Advice for Law School Applicants on Choosing a Law Career Path

You don’t need to have your future career path mapped out to apply to law school, but it is helpful to have a direction in mind. Clear career goals can help you stay focused and motivated throughout the law school application process, from LSAT practice to weighing competing opportunities.

It’s easier to assess whether law school is worth the investment of time, money and energy when you have a vision of what you hope to do with your degree. Applicants with clearer career goals may also have an easier time writing their personal statement and determining where to apply.

Being able to express what you hope to do with your law degree will help you make a more convincing case that you are committed to law school, whether you’re interested in public or private sector law.

[READ: How to Show You Are Committed to Law School.]

Finally, clear career goals can make it easier to express why you are a good fit for where you are applying, through an essay or interview.

However, the wide range of legal fields can be daunting. Even if you take classes related to law in college, you may learn little about what lawyers do in practice.

Here are five ways to explore your law career goals:

— Question your preconceptions about legal practice.

— Think beyond your initial interests.

— Seek internships and volunteer opportunities.

— Conduct informational interviews.

— Pursue further research.

Question Your Preconceptions About Legal Practice

Many applicants’ notions of legal practice come from the dramatized courtroom battles that are a staple of popular culture. But litigation looks a lot different in real life, and most lawyers spend little — if any — time in court.

There aren’t many television shows about mergers and acquisitions, tax law or estate law, but there are good reasons why these specialties attract many lawyers.

So, don’t be afraid to expand your idea of what lawyers do beyond what you’ve seen in the books, films or television series that inspired you to pursue law school.

[Related:Advice on How to Prepare for Law School]

Think Beyond Your Initial Interests

Many applicants gravitate toward topics they feel passionate about, like constitutional law, entertainment law or environmental law. But when they start internships and entry-level positions, they may find that the realities of legal work differ from their expectations. Entertainment lawyers spend a lot more time negotiating contracts with other lawyers than hobnobbing with celebrities.

Law is a diverse field, and many lawyers ultimately find fulfillment through some mix of intellectual challenge, rewarding work and meaningful relationships with colleagues and clients. But how do you find the area of law that is right for you?

First, think about what kind of work and environment you would enjoy on a day-to-day basis. What is an average day at your dream job like? What activities take up your time? What are the challenges and rewards? How much time is spent with colleagues and clients? How much of the work is collaborative or adversarial, self-directed or cooperative? How much risk are you comfortable with?

Seek Internships and Volunteer Opportunities

There’s no substitute for first-hand experience. Before applying to law school, look for opportunities to help out at legal offices or organizations. Not only will you gain potential recommenders and excellent material for a personal statement, but you will get ideas for what kinds of legal work you are most interested in and what kinds of environments allow you to thrive.

Admissions officers appreciate work experience. But even if you can’t find a full-time position, see if you can spend just a week or two lending a hand and getting an inside look into how law offices work.

[Related:How Summer Internships Can Help Law School Applicants]

Conduct Informational Interviews

Reach out to people with careers that interest you. Send a polite request over email or social media and ask for an informational interview. Be clear, direct and respectful. Make clear that you are not asking for any favors besides a quick coffee or a brief phone call.

Do your homework and prepare several open-ended questions like: What has been the biggest surprise about your job? How do you know if you’re doing a good job? How do you think your job will change over the next decade? What qualities would set someone in your position up for success?

Not everyone will be open or candid, but you may end up with inside advice about not only whether a field is right for you but also what skills and experiences to highlight on your resume.

Pursue Further Research

The internet has no shortage of personal opinions and views about everything, including legal work. Beyond U.S. News & World Report resources, you can easily access articles and posts from lawyers, law firms and legal news sites.

Don’t worry if your research turns up more questions than answers. In law school, you will have plenty of time and resources for further exploration, like clinics and career services. While it’s helpful to have some informed ideas about your future career, it’s best to arrive at law school with an open mind.

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Advice for Law School Applicants on Choosing a Law Career Path originally appeared on

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