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Thursday, December 4, 2014

How to Figure Out What You Want to do In Law School

By Mo Chanmugham, Esq.

Congratulations, you made it to law school! You are on your way to creating a great career for yourself. You know you want to do something meaningful with your life, you know you want to help people, and you know you want an interesting and challenging job. Then out of nowhere someone asks you that dreaded question, “What type of law do you want to practice?” and you freeze up like a statue. Why is it so hard to answer this question?

Lack of Clarity Leads to Indecision

Most first year law students enter law school with a desire to “be a lawyer” but very few actually know what kind of law they want to practice after they graduate. The reason is because while the idea of a lawyer is familiar to most of society, what lawyers actually do on a daily basis is not. Add to that mystery, the myriad of practice areas, types of employers, and legal issues one could get involved with and the average law student is left feeling overwhelmed with having to make a choice.

Turn Your Big Decision into a Small One

If you’re interested in everything from criminal law to corporate law and you are not sure what you want to do, one way to help make your decision is to break it down into smaller chunks. By focusing on the smaller decisions you will be able to piece together an answer that addresses the big question.

Build a Decision Tree

Within each practice area there is a decision tree of options that can take you down several different career paths based on the types of issues that you care about, the industry that interests you, the types of employers you want work for, and the types of clients who you want to help.

For example, someone interested in the area of Intellectual Property may want to work in the entertainment industry, at a law firm, helping a music publishing company license the copyright to their collection of songs or they may want to work in-house at a life sciences company, as a patent associate, filing patent applications.   
  • Intellectual Property ---> Practice Area 
    • Entertainment Industry ---> Industry  
      • Law Firm ---> Type of Employer 
        • Music Publisher ---> Type of Client
          • Licensing of Music ---> Type of Legal Issue (Copyright)

  • Intellectual Property ---> Practice Area  
    • Life Sciences ---> Industry  
      • Corporation ---> Type of Employer
        • Corporation ---> Type of Client
          • Filing Patent Applications ---> Type of Legal Issue (Patents)
As you can see, to say that you are interested in Intellectual Property is just scratching the surface of what you need to know in order to find the right job for you. A student interested in the entertainment issues within IP is probably not going to also be interested in the science aspects of IP and vice versa.

Connect the Dots
Your goal with a decision tree is to go from your academic understating of a particular area of law and connect it to what it looks like in the real world. By creating a decision tree using these five categories (Practice Area, Industry, Type of Employer, Type of Client, and Type of Legal Issue) you can quickly connect the dots between school and work life. This clarity will allow you to have more effective conversations with alumni and lawyers that you meet during your job search.

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