Your First Job Isn’t Forever

The first job that you get out of law school is just that—your first job. You don’t have to be stuck in that job forever. So if you are starting to suspect that you will not have your ideal job first thing out of law school, don’t get too stressed. Remember— your first job is your first job; not your forever job.

In my life as a lawyer and time working as a career counselor, I have seen an almost endless combination of career transitions. I have seen people transition from big law to working in house, from public interest to a prestigious DOJ position, from big law to public interest, from working as a lawyer to working in a JD preferred position, from small firm to big law, and on and on.

What this experience has taught me is that instead of fretting about one’s first job out of law school, it is more productive to make a five year plan and then to try to land a job that can get you to your ideal five years out of law school job.

So if you know that you want to be working for the DOJ in five years, part of your strategy should definitely involve applying for DOJ honors but if you don’t get a rare DOJ honors position, don’t count yourself out. Instead, apply for jobs that will make you qualified to work for the DOJ a few years down the line.

For example, I have a friend who works for the DOJ Division that assists the President in deciding who to pardon for federal criminal offenses. Prior to that, she took a public interest fellowship at a non-profit and completed a project that focused on helping men with criminal law records with their family law issues. She had no prior experience working for the DOJ or in the federal government but she had the subject matter expertise so she got the job.

Similarly, I was recently working with an alumnus who never had any big law experience and took a job with a small immigration firm as his first job out of law school. Now, big law firms with strong immigration practices are actively recruiting him because of the immigration expertise he has acquired at his small firm.

So if you see a job posting on IrishLink or get an email from a CDO counselor about a position they think you might be a good fit for, don’t discard it because it doesn’t appear to be exactly what you want. That position could be the perfect entry point that leads to your dream job in a few short years.

You might be surprised how a job posting that looks totally unrelated to what you want to do is actually the ideal first step. I see people fall into this trap most commonly with public interest. I hear a lot that people are concerned that if they start their career in a public interest fellowship or working for a non-profit that they will never be able to leave public interest. But that is very far from true.

To prove it, I took a look at the list of 2010 Skadden Fellows (a very popular and well known public interest fellowship) to see what they are doing today. By definition, all Skadden Fellows start their careers by working for a non-profit. While several 2010 Skadden Fellows are still working in public interest, many of them are doing other things, such as working as:

  • Title IX Coordinator, Wellesley College
  • Special Counsel to the First Deputy Commissioner, New York City Department of Social Services, Human Resources Administration
  • Visiting Assistant Clinical Professor; Director, Community Justice Clinic, SUNY Buffalo School of Law
  • Attorney, New York City Commission on Human Rights
  • Associate Professor, The University of Iowa College of Law
  • Assistant U.S. Attorney, U.S. Attorney Office for the District of Rhode Island
  • Alternative Dispute Resolution Coordinator, State of New Hampshire, Judicial Branch
  • Robert M. Cover Teaching Fellow; Clinical Lecturer in Law, Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization Yale Law School

So here is definitive proof that many people that start their careers in public interest go on to work at universities, be professors, work in high-level government positions, and even go on to be United States Attorneys.

If you know that your dream job is and want to create a plan to get there, schedule an appointment with a CDO counselor. We’re here to help craft long-term strategies. While we definitely want to help you land that first job out of law school, helping you come up with longer-term goals and plans to reach them is a big part of what we do too.


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