Law school, simply put, can be challenging. It can be even more challenging when you are wrestling with finding the path that best suits your goals and dreams as a future lawyer. While some law students come through the doors with a clear picture of what they want to do and where they want to go, that is not the case for the majority. Many students struggle to find answers concerning the direction they ought to go in.
Unfortunately, no one can answer those questions for you. It takes both self-reflection and research to discover what is right for you. But then again, a wise word from lawyers who love their careers may help resolve some of your burning questions.
I contacted four lawyers that chose completely different career paths, and they were more than willing to offer advice to students. Here’s what I asked each of them:
(1) How were your grades?
(2) What were your extracurriculars?
(3) Did your post-grad job stem from a summer internship?
(4) What classes prepared you for practice?
(5) What is your work/life balance?
(6) Are you where you thought you would be?
(7) What advice do you have for law students?
Ayanna Thomas, St. John’s University School ‘14
Education Lawyer, Bond Schoenick & King
I graduated from law school with a 3.3 GPA. I was the President of the Education Law Society and Associate Manager for JCRED. I held a BLSA e-board position and mentored children with Nassau County Bar Association. My job did not stem from summer internship, but the relationships I built on my externship helped me secure my position. My greatest learning experience was my externship with a school district, because when I began my job, I was already familiar with prominent issues within my field. My schedule is usually going into the office around 9:30 A.M. and leaving around 7:30 P.M. I love my job and education law and wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. My advice to students is to choose a job or career path that you’re passionate about. Being a lawyer can be stressful and if you wake up every day dreading going to your job, it will show in your work product.
Saira Montesino, Fordham Law ‘09
Civil Rights Attorney, Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights
I did not do well my first year, but over time my grades improved, and I graduated with a 3.0 GPA. I was on the Corporate Law Journal, and worked in our school’s Community Development Clinic. My 2L summer internship led me to my job. I interned with the EEOC and stayed on as an extern in fall of my 3L year. After graduation, I worked with a litigation attorney for one year. Then the EEOC offered me a position as a trial attorney. I worked there for nine years, and I currently work for The Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights. While certain classes I took in labor law helped, I believe that any job post-graduation requires time to learn the practice. Government practice offers a very good quality of life. I’m on the public interest loan forgiveness program and my loans will be forgiven very soon. I work from 7:00 A.M. to 4:30 P.M. with every other Friday off, and I can work from home. I have great benefits, and I accrue a lot of vacation time. I make also make a six-figure salary. I don’t think I knew where I would be at this point, but I am very happy with my choices. I love the work that I do and it allows me the time and mental space to live, and to enjoy my friends and family.
My advice to students is do not focus on the money. Explore the opportunities out there to find your fit; and once you find something that gives you a sense of fulfillment, make that work for you.
Chris Stewart, Howard Law ‘05
Managing Partner, Stewart Trial Attorneys
I passed each class, but never had stellar grades. I was Vice President of Student Bar Association and on the mock trial team. Every summer I interned in Florida with a civil litigation firm, and I was eventually offered a position, but I was unwilling to relocate. So I researched the top civil litigators and sent my resume to each of them; one of them offered me a job. I worked for him for three years, we merged, I became partner, and I stayed there for 8 years before opening my own firm. The most beneficial experience in law school was hands down mock trial; It developed me for trial practice. My work/life balance varies. Some days I finish early, but if there are depositions or trials coming up, it can mean 18-hour days. I’m where I thought I would be! I wanted to be a civil litigator and own my own firm. I have surpassed my goals and I’m still working hard to grow. My advice for students is to choose by experience not money. If I would have worked in big law, I wouldn’t have seen a courtroom for years. So I started as a trial lawyer making $70k, and now I have far surpassed big law salaries because I do what I love.
Alexandria Johnson, Mizzou School of Law ‘16
Procurement Specialist, Executive Ethics Commission (Legal Alternatives to Practice)
My grades were average. I was on the mock trial and arbitration teams, but I also worked two jobs. My post-graduation job did not stem from an internship. I knew early on in law school that I did not want to practice, and began looking for “JD preferred” positions. Though I did explore firms to make sure, it just was not for me. My contracts courses were pivotal in learning contract drafting and negotiation, which is beneficial in my current position as a state purchasing officer. My work/life balance is great; I am working 37.7 hours per week, and while work is demanding, I truly leave work at work. I am where I expected to be, utilizing the skills I learned in law school to do procurement and contracting. My advice is to use your time in law school to embrace different paths that push you out of your comfort zone, that way your decision about your career path is informed.
All of these lawyers share one thing in common: they chose what was best for them and they are loving it. Hopefully, these interviews offered you insight into what life as a practicing or non-practicing attorney can be. The takeaway is: DO WHAT YOU LOVE and IT WILL LOVE YOU BACK!