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Opting For Legal Research as a Possible Career

published February 19, 2013

By CEO and Founder - BCG Attorney Search left

( 3 votes, average: 3.8 out of 5)

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Your effort to decide whether or not to become a lawyer has gotten a solid start. You've examined your motives for thinking about law as a career, you've reviewed some of the popular myths about law and lawyers, you've heard advice from various lawyers around the country, and you've evaluated your legal interests and skills. Now you're ready to go out and become a lawyer, right? Maybe, maybe not.

Opting For Legal Research as a Possible Career

Now it is time to act like a lawyer and conduct some "legal research" before reaching a definite conclusion.

Legal research can be a lot of fun. Kind of like solving a mystery! You know the answer to your question is out there somewhere. If only you look long and hard enough, you'll find it.

You're now "researching" law as a possible career. How long should you work at investigating that issue? As long as it takes. You must do everything you can to get your career decision right the first time.

Let's look at what you should be doing to research law even after you finish this article:

Keep a Law Journal

You won't find the answer to the question whether law is the career for you in the library. But you may find the answer in a journal, the journal you should be keeping to record your thoughts, interests, and goals about law as a career.

Continue the self-reflection and record your impressions. As you come into contact with lawyers, do further reading, or talk with career counselors, jot down notes about what you learn and how you react.

Some of you may find it helpful to have a section in your career journal where you keep a master list of pros and cons. As you think of things you'd like about a legal career, or that you'd dislike, add them to your list. Cross off pros or cons as your feelings change or as you learn more about law. Review the list every once in a while and chart how you feel over time. Are you becoming more or less enthusiastic as you learn more about law as a career? Why? Put that information into your journal too.

What's important is the trend. If you look back through your career journal and see a downward trend in your attitude toward law-especially as you learn more about it-alarm bells should go off. But you may miss the danger signs completely if you don't record your thoughts over a long period of time. So get writing.

Legal Resources

Where are you going to go digging for the information to help you make this decision? The best sources are practicing lawyers and people who got a law degree but aren't practicing.

Some of you will have a hard time finding lawyers to talk with about what they do. But some of you will have lots of lawyer contacts. Friends. Neighbors. Relatives. Friends of relatives. And so forth. Use these contacts. They are your legal resources, and you should mine them for nuggets of information.

If you don't know a lawyer and can't come up with someone who does, ask your college alumni or placement office for help. Many schools have lists of alumni who have volunteered to talk to prospective law students or to have them visit their office for a day or even for a week during the school's spring break. Look for other lawyers using school connections. Your local library (and certainly every law school and law firm library) will probably have a copy of a multivolume publication commonly called Martindale-Hubbell. This reference work lists hundreds of thousands of lawyers in private law firms. Look up the state, then the city where you are interested in working and start reading the short bios for the law firm lawyers listed there. When you come across someone who went to your college, call them up and ask to talk to them on the phone or to visit them for an informational interview. If you stress your school connection and the fact that you just want to get more information about the firm and the practice of law-that is, you're not asking for a job-you'll be more likely to get some of the lawyer's time.

Don't be shy about this. The worst that can happen is that the lawyer will turn you down. The best that can happen is that you will learn something useful about what another lawyer does-and perhaps make a contact that will be valuable to you in the future when looking for summer or permanent employment.

Don't expect an exciting day. Following a lawyer around at work isn't exactly like going to the movies. But it's hard to imagine time better spent if you're serious about evaluating law as a career.

Another way to watch lawyers in action-and possibly to meet some lawyers in your area-is simply to drop by the nearest courthouse and sit in a courtroom during a trial. Trials are open to the public. No one will throw you out if you sit quietly in the gallery. And you're likely to see a little of what many lawyers consider the most fun they have at work.

The only problem with shadowing a single lawyer or even sitting in on a trial is that you see only a tiny slice of the world of lawyers. Unless you are already sure that you want to be the type of lawyer you see in action, you may miss out on other opportunities for which you'd be better suited. So don't stop there. Track down every lawyer you can and talk to them. Each has a story to tell about how they decided to become a lawyer and what they like and don't like about it. Most lawyers would be more than happy to talk to you. As you listen to their stories, though, keep several things in mind.

