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Five Things to Remember After Law School

Congratulations! You've just graduated Juris Doctor from a reputable law school and are looking ahead to an exciting career practicing law. But while you may be finished with your course work, the hard work of being a law professional has just begun. Don't worry. You have a solid foundation from your studies – and these five tips to help you get off on the right foot.

Jun 22, 2016
  • Student Tips

test The legal job market has changed a lot in the past decade. Although the US has begun to see increased rates of employment after record lows during the recession, competition for jobs is on the rise and law firms are looking beyond traditional qualifications for multi-faceted candidates who have the skills for the future. And it's not just law firms that are changing. The newest law graduates have different priorities and expectations than their predecessors. So what can you do to maximize the potential of your law degree and enter the legal job market with an advantage? Use these five tips to make the most of your job search, your first position, and your future career.

1. Stay connected
We all know networking is a key to success in the modern world, but for recent law school graduates getting connected, and staying connected is a prerequisite. The connections you make as a young lawyer can shape and direct the course of your career, but it's important to remember and maintain those you made before graduation. Obviously, you intend to keep in touch with your mentor, but don't forget former classmates, inspiring professors, and even fellow summer associates who can all provide help and support. And don't rely on the ease of modern social media and digital communication. Go old-school on your old school companions and meet face to face. Forging real human connections and building those relationships in the real world will be much more effective, and meaningful, than an occasional 'like' or professional 'endorsement.'

2. This is not the end...
As you celebrate your graduation and pack up your student accommodations, it's tempting to feel that you've finished the race and can now relax. Yes, your degree is a great accomplishment, but it's only the first step in what will, hopefully, be a decades-long career. Ideally, you have an idea of where you're heading, so don't loose sight of your goals. Your first job may not be ideal, but there will still be things you can learn and skills you can develop. Look for opportunities that will help your career trajectory and make sure that you demonstrate professionalism and commitment.

3. You don't know it all
It doesn't matter if you graduated at the top of your class, once you're out in the real world of law you will quickly realize that you know nothing. And that's a good thing. Law school is mainly about learning theory – and while some of yours studies may give you a glimpse into the practical application thereof, most of your active learning will happen in your first, second, and sixth position. In fact, one of the most important things you can learn as a legal professional is that you will never stop learning. Approach your career like you did your studies – take notes, ask questions when you must, develop skills outside of legal theory, and become adept at taking, and learning from criticism.

4. Be flexible...and decisive
Television and movies can make it seem like the only exciting legal profession is criminal law, but not every law student can become a criminal defense lawyer in New York City. Ideally, you should enter law school with some idea of the type of law you hope to practice, but that doesn't mean your path can't change along the way. Your summer associate position may give you a chance to explore your options or a project with one of your professors may have suggested some alternate career paths. Either way, be open to different opportunities but have a clear long-term goal. And don't forget to make your own opportunities – starting your own firm right out of law school may seem daunting, but for young lawyers with business skills, private practice can offer benefits that the job market can't.

5. Take care of yourself
Ultimately, the most important thing you can do to ensure a strong, vibrant, and meaningful career is to take care of yourself. Legal professionals encounter a lot of stress, and a career in law can take a toll on your mind, body, and soul. It can be tempting to work long hours, skip meals, and count running to meetings as exercise when you're a busy professional. But you won't be able to enjoy your success if your health fails or you have a mental breakdown. Instead, realize that your career is only a part of your life – make time for family and friends, cook a homemade meal from time to time, take walks in the park, and remember to use your heart as well as your head. Choose a position or practice that you enjoy, not just one that pays the bills.