A huge new crop of students will be entering their first year of law school at schools across Texas in a couple of weeks. While job opportunities and career paths accessible to Texas lawyers are boundless, learning as much as you can early on about the diverse career paths will make a significant difference in your future. You need to dedicate the time, attention and commitment it deserves to educate yourself about the different areas of the law so that you may equip yourself with the knowledge necessary to make an informed choice as to your area of pursuit. Take advantage of mentoring programs offered at your law school, talk to your professors, especially the adjuncts, who have practical experience in the “real world,” and talk to as many recent law graduates and practicing attorneys as you can to learn about the career paths they have chosen, and why.
One aspect that law graduates rarely consider is how their temperament and personality might be better suited to one career path than to another. For example, if you’re an extrovert who is invigorated by interaction with others, a desk job that requires endless hours of drafting tedious documents might not be the best path for you. Attorney jobs that entail a good deal of drafting are any type of transactional position, but there are other practice focuses as well that involve a great deal of drafting (e.g. ERISA, tax, and investment management attorneys). The daily activities of a securities lawyer and a trial lawyer are quite different and you need to find the niche that is right for your personality and temperament.
While passions are not necessarily the only avenue to consider when choosing a job, you will also want to take into account your interests. If you have a strong interest in the environment, education, healthcare, sports, or politics, you can find a practice area or career path that utilizes both your law degree and your interest.
Earning your law degree demonstrates your analytical capabilities, your doggedness, commitment and intellect, all of which bode well for a vast array of opportunities. You may decide to pursue a traditional legal career, a non-traditional one, or even a career outside of the legal realm. No matter what the path, make sure you factor the specialty you are interested in and the region in which you wish to practice into your research. To help you begin your analysis, here are a few paths to consider:
- Traditional Law Firm Life ( small, medium, large, regional, national, international)
- In-house Corporate Legal Department (corporations typically hire experienced lawyers from private practice, but some companies will hire directly from law school. The company is your sole client and most in-house lawyers have more predictable hours, with the added benefit of not having to worry about client development or billable hours.)
- In-house compliance work. (Compliance needs have burgeoned in the last decade, and almost every company now has at least one dedicated compliance specialist, if not an entire department of them. Compliance needs are specific to the industry, and range from Sarbanes Oxley to Dodd Frank to Anti-Money Laundering to Foreign Corrupt Practices Act to Stark and Fraud & Abuse statutes, among many, many other areas.)
- Government (prosecutors, city and state law departments, state and federal regulatory agencies, etc. Government has the reputation of “not paying well” but that is not true across the board, especially for certain federal regulatory agencies, like the SEC and many others.)
- Academia (you may wish to work for the education system as a member of the faculty, administration or university counsel)
- Solo Practitioner (you may prefer to work alone rather than within a team, allowing you to choose your clients and cases; if you are more entrepreneurial and can manage the greater financial risk your income may potentially be greater, too, but Solo Practice typically comes later in your career, after you have the training and experience necessary to work alone and the skillsets that are valuable to clients.)
- Non-traditional (If mainstream is not your sweet spot, you can find positions in every industry & employment sector where the skills you acquired in law school are essential to success in the business world & offer you a competitive advantage!)
- Legal Operations (In-house legal departments are revolutionizing how their legal departments are run by hiring specialized legal operations professionals to run their spend and matter management software, use data analytics to serve their internal clients more efficiently, and to separate the management function of running a legal department from the role of providing legal advice.)
- Law Firm Administration (Law firms have always hired specialized professionals to run the business-side of their firm’s operations. While a JD Is not always required, it certainly helps.)
- Recruiting (Both internal and external)
- Business role in a company (Many companies consider a JD like an MBA – i.e. an excellent education for a business role.)
We see the various paths that Texas attorneys take and know there are many ways to succeed and find the fit that is right for you. The key is to choose your career not just because of the compensation potential, but because it’s a good fit for your personality, temperament, and interests. If you are good at what you do, monetary success should follow!