The job search process begins early in your law school experience, and it is important to take the time to explore the numerous career paths available to you.
- Private Practice
- Public Interest, Government & Military
- Judicial Clerkships
- International Career Opportunities
In determining which career paths may be of interest to you, it is imperative that you understand both your goals and your personality.
Accordingly, self-assessment is a key factor in deciding on a career path and taking ownership of your own legal career. If you are not an active participant in the process of assessing what you want out of your NDLS education and subsequent legal career, then the path you follow may be based entirely on the needs and criteria of others. Identify what skills, knowledge, and talents you possess that you can channel into your legal career. Self-assessment begins with asking several basic questions:
- What are my skills, values, interests?
- What are my goals?
- Why did I go to law school?
- What potential practice areas do I want to pursue?
- In what geographical locations am I interested?
- For what type of employer do I want to work?
- What are my monetary needs?
- What am I willing to sacrifice to achieve my goals?
In addition to these questions, many students find the Kiersey Temperament Sorter and a more in-depth Self-Assessment Review helpful. Once you have conducted a thorough self-assessment and determined what career paths are of interest to you, you will be better prepared to move forward with your job search in a meaningful way.
Many NDLS students choose to launch their careers working for a private law firm. Much of the large law firm hiring is done during the Fall of a student’s 2L year through On-Campus Interviews and/or the Off-Campus Interview Programs. Students interested in private practice will frequently return to their 2L summer employer following graduation. The benefits of working at a large law firm include higher salaries, a diverse client base with sophisticated work, and a large support staff.
Recently, more and more NDLS students are opting to join mid-sized or small firms. We strongly encourage students to initiate contact with the many excellent mid-sized and small law firms nationwide that may not be able to participate in OCIs, OCIPs or other job fairs. Associates at mid-sized and small firms enjoy a highly varied legal practice, more flexible work schedules, significant client contact early on, and an abbreviated track to partnership compared to larger firms.
Working at a private law firm provides valuable experience and opens many doors to attorneys in their professional lives. While some attorneys will choose to stay at one firm for their entire career, most will eventually change firms, move to an in-house counsel position at a company, join a government agency or make another lateral move.
Public Interest, Government & Military
Public interest organizations, such as Public Defender Offices and Legal Aid Societies, are also popular employment choices for NDLS students. These positions offer practical experience and provide the intrinsic value of working for an organization that promotes justice by representing individuals, groups, and causes traditionally under-represented in our society. For more information on public interest careers, summer internship funding and post-graduation fellowships, see the Public Interest page.
In recent years, a growing number of NDLS students have chosen employment within state, local and federal government. NDLS students have started out their careers at State and County Prosecutor’s Offices, District Attorney’s Offices, the Department of Justice, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and many other government agencies and offices. NDLS is also proud to continue providing outstanding lawyers and leaders to the United States military through commissions as officers in their Judge Advocate General’s Corps.
A number of NDLS students choose to launch their careers in business, typically in a non-legal capacity. Recent graduates have worked in consulting, accounting or finance, and as sports or entertainment agents, trial consultants, and entrepreneurs, among many other roles. In addition, some graduates who begin their careers in private practice or government will eventually transition into business, taking a job as in-house counsel at a company for example. For more information on legal opportunities in business, make an appointment with your career counselor.
A number of NDLS students choose to pursue a career in legal academia. As a general rule, certain credentials are necessary to be a strong candidate for such positions, including a stellar academic record, extensive writing experience such as a law review note, a prestigious judicial clerkship and/or teaching fellowship, often followed by at least several years of practicing law. Recent NDLS graduates seeking to obtain entry-level, tenure-track teaching positions may consider a one or two year fellowship. While these fellowships vary by institution, typically they provide opportunities to gain teaching experience and to write substantive articles for publication.
Many NDLS graduates begin their careers by serving as judicial clerks. NDLS alumni can be found nationwide at all levels of the federal and state judiciary. Among the most prestigious and competitive employment opportunities, clerkships provide new attorneys with the rare opportunity to observe the judicial decision-making process from a judge’s perspective. Usually lasting one or two years, clerkships provide a way to learn about effective advocacy, broaden one’s understanding of procedural issues, and gain exposure to a wide array of legal practice areas. These positions are a valuable way to bridge the gap between law school and the practice of law.
International Career Opportunities
Each year, several NDLS students pursue summer internships and post-graduate positions abroad. While very competitive, these positions can be immensely rewarding, providing exposure to a different culture while gaining substantive experience in international legal affairs.
Students and graduates who secure overseas employment opportunities obtain them through proactive applications to organizations of interest, utilizing the same comprehensive job search tools used in a domestic search. It is especially important to reach out to business and personal contacts when searching for these types of opportunities. In addition, there are several online resources you can use to assist you in your search for an international internship.