Planning for your professional life begins early in your law school experience, and it is important to take the time to explore the numerous career paths available to you, some of which include careers listed below.
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?
- Who is likely to hire someone like me?
- In what geographical locations am I interested?
- For what type of employer do I want to work?
- What are my monetary needs?
- What kind of work/life balance do I want?
- What am I willing to sacrifice to achieve my goals?
In addition to these questions, some students find the Keirsey Temperament Sorter and a more in-depth self-assessment review helpful. Links to these and other resources can be found below:
- The Keirsey Temperament Sorter is an assessment instrument that helps individuals learn more about personality type. Similar to the more well-known Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the Keirsey tool has a no-cost evaluation option (including report) that does not need to be administered by a certified professional.
- The Via Survey is a very in-depth strength assessment available for free (240 questions). A detailed report is available to provide information and strategies on how to use your strengths in various settings, including work.
- For those not interested in a more in-depth assessment, a self-guided review is helpful to provide structure to your thought process.
- To learn about additional options, you can visit The Riley Guide which offers a list of online resources in one convenient place. It denotes which require a fee.
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.
Some NDLS students choose to pursue jobs in the business world with the in-house legal department of a company. While many in-house legal departments require several years of practice experience, there are some that will hire students directly out of law school. More commonly though, students who are interested in in-house positions will begin their careers working in private practice or government. After gaining several years of relevant experience, they will then transition into the business world, taking a job with the in-house legal department of a company.
A number of NDLS students aspire to 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, and frequently several years of practicing law. Recent NDLS graduates seeking to obtain entry-level, tenure-track teaching positions may consider a one or two year teaching fellowship. While these fellowships vary by institution, typically they provide opportunities to gain teaching experience and to write substantive articles for publication.
Other NDLS students aspire to a career in academic administration or with the general counsel’s office of a college or university. These positions also typically require professional experience beyond law school. Students aspiring to such positions should plan their career paths accordingly. If their desired job is not attainable upon graduation, then they should seek post-graduation jobs that will provide them with the skills and experience necessary to transition into their job of choice as their career progresses.
Some NDLS students choose to pursue jobs that do not require admission to the bar but for which their JD is considered to be an advantage by employers. Such jobs are commonly referred to as JD Advantage. Recent graduates have accepted JD Advantage jobs with accounting firms, banks, construction companies, oil and gas companies, think tanks and others.
The universe of potential JD Advantage jobs is diverse, so you must undertake serious self-assessment to discern which jobs you wish to pursue and why. JD Advantage employers will not be impressed to hear that you applied for a job with them simply because you do not want to practice law. You must be able to articulate to an employer what you want to do and why. This typically requires a student to undertake independent research and to speak with JD Advantage professionals in his or her potential fields of interest.
For more information about JD Advantage jobs, please make an appointment to speak with a career counselor.
Compliance jobs are a type of JD Advantage job that is growing in popularity. Companies in industries that are heavily regulated by the government, such as health care and banking, often have internal compliance departments. Their role is to ensure the company is obeying the rules and regulations promulgated by its government regulators. While compliance positions do not involve the practice of law, companies often prefer to hire law school graduates for them because of their familiarity with statutory and regulatory frameworks.
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.