Some of us know going into law school what we want to do, but many others just know we want to be a lawyer without a specific idea of the area or type of law we want to practice. And going through law school can make things even blurrier because suddenly we’re so overwhelmed with feeling miserable that we just want to get through it. But regardless of whether you’re in school with a laser-like focus about what you want to do or are just kind of going through the curriculum, hoping something sticks–there are two things you have to do to help form the lawyer you will be: 1) gain foundational skills and 2) diversify your legal experiences.
Regardless of the type of attorney you want to be, you must MUST must build a strong foundation of basic lawyering skills. Don’t ignore certain areas because they bore you, scare you, or think it’s something you’ll never do. Good lawyers are strong writers, researchers, and public speakers. Take courses, participate in teams, clinics, internships that will increase these skills. These skills are transferrable to any area of law and you need to feel secure in all three of these areas. When I first started law school, my writing wasn’t great. It stung to read the edits and critiques. I would try to soothe it by telling myself that I was going to be a litigator anyway so who cares if my writing wasn’t great? That is totally the wrong mindset! Thankfully, I snapped out of this when a professor reminded us that lawyers are writers. We write more than anything else and you better hone that skill as much as possible. If you’re avoiding one of these main skills ask why? And then push yourself to do better. You want to make sure you’re the type of attorney that can take on challenges and produce quality work and that means ensuring that the courses you take strengthen your basic skills.
“Ok, but how do I get that job I want or even figure out what job I want?”
You have to expose yourself to new experiences–either in the specific area you’re sure you want to practice in or in various others so that you get a sense of what you want to do. Do different externships in different areas so that you are sure you know what you want to pursue in the summer. My fall internship at the governor’s office revealed to me how little I wanted to do government work–I liked my group and the work I was doing, but once the shine of gov’t work wore off, I saw how detached I would feel from the community-based lawyering I wanted to do. That’s not the case for every gov’t attorney, but it’s what I realized would happen to me. So I moved on to something else. And that’s really what happens to most of us. We go in with a vague idea or a specific goal and fall into something that just feels right. Finally, take bar courses! I know that’s an unpopular opinion, but it helps you see what is out there–and it could even ignite a passion you never knew existed. I imagine that’s actually how most tax lawyers are created…
Regardless of where you are now, know that you hold the power to forge your career and with the right skills and knowledge in self, you’ll be a great lawyer.