It’s perfectly fine for college students to arrive on campus with only fuzzy ideas about their careers. Many U.S. colleges provide a liberal arts education that promotes and rewards intellectual curiosity and versatility. College students often change their major, try out a wide range of courses and deepen their intellect through the cross-fertilization of different disciplines.
In contrast, law school is a professional school. The first-year curriculum is mostly fixed, and the requirements for graduation limit the number of classes that students can take in other schools or departments. Law school is not a rigid path, but there is less room for experimentation than at the undergraduate level.
Thus, it is best for students to come to law school with some sense of their career interests and goals. Expressing clear career goals, even if they are broad or subject to change, is one way to show admissions officers your commitment to law school.
Some applicants, like those with experience in the legal field, may find it easy to explain what they want to do with their law degree. Others may not even be aware of the range of legal specializations beyond those portrayed frequently in popular media, like criminal law, family law and entertainment law.
Law school applicants seeking to choose a legal career path can consider these four tips:
— Look beyond legal topics.
— Try out different courses.
— Stay open-minded.
— Explore extracurricular activities.
Look Beyond Legal Topics
It’s tempting to think of specializations in terms of their topical focus, like environmental law, labor law or constitutional law. However, a more salient distinction between legal careers is the lifestyle differences across different fields.
Consider the day-to-day tasks and challenges common to each legal specialty. For example, a criminal lawyer may need to think quickly and handle a hectic and unpredictable schedule. A family lawyer might have to deal with exhausting emotional conflicts. A torts lawyer might have to be comfortable with detailed regulations and cases that stretch on for years with uncertain payoffs.
Thinking about the conditions you thrive in and the challenges you find rewarding may lead you to a specialization more reliably than focusing on the areas of law you find intellectually interesting.
Try Out Different Courses
There are many different undergraduate classes that prepare you well for law school, from philosophy to statistics. Even if your college lacks a legal studies program, you may be able to explore legal subjects like constitutional law, criminal justice or health law.
Once you are in your first year of law school, you will be exposed to civil procedure, contracts, constitutional law, criminal law, property, torts, and legal research and writing. In your second and third year, you can select more specialized electives that can help you focus your career, like administrative law and Native American law.
Exploring new areas may lead you to hidden career possibilities. For example, if you are interested in environmental law, you might find related career pathways through energy law or land use law.
College classes often have irresistible names that provoke curiosity. For example, in college I enjoyed a popular political science class called, “The Mafia, the State, and Organized Crime.” Going to class felt like exploring underworlds straight out of Hollywood crime thrillers.
In contrast, law classes often have generic, lackluster names like tax law, appellate law, corporate law, regulations and local government law. However, you may find that such classes involve fascinating controversies with significant impact on people’s lives.
Explore Extracurricular Activities
One of the best ways to learn about the range of legal specialties is to engage in real-world volunteer experiences. Through campus clubs, student publications and other public interest opportunities, you can get an inside view of ways to get involved with the justice system and current legal issues.
Activities are also a great way to build relationships with potential career role models. It’s much easier to reach out to lawyers who you have helped, worked with or observed in action.
Ultimately, no career is set in stone. Many law school graduates evolve throughout their career. However, thinking ahead of time about legal specialization can help you communicate your interests to admissions officers and ensure your time in law school is well spent.
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