here.

If didn’t attend one of the top schools listed above, there are still many choices available in your career of law. Some graduates choose to become an intern or start a clerkship to gain the experience and expertise to practice law at a higher, more competitive level.

Some internships offer a paid position and clerkships are done alongside a judge. Taking this route after law school can provide you with insight into how the law is practiced within the courtroom and prepare you for other aspects of the law.

Other options include continuing to study law at a doctorate level and obtaining a degree such as:

  • Juris Master – M.S.
  • Master of Laws – L.L.M.
  • Doctor of Judicial Science – S.J.D.
  • Doctor of Comparative Law – D.C.L.

Each of these educational routes will add an additional year or two of study. However, the investment can be well worth the time and can lead to a better paying lawyer salary.

Life as an Associate

Traditional law firms use to function using a two-tier system for lawyers which included: associates and partners. An associate would be expected to work at the firm for almost a decade before being considered a partner. If you became a partner, you would be given equity and given a share of the firm’s profits.

Before the 1980s, many associates would stay with one law firm working hard to become a partner. However, when American Lawyer, a monthly magazine dedicated to lawyers, published a listing of the country’s profits per partner at the largest firms, the working world of law began to change.

Now, it is likely that both associates and partners will work at multiple firms, for both experience and profit, over the duration of their career. Life after law school can be extremely stressful for newly appointed associates that have high debt while dealing with a heavy workload.

However, as an associate, you will have the freedom to explore the area of law that interests you. As well, responsibilities like court appearances, client consultations, and depositions will gradually increase after the first year of practice. You may even be expected to continue educating yourself about your area of practice as you work at your firm. This is a part of the grooming process if you plan to stick around and become a partner.

Becoming A Partner

Although the path to partnership differs from firm to firm, most associates seek to become an equity partner and receive a portion of the profits.

Before becoming a partner, you may first become a senior associate and then a non-equity partner. Both advancements will receive a higher salary and significantly more responsibility. However, when becoming an equity partner, there is also an added level of liability which makes you responsible for keeping the law firm profitable for years to come.

You will likely not become a partner straight out of law school, however taking this big step in your career provides guaranteed employment and becoming a partial owner of the firm.

For more about becoming a partner, go here.

Alternative Paths to Law

Depending on your situation and your experiences out of law school, you may decide that working law firm as an employee is not fit for you. The years, dedication, and hard work may seem too far away to yield the career path you dreamed about while studying for the bar.

An alternative path to becoming an associate and waiting to become a partner may be starting your own law firm.

There are a few things to consider if starting your own law firm is the path for you:

  • Registering your business (i.e. LLC, Sole-proprietorship, etc.)
  • Establishing your presence in your community
  • Developing a website for your law firm
  • Marketing your legal services
  • Finding new clients
  • Avoiding malpractice

If you’re thinking about starting your own law firm, here are a few articles to guide you toward developing a successful legal career:

Getting Your Law firm Started

Having A Website For Your Lawfirm

Marketing Your Law firm

Understand Risk

Software to Improve Your Law Firm’s Efficiency: