Survey the students of any law school about their reasons for choosing law and you will find that their answers largely fall into three categories. Some of the students will come from law families, with the expectations of parents and siblings weighing down on them. Others will want to ‘make a difference’. Usually, motivated by an injustice that they experienced first hand or witnessed in their community. Lastly, there is the miscellaneous category, students who for one reason or another thought it looked like a good career option.
Whatever your motivation for getting into a career in law, there are a few things that you may want to give further thought to before committing to a huge student loan.
You Need To Be Organized
Good lawyers have good systems. This is something to be vigilant about as soon as you choose a law career. Being messy and disorganized has no place in law and will hold you back. You must get really good at all parts of being a lawyer, which includes a fair bit of admin. There will be financial records to maintain and client files to manage.
All of these skills can be learned and your practice will run smoother as a result. When you have efficient systems that you proactively maintain you will work more effectively. As a result, you will spend less time trying to catch up on paperwork. You will be less stressed and your colleagues and clients will reap the rewards of you being more focussed on the work in hand.
It Is Exhausting
The legal profession is one that breeds a high degree of burnout amongst lawyers and paralegals. Law waits for no one – when the work needs to be done, it can not wait. Lawyers frequently run on little or no sleep, copious amounts of coffee, and whatever food is to hand. Law is, by its very nature, a competitive field. No lawyer wants to lose a case. As a result, lawyers have a tendency to put themselves and their health last and focus only on winning.
A burnt-out lawyer is of no benefit to their client. Self-care is a habit that can actually enhance your performance and ability as a lawyer. Regular sleep and 15 minutes of daily meditation are proven to sharpen the mind. Drinking plenty of water and eating a balanced diet, even if you have to eat it at your desk, will improve your energy and stamina. Working exercise into your week will reduce stress and help keep your judgment sharp too.
You Won’t Be In Court much
Lawyers in films and TV shows are often presented as glamorous, rich individuals, with exciting working lives. If you were to believe the entertainment industry’s representation of a career in law then you would be forgiven for assuming that as a lawyer you will spend a large percentage of your time in court. In fact, the opposite is true. Very few lawyers spend much time in court. A more realistic representation would be one of the lawyers in meetings with clients, lawyers doing paperwork, and lawyers sat in front of computers for extreme lengths of time.
For anyone going into a career in law specifically for the buzz of delivering persuasive evidence and emotional closing speeches in court, a carefully chartered path in needed. If this is the path for you, speak to a professor or mentor for advice on how to achieve it.
It Is Lonely
Any lawyer will tell you that the reality of the job is spending a lot of hours alone in your office writing and reading. Aside from meetings with clients and, occasionally, colleagues, there is little interaction with others. This can be beneficial from the perspective of staying focussed and getting the work done and so is not necessarily a bad thing. However, if you imagined that you would spend your days shoulder to shoulder with other lawyers working together to build your case, you may be disappointed.
You Need To Know What Drives You
Like any career, doing what you are passionate about is key to having a fulfilling and happy career. Avoid being swept into a lane of law that does not suit you and instead be proactive about finding what drives you. For someone with a head for numbers, a career in tax law or insurance may be of interest. Whereas, people persons may prefer a specialism in family law or civil rights. There is also the option of becoming an inhouse council or building a career in a law firm to decide about.
Start researching early to narrow down your field of interest. Read up on as many companies and law firms as you can to get to know their fields of specialty and understand where you might fit in. If possible, speak to fellow alumni about their career choices and how they came to understand what their passion is.
You Need To Be Bold
There will be times in your career, starting in law school, when you will need to be bold to get ahead. Opportunities will come along that you will need to be quick to apply for. Being bold means asking for the opportunity before it has even been announced (or created). Learn to ask for what you want.
To increase your chance, you would be best advised to build good relations with your colleagues and professors. Someone who is well-favored will be better received when requesting an internship or a place on a mock trial council in college.
Introverts needn’t panic at the thought of putting yourself forward in this manner. These skills can be learned and with time will feel natural. Start early so that when it comes to asking for the real opportunities that will advance your career you won’t hesitate.
Law Takes Over your Life
People who excel in law have a real love for it and for everything it entails. Which is just as well because you will be called in the middle of dinner by clients looking for updates. The holidays will be missed and you will live in your office. Your loved ones will become used to your absence and, hopefully, accept your commitment to your vocation with little offense.
There isn’t much that can be done to correct the balance. Law careers are full-on and packed with expectations that you will do what is needed when it is needed. If this doesn’t phase you will no doubt be happy with your career in law. However, if you are still telling yourself that you won’t let it take over your life, then you might want to think about what you will do when you realize you are wrong.
There’s A Lot Of Books
Not only will you need to read a vast amount of heavy (in every sense) books but you will also have to retain a lot of information. This starts in college when you will need to read just about every book on law. Unless you have a photographic memory like Mike Ross (Suits) it is unlikely that you will be able to remember everything.
Start taking notes and filing them in a way that helps you remember. Look to experts like Tony Buzan and Nicola Chung Yee-lan, both experts on improving memory skills, for practical methods that will help you retain and recall more information. Law is built on details.
Protect Your Reputation
To win clients and gain career opportunities you will have to have a reputation that attracts both. Or, the very least does not scare either away. Your reputation is more than if you win or lose cases. It is the way you carry yourself. It is your personal and professional conduct and even your ability to turn up on time. The slightest discrepancy can flip your reputation overnight and will always come out.
Living in the world of digital memory nothing ever goes away. Start now by deleting your social media accounts. Avoid ever becoming a negative headline and, most importantly, never compromise your integrity. Weigh every decision carefully and vet clients as they would vet you. A shady client can ruin your reputation by mere association.
Get A Mentor
The easiest way to navigate a path you have not been down before is to with the help of someone who knows the way. Finding a mentor can be the difference between navigating blindly and finding the most logical route.
Depending on which state you live or study in, there will be different choices available for finding a mentor. You could try the direct approach. First, do your research first to make sure that the person you are approaching is not involved in a program. If they are and you approach directly you might be perceived at trying to shortcut the application system. State Bar Associations usually have mentor programs that match up students with their members or run sessions whereby graduates can seek advice and guidance.
A legal career is tough but rewarding. Going in with open eyes and a willingness to commit will serve you well. Stay clear of controversy and start building the good habits and practices you need as early as you can.
Guest Submission by April Brown.
April Brown is a freelance writer at Phdkingdom.com and Academicbrits.com, who is mostly specialized in marketing and graphic design. She loves traveling to different places and learning about their culture. She also is an editor at Case Study Help blog.