I have a confession to make. My 2L summer, I worked at a big firm. If you don’t think that is very exciting, worry not—that is not itself the big confession.
The big confession is the reason why I did it. Everyone in law school was doing it. And why wouldn’t they? After all, big firms sponsored events at my law school. They bought us Chipotle burritos for lunch! People on law review talked about big firms and they were referenced with pride in my law school musical. During OCI, I got free umbrellas, headphones, and pens with big firm names written all over them. In the maelstrom of big firm visibility, I came to believe that if I did not go to a big firm, I was pursuing an unprestigious career path and others would look down on me.
Yes, I had a solo in the musical my first year of law school. And you thought big firms were prestigious…
So off I went to this prestigious, high paying summer job that I saw as the brass ring. My classmates, professors, non-law school friends, and mom and dad would all be so proud.
The only problem was… I didn’t like it.
The people at the firm were kind and interesting people and the work was definitely substantive but it just didn’t fit me. So I spent my summer working out as often as I could to distract myself from the work. I hit Zumba class hard without even a hint of irony. I even watched a full season of So You Think You Can Dance, including the dance competition episode and the elimination episode, and trust me when I say that is a BIG commitment.
Fortunately, I also did something actually helpful, which was intern at the local prosecutor’s office with the time left in my summer. As the fact that firm work was not a fit for me slowly seeped into my consciousness and before I admitted it openly, I started desperately trying to find work for the remaining four weeks in the summer that could plausibly lead non-firm employers to want to hire me someday. This included a plea to the prosecutor’s office near my parent’s house to let me volunteer for four weeks, which despite my asking in July, they kindly let me do.
At the prosecutor’s office, I got a taste of something I really enjoyed. I went to hearings, sat in on a high-profile murder trial, did research and recommended whether certain cases were worth prosecuting to my supervisor, and attempted* to sit in on an autopsy after making friends with the coroner when we were both waiting for a hearing to start.
Still, I had not found the right fit yet. It eventually dawned on me that I was looking to find someone; a real person, not an idea or a TV character, who had my dream job.
Then, Clark Neily from the Institute for Justice came to my law school to speak about his job, litigating for liberty. He talked about suing the government when they violated constitutional rights and removing barriers to entry so hardworking people could earn an honest living. He talked about working one on one with clients, litigating cutting-edge issues, and getting to take depositions and argue at hearings in his first year of practice. I had found a real life person doing the things I actually wanted to do!
Once I found a real life person doing my dream job, everything fell into place. I tailored the rest of my law school experience around trying to get a job at the Institute for Justice. I networked with attorneys working there, kept up to date on all of their cases, got more active in the Federalist Society, and most importantly, I researched how IJ lawyers got to work at IJ and then tried to trace their career path. Through this research, I learned about a year-long fellowship program that would allow me to do work consistent with IJ’s right after law school and so I began my career in that program.
After my fellowship, I got hired by the Institute for Justice’s Minneapolis office, where I litigated for three years. When I started to feel that I wanted to work more with people and less on writing, I began the process of finding someone with my dream job all over over again. I started with my career counselor from law school and here I am now at Notre Dame.
Learn from my career search. The best way to find the right career path for you is to find a real human being who has your dream job and work backwards.
It is no help to have an idea of the kind of law you want to do if no one actually practices that kind of law in the real world. Do you want to practice international human rights law? Find a real person who does that. Figure out how they got that job. What was their first job out of law school? What did they do over their 1L and 2L summer. Think about doing that.
Do you want to be a sports agent? Talk to sports agents. Look up as many of them on LinkedIN as you can and put together the consistent threads running throughout all of their backgrounds.
The right career path for you is the right one for you; not the right one for everyone else and not what seems to be the most prestigious. So get out there and find someone with YOUR dream job.
*I had a vasovagal response (almost passed out) before the first incision, temporarily delaying the autopsy for 15 minutes, the three cops sitting in on the autopsy made fun of me, and my parents had to come pick me up because I felt too weak to drive home.