There are a variety of career paths within Law & Legal Services, including law firms, public interest, government agencies, and academia, and within each of these there are multiple legal specialties. Below provides a brief introduction to legal career paths and students are encouraged to visit the prelaw portal built by the National Association for Law Placement and the many law career guides offered through OCS’ subscription to the Firsthand Law Guide.
When thinking about a legal career, it is important to realize that most of a lawyer’s work involves research and writing. In order to practice law in the U.S., (for those individuals who attend law school in the U.S.) a J.D. degree is required as well as passing the relevant State Bar exam. For students interested in pursuing a law degree, visit the OCS Law School Resources.
Includes positions with private law firms, such as a solo practitioner, associate, law clerk, paralegal and legal support staff. Law firms may specialize in one practice area or may represent clients across multiple practice areas. Examples of specialty areas are Appellate Law, Bankruptcy Law, Civil Rights Law, Criminal Law, Family Law, Environmental Law, Labor and Employment, Intellectual Property Law, Products Liability, Securities Law, Tax Law, to name just a few.
Lawyers in the public interest include positions funded by legal services, as well as positions with non-profit advocacy or cause-related organizations. Direct client work may include child advocacy, community development, education, public housing, government benefits, and immigration issues. Lawyers working at private firms may also engage in public interest work through pro-bono projects coordinated through their employer or professional association.
Clerkships are one- or two-year appointments clerking for a judge on the federal, state or local level, usually immediately out of law school. In some cases, clerkships may be more permanent positions at the state and level. Clerkships are often competitive and coveted opportunities, which expose new lawyers to a wide range of legal issues while directly contributing to the judicial decision-making process.
Legal In-House Practice
Many organizations, from large Fortune 500 corporations to mid-size non-profits, employ a small group of in-house lawyers to work on the day-to-day legal activities of the organization. In these cases, there is one client, and the legal work is done on behalf of the employer. Typically, these positions are available to attorneys with at least 3-5 years of prior experience in a private or public setting.
There are many opportunities for lawyers within academia. While legal faculty often teach law classes, they may also run legal clinics where students gain valuable experience. Also, within an academic setting there are positions practicing law within the Office of General Counsel, and positions providing legal advice such as in the Risk Management Group. Additionally, many administrative positions value the law degree including admissions, career services, financial aid, and student affairs.