Legal Practice

What, Like it’s Fancy? Understanding Prestige in the Legal Industry

I spoke recently on tiktok about not grasping how “prestigious” it was to work for the governor’s legal team when I was in law school. It just didn’t set on how other folks may view that as important or how I could leverage that into another opportunity. I just had no clue! And for a lot of us first-gen, low income kids who grow up detached/excluded from professional spaces, who don’t know any attorneys or people in the field, we often fail to see prestige.

Why is that important? Because, as always, the legal industry loves its systems of power. Being able to create hierarchies even within the industry means a lot. And it’s important for us to at least gain an understanding of this standard just to simply move about our career a little easier.

Disclaimer–you can reject this standard and you can avoid these opportunities if you wish. It is not an absolute to participate in this programs/positions to have a successful career (because remember–you define your success), but it’s important to be aware of how other’s view things so that you’re not going into situations with a lack of understanding.

Because lack of understanding can lead to missed opportunities. Like for me, I had no idea clerking was seen as prestigious especially the higher your court if your specific judge. To me, it seemed kind of boring. I was so unaware that I didn’t see that the access to judges, the experience of writing/editing was so much more important than how dull the work looked.

So for this going in dark, here’s the gist:

  • If you’re clerking, the higher the court the better.
  • If you’re in government work, the closer you can get to the principal the better
  • Private practice, obvi go Big Law
  • Even in the legal aid world, if you can enter your career on funded fellowship then you’re given a little extra shine.

Now, do I personally believe the hype that these positions by their nature mean the person is better equipped or more talented, etc? Of course not. This is all silly. But I don’t want to gloss over the potential that these positions can provide, especially if you’re prepared to act on them.

Again, worth emphasizing that most of these roles lead to other positions of power and it’s important we consider taking advantage of these opportunities, especially because the current structure of who takes on these roles is incredibly homogenous–look at the structure of the SCOTUS clerks this year: 66% male and 84% white, womp womp.

So when you’re considering options know that some come with an extra shine. And just because the industry thinks a position is prestigious doesn’t mean you have to accept it but having the awareness of what you’re say yes or no to will make sure you’re making informed decisions and developing the career that you want.