I had juice (I would say that I had coffee, but I actually had a Snapple) today with a paralegal who works for an immigration firm in Silicon Valley. She gave me some advice about what to do in law school and how to pick a field of practice. Here’s the gist of what she told me:
1. If you want to make money after graduation, pick a field that is always in demand. Tax law is a good one.
2. In-house and government lawyers tend to have the most reasonable hours. Some bankruptcy lawyers, for some reason, also have reasonable hours.
3. If you work for a big firm, your work will not seem very important, as you’ll be filing papers for your superiors for the first few years. If you work for a boutique firm, you will have more direct impact on the cases you’re assigned. People in general like to feel important, so a job at a boutique firm will probably make you happier than a job at a big firm.
4. During law school, don’t let other people’s study habits influence yours. Be honest with yourself about how much you need to study. If it only takes you one hour per day of studying to make good grades, don’t trick yourself into studying more than you need to. On the other hand, if you’re not making the grades you want, you need to study more and smarter.
5. During fall semester of first year, you should research some firms you may be interested in working for after graduation. Get in touch and try to schedule an informational interview with an associate from each of the firms. If you decide that you want to work for any of the firms after first year, send them your resume. This is the best way to get in touch with a potential employer; if you establish a personal connection with someone within the firm, you won’t be sending your resume into a void later on.
6. If, for whatever reason, you decide that you don’t want to be an attorney after law school but still want to work in the legal field, you can work as a paralegal or a judicial clerk. With many firms, you will be first in line (ahead of experienced paralegals) for a head paralegal position simply because you have a J.D. And head paralegals often earn as much as junior associates.