“What kind of law are you interested in?” Does this question flummox you? Don’t be ashamed if it does. It’s not uncommon for law students to have trouble answering this question, including 3Ls. Yet, if you have been reading my blog for long, you are probably starting to get a sense that committing to a practice area as soon as you can really helps your job search.
So if you find yourself unable to really articulate the practice area you’re interested in, what can you do? This blog post talks about how you can take action and this one talks about researching practice areas to find your best fit.
Do an externship in a practice area that interests you
If you have looked through the practice area guides and talked to several attorneys practicing in a particular area, you are probably starting to zero in on a practice area that really sounds interesting to you. The best way to know if it is a good fit is to actually go out and do it. Fortunately, Notre Dame has numerous externship options that give you the chance to do that! You can extern with a federal or state government agency, prosecutor’s office, public defender’s office, public interest organization, corporation, judge, and just about any non private firm option you can dream up.
Better yet, if you extern in a practice area you’re exploring and realize you really like it and want to pursue it, you will now have a work experience on your resume that is directly relevant to the area you’re trying to break into.
Talk to many different lawyers practicing in different areas
As I explained above, the best way to know that a practice area is a good fit for you is to do it. The second best way is to talk to people who are doing it.
If you read the practice area guide and think that bankruptcy law sounds really interesting, make it your mission to meet as many bankruptcy lawyers as you can. Email them and ask to meet for coffee or talk on the phone and then ask them all about their work. Ask them what they do in a given day, what they like the most about their job, what they would change about their job if they could, and any advice they have for someone interested in pursuing a career as a bankruptcy attorney.
By hearing them talk about their work, you will get a sense of what bankruptcy law really involves and can start to assess if it would be a good fit for you. And you will be building connections with attorneys working in that area in the process. Because you will be networking with an eye toward learning more about the practice area and not toward getting a job, your networking meetings will be more authentic and you will build higher quality connections.
As a Notre Dame student, you have access to an incredible alumni network but it doesn’t do you a bit of good if you don’t take advantage of it. If you want guidance in finding alumni, writing an outreach email, questions to ask in a networking meeting, following-up after a meeting, or anything else that happens in the networking process, reach out out to the CDO. Coaching networking is one of our favorite things!
Over the summer but especially during the school year, you will have the chance to go to events and hear attorneys working in a variety of different practice areas speak about their experience. During the school year, there are bound to be 2-3 incredible talks a week in the law school. Sometimes, the schedule is so packed that there are 3 great conflicting events taking place at the same time. You are in a very lucky position. Really successful attorneys are coming to you in South Bend to talk about their work and how they got where they are. And the odds are that most of them would be happy to grab lunch or coffee with you before or after their event.
The next time you have the option of working in Eck Commons over your lunch hour or attending one of these talks, attend one of the talks. Hearing attorneys speak about their work experience is invaluable and Notre Dame’s strong position in the legal community means that we consistently bring amazing attorneys back to campus multiple times a week. But as with out great alumni network, if you don’t take advantage of these talks, they don’t do you a bit of good.
Talk to the CDO
There is a lot of information in this blog post and Part I. I get it. If you just want someone who you can speak with and download all of your thoughts to, schedule an appointment with one of us. As we talk about what you did and didn’t like about your summer job, practice areas that appeal to you from the practice area guides, and things you have learned from attorneys you have spoken with, we can use those data points to have a productive conversation about different practice areas that might fit with you.
A practice area you like is closer than you think but you have to devote time to the research process to get there. If you’re feeling stuck, a CDO counselor is just a phone call or email away.
To get more information on finding which practice area fits with you, read “Figuring Out Which Practice Area is Right For You Part I: Research.”