Watch out for the generation gap. The longer one has been a lawyer, the more likely he or she will enjoy being a lawyer. First, they have stuck it out when they could have switched careers long ago. This alone says something. Second, these lawyers are more likely to be at the top of their careers in terms of earnings, control of their professional lives, and power within their organizations. And third, the practice of law has gotten more intense, competitive, and businesslike since those lawyers rose through the ranks.

To get the most current information, after your discussion with a more experienced lawyer ask that lawyer to refer you to a newer lawyer. Someone they work with who's been out of law school five years or less. Then interview that lawyer too. The differences in perspective will tell you a lot about where law has been going.

Talk to as many newer lawyers as you can. The burdens and stress caused by changes in the legal profession are felt most strongly by newer lawyers. And newer lawyers are having the types of experiences that you are likely to have if you become a lawyer. Because their experiences and backgrounds are more likely to be similar to yours, their advice may be more helpful to you. As a general rule, it is a good idea to seek advice from those who are like you in background, goals, and work preferences. Their advice is most likely to focus on the issues that are important to you.


One of the cardinal rules of cross-examination is never ask a question if you don't already know the answer. During cross-examination at a trial, you're trying to control or undercut the testimony of a witness called by the other side by getting him or her to admit facts helpful to your side. That's not what you want to do in your informational interviews of lawyers. Instead, you're really conducting what lawyers call a discovery deposition. A series of questions intended to find out as much as possible about what a person knows about a given subject.

Learning on the Job

Your interviews with lawyers will happen more spontaneously and more frequently if you're working with lawyers. In addition, if you're actually working with lawyers, you may be able to pick up information that no lawyer would think to tell you. You'll see how a particular legal office works and can use your own intuition to judge whether you'd enjoy working in a place like that on a long-term basis.

Getting work in a law office before you go to law school isn't always easy, but it can be done. The most accessible way is through a formal intern or extern program run by your college. Some colleges have personnel who solicit alumni to take in a student over a midwinter or spring break, or even over the summer.

If your school doesn't have an extern program, or if you're not accepted into it, you'll have to find a job on your own. Ask friends, family, and any professors you know if they have any contacts at law firms or corporate law departments. Seek out students who worked with legal employers in the past. (Even if your school can't help you find a legal job, they may have a list of those who worked in legal jobs in the past.) The longer you're willing to work (most law firms don't hire non-legal personnel for the summer) and the less pay you'll accept, the greater the likelihood you'll land something.

If you can't land a paying job with a legal employer, think about volunteering at a law firm, corporation, government office, court, or bar association for a summer, or even for a month of the summer. The short-term financial sacrifice may be worth it in the long run.

Career Planning and Placement

The career planning office at your college offers you a variety of truly useful services. You may think that you've already narrowed your career choices down to law and something else. Why not find out what professional aptitude and skills assessment tests suggest you might like?

The career planning office can also help place you with a potential employer. That office probably coordinates any internship program run by your school, and collects information about various industries, professions, and companies. It's the place where employers will post information about job openings, leave sign-ups for job or informational interviews, and review resumes left on file by students. Take advantage of your career planning office. Get to know what types of information are available there. And get to know the folks who work there. They can tip you off to special opportunities open to only a few students.

Many colleges have specialized pre-law advisers. These counselors focus on helping you design an undergraduate course of study geared to preparing you for law, keeping current on the requirements for admission to law schools, and understanding the opportunities available in the legal job market. Track down your pre-law adviser early in your college years. You'll get helpful advice and will develop another potential source of contacts with practicing lawyers.

Alternative Summary

Harrison is the founder of BCG Attorney Search and several companies in the legal employment space that collectively gets thousands of attorneys jobs each year. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placement attract millions of reads each year. Harrison is widely considered the most successful recruiter in the United States and personally places multiple attorneys most weeks. His articles on legal search and placement are read by attorneys, law students and others millions of times per year.

More about Harrison

About LawCrossing

LawCrossing has received tens of thousands of attorneys jobs and has been the leading legal job board in the United States for almost two decades. LawCrossing helps attorneys dramatically improve their careers by locating every legal job opening in the market. Unlike other job sites, LawCrossing consolidates every job in the legal market and posts jobs regardless of whether or not an employer is paying. LawCrossing takes your legal career seriously and understands the legal profession. For more information, please visit
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