After graduating from law school, a person must pass the state bar and get a law license in order to be qualified to practice law. It is usually after a person has completed their third year of law school and passed the bar exam when they will make their first major career decision. Most law firms recruit students in their second year of law school for very lucrative summer associate positions. It is assumed that if a student does a good job in their summer associate position, they will be invited back to the firm for a summer associate position after they finish their third year of law school and then offered a permanent entry-level attorney position with the same law firm. The rank of a student’s law school as well as their grades usually determines whether they will get offered a summer associate position after their second year. Those students who attend Ivy League law schools generally are picked first by the most prominent law firms in the country for summer associate positions and later for entry-level attorney jobs. Because the costs of getting a legal education are continually rising and most law students have to take out student loans to pay for their education, salary considerations are often a major factor in the choice of career for a new attorney.
It is estimated that partners in large law firms in major American cities make about 5 times as much money as do senior attorneys who work in government and public interest positions, such as positions in legal aid organizations. Those students who are offered summer associate positions after their second year of law school can expect to earn about $1500 per week at large law firms, while students who work in government jobs during the summer after their second year at law school can only expect to earn about $900 per week. Students who take jobs at legal aid organizations after their second year of law school can only expect to earn about $500 per week. In order to get a job offer that will later provide the foundation for a decent lifestyle, a student in law school must make strategic plans, develop mentor relationships and begin thinking about work opportunities early on.
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Many law students choose to work part-time while attending school in order to gain valuable experience. Some students will be able to find part-time jobs by looking at listings on career boards at their law school’s career services office. Other students may have to take the initiative and contact local lawyers personally to see if they are looking for a part-time student law clerk to assist with legal research and writing. The American Bar Association has issued rules which limit the amount of time that a law student may work during the school year. A full-time student is only allowed to work 20 hours outside of law school and first-year law students are strongly urged not to take part-time work until after they take their first law school exams. Law students must continually weigh the value that part-time work will have on their future career path against sacrificing time needed for studying law.
Most people have very personal reasons for attending law school. Most people who choose to attend law school have dreams of influencing public policy with their work and may also thrive on the intellectual challenge of law and legal studies. Some people who attend law school are motivated by other things, such as the prestige of a law career, the possibility of making a high salary at a respected law firm, and the personal satisfaction of being able to help legal clients every day. Most law students will be confronted with the questions of how to find the right job for them and how to find happiness by establishing a career path in law. Law students will eventually have to discover that a “job” involves the use of skills where you are compensated for your work. A “job” is usually done for monetary reasons and done out of necessity for many people. Most law students will also discover that a “career” in law means they will have an identity as a lawyer which will be created by having a series of satisfying legal jobs over time. Most students who go on to become successful lawyers discover that forging a career path in law involves finding their unique place in the legal profession where they truly enjoy what they do.
The most successful way to build a career in law is to start out in law school realizing the commitment you must make and anticipating a career where there will sometimes be unpredictable hours, very demanding clients, and very difficult challenges and difficult legal problems. Building a career in law is done by not being afraid of hard work in law school and knowing how to find the proper balance between work and family life as an attorney.
Many people who build successful career paths in law have found it useful to have a trusted professional mentor. Law students who genuinely want a career path in law should find an attorney at a law firm or other legal organization that they work at and try to create a mentor relationship by volunteering to work with them. The best mentors are those attorneys who occupy prominent positions at their law firms or legal organizations and who are very highly esteemed by their colleagues. A law student should let the attorney know that they are eager to learn about the law and should establish a relationship by performing well on all jobs that the attorney assigns to them. If the student is enthusiastic and does a good job, their new mentor should give them a great deal of follow-up work. The mentor can be an asset later in the new lawyer’s career when they get assigned cases and may have to deal with the issues of promotions and job compensation. Many times, mentors in the legal profession can assist new lawyers with setting career and personal goals and with finding ways to achieve those goals.