Top 5 Make-or-Break Career Lessons They Don’t Teach You in Law School

Pursuing a career in law begins with the rigorous and rewarding experience of law school. While attending lectures, completing coursework, obtaining a degree and passing the bar exam are each badges of honor, working as an attorney requires much more than book smarts. In addition to knowing the law, you will also need to understand the nuances of the field in order to navigate your career, including:

What It Takes to Run Your Own Firm

It’s no secret that starting your own practice immediately out of law school is a much different arena than studying law in a classroom setting. Running your own firm means running your own business, which includes creating an entity, building a brand, advertising, bringing in clients, and when you’re first getting started solo, all of the administrative work such as accounting, time tracking, and taxes. Consider rounding out your education with online certificate courses in business, marketing, and other areas applicable to entrepreneurship.

What It Takes to Succeed at a Large Firm

If you prefer to work at an established firm rather than start your own, expect an entry-level position in document review. It’s the equivalent of paying your dues by combing through heaps of case paperwork that will land on your desk daily and marking important items. Learning to navigate office politics and building mentor-mentee relationships will help you work your way up. In any event, it will likely be a while before you are active in the courtroom. Be patient, professional, and deliberate.

How Judges Want to Hear Your Case

The long-form legal writing that you learn in law school is certainly necessary and valuable as a baseline skill. However, it’s not what you will be doing for your clients in trial. Judges usually prefer attorneys to get to the key points and present clear, compelling facts. Remember, in law school, you’re learning from academics. Some may have active practices, but most have chosen the former in place of the latter. Once you are out of school and working in the field, it’s time to apply the knowledge you have gained, think critically and evolve your approach (not simply recite the law).

Your Specific Practice Area

Your education in law is designed to provide a fundamental and broad view of the legal system. During this time, you should be considering the practice area that you will choose to pursue, whether it’s personal injury, medical malpractice, elder abuse, criminal defense—the possibilities are vast.

Once you have made your decision, your education will become self-led and much more focused. Keep in mind that state and local laws will come into play as well, and don’t be discouraged if your initial path turns out to be a detour. Many attorneys shift practice areas at least once in their careers.

Compassion and Purpose

Being a lawyer is not about having high-flying arguments in court. It’s not about being a shark, manipulating facts or bringing in a high income, either. Don’t succumb to the stereotypes. In order to succeed and, equally importantly, feel fulfilled as an attorney at law, your heart and soul have to be in it.

The hope for any attorney is that he or she can build a sound reputation in the field, develop a referral network, land solid cases with great clients and stay in business doing what they love—which is pursuing justice and serving the interests of individuals in need. Here is an example that will remind you why you’re looking to get into law.