Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Three keys to discovering your dream legal job -- part one

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I'd like to welcome Adam Gropper, founder of and the author of “Making Partner:  The Essential Guide to Negotiating the Law School Path and Beyond, in a special two-part series that will continue next Wednesday.  Take it away, Adam!

This post is the first of a two part post that provides advice to law students who are not quite sure what they will do when they graduate law school.  For you folks, it may be helpful to have a practical approach with three specific, mechanical steps that have helped many law students discover their dream legal job.  The three components are:  (i) pick a law “major,” (ii) network with a plan, and (iii) practice persistence.  The first step, including why it is important and how to go about picking a major, is discussed below.    

Step One -- Pick a law “major”


Law schools are not yet requiring you to officially declare a major but you can distinguish yourself from your peers by deciding upon a major (and future practice area) which matches your preferences to existing demand as soon as feasible.  As soon as you decide:

  1. You will be better primed to make the most of networking opportunities.  You could be at an event with the most helpful person in the world but if you have not narrowed your scope, you will not know that and you will not have much to say. 
  2. You will be able to start taking classes in your major and excel in those classes such that you have a reasonable argument as to why you should be considered for a position involving your major.  The prospective employer may be taking less of a risk on you compared to someone with top grades generally but no exposure to classes in the major (or perhaps lower grades than you in the major).          
  3. You will be able to gain valuable experience in your major, including participating in clinics, internships (paying and non-paying), part-time or summer employment, research assistant, journal work, etc. 

How and where to start?

1. If possible, match your major to your background

Note that you may have to do some rigorous thinking to find one or multiple connections.  For example, an undergraduate major in political science could be compatible with a major in international law as you probably learned about foreign policy, treatises, and foreign legal systems (as well as the intricacies of our judicial system).  Alternatively, an undergraduate major in political science could be the prelude for a major in constitutional law as you probably learned about the Constitution and how it developed the foundations for our legal system.

           2.  Think about setting.

Consider where you want to go to work.  As three examples, you could be a:  (1) firm (of varying size) civil practice lawyer or criminal defense lawyer; (2) prosecutor or public defender; or (3) noncriminal government agency lawyer.  For each practice area in which you are interested, gather this information: (1) a general description; (2) salary averages; (3) average weekly work hours; (4) common credentials/qualifications hirers in the area expect; (5) accounts of what job holders do in a typical day; and (6) job satisfaction levels.

Take advantage of resources that provide an overview of the various legal settings for the top practice areas and ones that explain the skills and training required and narratives from practitioners about their daily work life.  The Career Services Office at your law school can provide these resources at no cost.

         3. Match your interest to a booming legal field.

In  your search, consider majors/practice areas that have lots of job opportunities, staying power, ease of entry, and wide geographic scope.  Do some research as to what the experts say the hot practice areas are and determine whether any of them meet these criteria and interest you.  Some examples of hot areas are:  privacy law, marijuana law, energy law, intellectual property law, and elder law.

If you do not know where to start, analyze practice areas that are regulatory with high demand and multiple paths for obtaining a legal job.  Take tax, for example. Legal jobs in tax are available at multiple places -- corporations, non-profit organizations, accounting firms, law firms of all sizes, in the Federal and state legislative (Congress member or tax writing committee), judicial (court clerks), and executive branches (Treasury). Another example is health care law.  These jobs are available at firms, healthcare provider organizations and insurers, nonprofit, and government. 

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About the author:

Adam Gropper is the founder of, a website that provides practical advice for law school students and law firm associates.  Adam is also the author of “Making Partner:  The Essential Guide to Negotiating the Law School Path and Beyond,” recently published by the American Bar Association.  

Adam is a Legislation Counsel on the staff of the non-partisan Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, assisting Congress in developing and drafting tax legislation and legislative history.  Previously, Adam was a tax partner at Baker & Hostetler LLP where he spent ten years handling tax controversy and planning matters. 

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