Creating a Written Career Plan
Now that you know the many different ways that you can gain experience during law school, take some time to think about how these components are going to fit into your personal career plan. We have a template you can use to create your written career plan, but feel free to create your own if you prefer a different style. Take some time to write down:
your long-term and short-term goals;*
your practice areas/settings of interest;
the experience you have gotten to date that is relevant to these areas;
the experience in these areas that you hope to get during law school;
any extracurricular activities related to your area of interest that you hope to get involved in;
and the classes you plan to take to explore your areas of interest (see our list of classes by topic).
* Don’t have any specific goals yet? Not a problem. Hopefully the information gathering you’ve been doing has helped you identify a few practice areas/settings that are of particular interest to you. If that is the case, then simply make your short-term goal to explore those practice areas and decide what area of practice is the best fit for you.
Now take a look at the time grid that includes entries for each summer and semester during law school. Think strategically about how the experience and activities you want to get involved in during law school are going to fit into the time that you have available. Students planning on doing moot court and/or a journal may find that they don’t have time to add anything else to the Fall semester of their 2L year. Students hoping to work at the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office may want to consider whether they want to intern there during their 1L summer, or wait until they have the 51 credit hours necessary to get a 711 license so that they can handle actual cases in court. Students interested in three different practice areas may need to try to find work related to one during their 1L summer, another during their 2L year, and a third during their 2L summer, leaving 3L year open to look specifically for employers in the are of law they liked the best. For inspiration on how to fit all of the options into a workable law school time frame, check out these sample Career Plans.
NOTE TO PART-TIME STUDENTS
If you are a part-time student reading these materials, every block on the time grid may be filled with working full time, going to school, and raising a family. We know that part-time students have different concerns and often follow different career paths than full-time students. Part-time students gain legal experience during law school in many different ways:
- Switching from the non-legal job they entered law school with to a job in the legal field while remaining a part-time student
- Taking leaves of absence from their non-legal jobs during the summers to allow them to gain experience working for legal employers
- Taking on projects for the legal department at their full-time employer
- Using vacation time to attend conferences, bar association presentations and continuing legal education (CLE) programs on legal topics of interest
- Interning or externing for judges who require minimal time in chambers and allow interns/externs to do research and legal writing remotely
- Finding evening and weekend volunteer opportunities with legal organizations to gain experience
- Taking on discrete research projects for solo practitioners and small firms that can be handled remotely
- Working as research assistants for professors
You will want to think carefully about all of these options and how they might work for you. We have collected a variety of resources specifically for part-time students on our website, but we know that advising part-time students is far from a "one size fits all" pursuit. Meeting one-on-one with your assigned counselor will allow you to create a career plan that make sense for your unique situation. The earlier in your law school career you meet with us, the more time you will have to plan how to incorporate gaining legal experience into your legal education. Doing a thorough self-assessment and information gathering process early in your law school career is also essential - if you will not have the opportunity to work for several different legal employer to explore areas of interest, you will need to put significant time into talking with practicing attorneys to figure out the practice area and setting that will be right for you.
For those of you interested in becoming a law professor and/or clerking for a judge after law school: We recommend that you think about finding time to be a Research Assistant for a professor and to do a judicial externship, preferably before you apply for clerkships in the summer/early fall of your third year.
For those of you interested in prosecution at the state or federal level:
You should know that the U.S. Attorney’s Office (prosecution at the federal level) does not generally hire students right out of law school. If interested, you should definitely find time to intern/extern for the office, but do not anticipate that it will lead to post-graduate employment, at least not immediately after you graduate.
State’s Attorney’s Offices, on the other hand, do hire students right out of law school. If you are interested in the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, you should know that they begin their post-graduate hiring process in the fall, by coming to on-campus interviewing and interviewing interested 3Ls. If working at the CCSA’s office after graduation is your goal, plan to get some experience there before these interviews to show your interest.
For those of you interested in public interest: Every year we hear from students who are very interested in building a career doing public interest work, but who can’t afford not to earn money during their summers. In addition to exploring public interest funding options, we usually recommend that students in these positions try to find a part-time public interest position, and work part-time in another capacity to pay the bills. It is important to show your commitment to service throughout your law school career if you plan a career in public service after you graduate.
For those of you interested in working for law firms: Make your best effort to find work in the area of law that you are interested in at some point during your law school career, but don’t worry if your first, or even second, job during law school isn’t in the precise area of practice you want. You will build transferrable skills with each job that you can sell to your next employer, until you eventually get to precisely the type of employer you want.
For those of you interested in litigation: Working for a judge, research for a professor, and working in a litigation-based clinic are all good options to build skills, in addition to clerking at a litigation law firm.
For those of you interested in transactional practice: Working for government regulatory bodies in your area of interest, research for a professor on topics related to the area of business you are interested in, interning in house at a corporation, and working in a transactional-focused clinic are all good options to build skills, in addition to clerking at a business transactional firm.
Once you’ve created your written career plan, it is time to start Researching Employers . . .