Five Ways to Gain Legal Work-experience Before Graduation

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hands-on legal experience

before your graduation is essential. Even if you are not thinking of becoming a lawyer, the experience would gain you invaluable contacts and broaden your perception for the rest of your life. Whether you go for an externship working for refugees in Cambodia, or land a summer associate job in a top law firm in New York, all experience related to law open our minds in a manner that is hard to define until you start feeling it yourself. Legal experience and other work experiences gained during student years are invaluable for they help to shape the mind in a more flexible manner than routine work in law firms. These moments and opportunities are precious, not only for preparing you better for entering the market, but truly because, sometimes, they carry moments of revelation and help to confirm your choice of career.

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The five best ways to gain legal experience before graduation, according to my personal choice would be
  • Externships

     Preferably in public service or abroad. Externships allow law students to gain both legal experience and academic credit. Externships are usually public-service oriented and may involve working for a judge, or may take you abroad to help developing countries. The range is limitless.
  • Summer associate jobs

     These are seriously considered by all law students. They are usually available through career services offices at the law schools and are offered by employers and law firms.
  • Temporary or casual work as paralegal

     This is also a great way to gather legal experience if you fail to land a summer associate job of your choice. In many states, law students are sought for work as paralegals, and such work can provide you invaluable experience, different from routine law firm work.
  • Trainee work

     Working in the legal department of a big corporate can come in very handy from two ways. First, if you have the leanings of becoming an in-house counsel it can help you gain an employer, and next, if you are interested in law firm practice, the law firm which handles the work of your employer would like to get you on board.
  • Internship or fellowship programs

     The ones that are academia oriented are good for those who love learning to the extent that they would like to spend their lives in research and dissection and analyses of laws and policy. Such openings are usually available from the law school itself, but may also be available from private nonprofits or public sector.

The choice, of course, depends upon your personal leanings and career objectives. But let me caution you about one thing. Most counselors would tell you to be very sure about what you would want to become in life, and then make the choice of which avenue of legal experience to accept. I would not contradict such advice, but only say that be prepared for surprises. A choice is good only if you are well-informed, and your information on things can radically change on experience. Sometimes, you can learn to love a job about which you had no previous idea at all, and it couldn't have figured in your ‘calculated choices.”

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Whichever route may be your choice for gaining legal experience before graduation, be sure to keep the following in mind:
  • As a law student, you can perform legal work only under the supervision of an attorney
  • You can perform legal work only as long as an attorney vouches for the client and is responsible to the client.
  • A lawyer cannot delegate his or her professional responsibility to a law student,
  • A law student who undertakes legal work without sufficient supervision of an attorney may be open to criminal and civil charges and penalties
  • It is the responsibility of the law student to determine which work he/she may accept according to prevalent state rules and rules of professional conduct
  • The law can vary widely from state to state as to what a student of law may or may not do when it comes to real legal work

Legal work experience before graduation, especially in law firms, helps you to secure potential job opportunities, gain skills and display abilities. You'd get a first-hand idea of how law firms operate from

summer jobs

, and also learn the merits of public service from

pro bono

and externships. And you can do all that within your student years. Such mobility is unavailable once you join law practice full-scale.

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About Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes is the founder of LawCrossing and an internationally recognized expert in attorney search and placement. Harrison is extremely committed to and passionate about the profession of legal placement. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placement attract millions of reads each year. LawCrossing has been ranked on the Inc. 500 twice. For more information, please visit Harrison Barnes’ bio.

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