How to choose the right career path

By Hillary Mantis    

“Law school just isn’t what I thought it was going to be,” said Lindsay, a second-year student, who came to see me for advising.

She had been an English major, and went straight to law school from college. But now, she’s struggling to find a potential legal career path that would make her happy.

Besides the effort required to find a legal internship in a competitive economy, Lindsay is also grappling with a topic that many law students find difficult — what type of law does she want to practice?

Fortunately, there are many, many options within law. It’s just hard, especially as a student, to figure them out. I recall getting to law school and at first not really understanding the difference between different types of legal positions. 

Here are a few ideas to help you figure things out:

-Take career assessment tests: Most law school career centers offer free testing to help you figure out what legal job could be a good fit for you. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and the Strong Interest Inventory are two great ones that could help you define your goals. I personally found the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to be incredibly helpful when choosing a career path after law school.

-Figure out what practice settings appeal to you: Practice settings in law range greatly, from working for a solo practitioner to working for a law firm of over 1,000 attorneys, or from working for a nonprofit to working for a large federal government agency. Where do you see yourself? If you are not sure, externships can be a good way to start to see if a practice setting will be a good fit.

-Figure out what practice areas appeal to you: There are so many choices in law, from the basics, like litigation and corporate law, to niche practice areas. Everything from intellectual property law, to environmental law, to elder law, to real estate law is available to you. How to choose? Externships and courses are a good way to start. Reading up on the legal economy in publications like this one can also help you find practice areas that you might like and which are predicted to be in demand. Speaking with alumni and the career counselors at your school can also be incredibly helpful. They can describe different areas, brainstorm with you, and possibly set you up in an externship.

-Break it down logically: Try to approach your career as you would a case — rather than becoming overwhelmed, approach it logically. If you take different courses, try different externships, brainstorm with your career center and alumni, and take into account what areas are likely to be hiring when you are graduating, you will most likely be able to define some solid career goals.

While I know a lot of the decision-making may revolve around the economy, and what type of job will enable you to potentially make money and pay back loans, it should also reflect your own long-term career goals.

 

Hillary Mantis advises law students, pre-law students and lawyers. She is director of the Pre-Law Program at Fordham University and author of career books, including “Alternative Careers for Lawyers.”You can reach Hillary at altcareer@aol.com.

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