Pre-Law Practice Area Series: Your Initial Investment – How to Begin the Search for a Practice Area
Welcome back from Thanksgiving Break! We had plenty of time to remember all the great opportunities we’ve had this semester – and to remember to extend a warm thanks for your engagement in the Pre-Law Advising Center. As exam season approaches, a typical law student’s calendar is filled with plans to finish outlining for each class and the plan for when and how to approach taking practice exams for each class. Of course, some of the most memorable activities you pursue during exam time are those that free your mind from the intense preparation – your “distractions”! Last year, the Law School Dean of Students commented that the busiest time of year for schedule alterations was the days leading up to finals, when students are eager to be distracted by something meaningful to them that involves plotting and planning and not necessarily studying 😉
So if you, like me, find time for all the big idea planning and determining what projects to undertake during Winter Break, here is a perfect project for you to invest an hour or two and refine your analysis of what you want to do after law school. It will guide you on how to finish your applications, where to visit, and how to eventually plan the beginning stages of your legal education, which has an incredibly strong impact on where you eventually find yourself practicing. Overwhelming populations of attorneys say that they “fell into” their area of practice based on their summer experiences in law school and placements in their initial years of practice. While it is true that opportunities you take will guide your experiences, having a strong understanding of many potential opportunities, what they lead to, and how you can best situate yourself to take advantage of these opportunities will give you the advantage over those who let grades, or random internship experiences, or career services offices dictate their momentum on the job search.
I suggest you print this checklist, grab a cup of coffee, find a nice spot with your laptop – and invest one to two hours refining your understanding of practice areas and potential careers.
- Brainstorm a quick response to the question “Why law school?” How do you envision using a law degree right now? Even if you are in the very initial stages of considering law school, you should have something guiding you in that direction, vocalize it.
- Now go to the Stanford Law School Navigator – an intensely detailed online resource and one that I cannot pretend to offer a better or more rounded guide than – and read the general direction overviews for each of the four major directions: Academia, Litigation, Regulatory & Policy, and Transactional (found at: http://slsnavigator.law.stanford.edu/start). Note which direction interests you the most right now, and be able to define why. Which of these directions most aligns with your answers to step one? There is a lot of law school lingo embedded in the descriptions – so don’t hesitate to look up concepts or words that you need more information on.
- Explore each Path (what we typically refer to as a “practice area”) by clicking on it and reading the general overview. Maybe you will be tempted to start clicking into various specialty areas within each path, I’d suggest investing the time to read each Path’s (practice area’s ) general overview first – to increase your vocabulary in each area and to move to the next step of exploring specialty areas with the most informed perspective. Of each of these paths, which interests you most?
- Now it’s time to explore each path’s specialty areas. Start with the area that most suited you, and work your way through each specialty area. You will become aware of the relationships between specialty areas.
- Notice that you can narrow the specialty area by limiting it to a specific direction. For example, under Business Law, I chose Media, Entertainment, and Sports and read the description for “all directions.” Narrowing the direction doesn’t change the overall description, what that does is limit the “map” of courses and opportunities at Stanford for you to look further into. The foundational courses are likely available everywhere – but some of the specialty courses only at Stanford. Consider this a resource to come back to later, when you are in law school and continuing to refine your path and choose your 2L and 3L coursework based on your continued legal experiences.
- Expand your search. So you have an idea of the direction you want to take, and the path that interests you, and have an understanding of some of the specific practice areas within each area. Your vocabulary and understanding have probably expanded significantly! Now that you are expanding your search, your discussions will be smarter, your analysis will be more refined, and your insight will be greater. Move forward by utilizing these other tools.
A. Go to the ABA’s listing of legal blog categories and browse a few blogs in the practice areas that most interest you: http://www.abajournal.com/blawgs/by_topic/
B. Take a look at the ABA’s list of factors to consider and the detailed clinic descriptions of each law school here: http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/migrated/child/PublicDocuments/choosinglawschool.authcheckdam.pdf
C. Go to the website of a school that interests you, research the areas of law that they are known for. I look at the ABA’s listing of school’s LLM programs (Master’s of Law) to know which areas schools are carved out specific programs that likely indicate a strong focus, you can find that towards the back of the 2012 ABA Law School Guide found here: http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/publications/misc/legal_education/2012_official_guide_for_web.authcheckdam.pdf
Stay tuned for Part II of this series, where we will share some of the research found on two specific areas of law – health law and education law. As always – wishing you the best as you invest to find your best fit for a future legal career!