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Top 5 Things Law Students Should Know About Jobs

Gordon Silver Professor of Law, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

As part of a shameless plug (and foreshadowing!) about our second book in Wolters Kluwer’s Survival Manual series (the Law Firm Job Survival Manual

1. You’re always “on.”

You never know where job leads will come from, and even if you’re not all suited up for an interview, you might run into someone who has a job lead. Your mental attitude is what needs to be “on.” You need to be respectful, friendly, and open—because your next job might come from someone who knows someone who knows someone who met you once. If you’re rude or disrespectful, then you’ve closed off the recipient of your disfavor from wanting to help you—ever.

2. Network, network, network.

Related to #1 is that you need to reach out and get yourself known. You can set up informational interviews (our book will have a great chapter on that!) with people who do the type of work that you might want to do. Meet with them. Ask them questions. (Come prepared.) Thank them after the interview. If you let people know that you’re interested in a job (or a field of law), then you’ve put the association “you + job” in their minds. REACH OUT.

3. Law is a team sport.

Unless you decide to be a solo practitioner, you’re going to work with people, and each of them will have a particular area of expertise. I’ve been a secretary, and I’ve worked with some fabulous administrative assistants. Let them know that you know that they’re experts in their field, and don’t micromanage how you want something done. General George Patton famously said, “Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.” At the same time, offer to pitch in and help with something that’s not part of your assignment. (You might not be able to bill time for helping, but if someone needs help, you should offer it.) Thinking of yourself as part of a team keeps you in the “we’re all in this together” mode that makes your life at work happier.

4. Know your limitations.

Some of you might be thinking of Clint Eastwood’s line, “Man’s got to know his limitations.” If you don’t like conflict, you shouldn’t be applying for a job as a litigator. If you don’t have a compulsive eye for detail, you shouldn’t be applying for a job that makes you proofread cross-references all day long. If you fit yourself into a job that goes against your grain, you will be miserable (and you will make your colleagues miserable, too).  Think about what makes you happy, and try to find work that matches your strengths.

5. You own your career. No one else does.

Throughout your time as a lawyer, you’re in charge of (1) doing a good job on your assignments, (2) thinking about the logical next steps that stem from your assignments, (3) offering to take on those logical next steps, and (4) generally thinking of ways to make yourself increasingly useful to your colleagues. Don’t sit around and wait for them to think about you. The more you put yourself in the center of the action, the more people will ask you to do, and the more you’ll learn.

The bottom line? Practicing law is a wonderful career, in part because the practice of law has endless variations. As you’re looking for work (and, yes, this economy makes it tough to find a job), spend some time doing a little introspection. If you can find a job that matches your strengths and gives you room to grow, I promise you that that job will not feel like work.

About the Author

Nancy B. Rapoport is the Gordon Silver Professor of Law at the William S. Boyd School of Law, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She researches how people (mostly lawyers, but sometimes businesspeople) behave, especially in the context of large chapter 11 bankruptcy cases, corporate governance issues, and in pop culture. Among her other books are Law School Survival Manual: From LSAT to Bar Exam (Aspen 2010) and Law Firm Job Survival Manual (forthcoming) (both co-authored with her husband, Jeff Van Niel).

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