So You Want to Work In... a Law Firm
While working in a legal environment isn’t by any means required to apply to law school, we encourage our students to experience the law firm environment firsthand prior to committing three years of time and tuition money. Approximately 70% of law students work in a firm after graduation, so even if practicing law isn’t your long-term goal, exploring the firm environment is recommended.
What to Look For
Don’t focus on titles: In most law firms there isn’t a big difference between being an intern (paid or unpaid) and having a part-time job. The responsibilities will be the same, and the important thing is that you can use your powers of observation to see how the lawyers are spending their time. Common job titles include: Paralegal, Law Clerk, Legal Assistant, Runner, Legal Secretary and more. A great deal of overlap exists between job descriptions and you should be prepared to spend at least part of your time doing mundane tasks. Remember the important thing to focus on is what type of work the lawyers are doing, since that is where you are presumably headed. It’s likely you will start out at the bottom, but as you prove yourself, often you’ll be given more interesting responsibilities.
Where to Look
In order to find a law firm opportunity, it’s especially important to use your network because often times students find law firm jobs by inheriting a friend’s old position. Because so many pre-law students intern for law firms during college or work full-time in a firm for a year or two prior to starting law school, turnover tends to be high. Many law firms expedite the hiring process by asking the current employee for recommendations of friends who are interested in the position. Start asking your friends, fellow classmates, members of pre-law organizations and sorority or fraternity members if they anticipate leaving their position in the future. Having someone else put in a good word for you is a quick way to get your resume on top of the pile.
Law firms often target students by placing ads in the classifieds section of The Daily Texan. The Austin American Statesman has a separate section for legal job opportunities and several openings are posted at any given time. AccessUT, Hirealonghorn.org and BTT Gateway are also great search engines for these types of positions.
Exploring Law Firm Positions
Book of Lists: If you know you want to work for a large, prestigious firm, take a look at the Book of Lists section in our Career Resource Library. You’ll find the top 25 law firms in various cities across the country, including Houston, Dallas, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, New York, and of course, Austin. Make a copy of the list to take home with you and then start systematically contacting each firm to inquire about any openings. Start with the Employment page of each firm’s website.
Martindale: If you know you want to work in a particular specialization (environmental law, immigration law, etc.), go to the Martindale-Hubbell lawyer locator service at www.martindale.com to find a list of all firms in a particular city practicing that specialty. This website also lists the names of lawyers working at each firm and includes information such as their alma mater, foreign languages they speak and more. You can craft an email targeting a specific hiring partner to ask about openings (this method works best for internships and when you can point out something specific you have in common with the attorney (“I too speak French and spent a year in Paris”) or just use the information to go directly to the firm’s human resources department. This method doesn’t work as well for corporate law or for those of you not tied to a particular specialty, as the list of law firms for each city quickly becomes overwhelming.
Pre-Law Student Stories
Read the stories of current and past pre-law students as they consider the strengths of their liberal arts degrees and as they prepare for law school and working in the profession.
Hisham Srour: After a semester in Argentina interning for a human rights organization, an internship with the American Bar Association in D.C. and other social justice experiences, Hisham wants to clerk for a judge after graduation, with the ultimate aim of becoming a federal judge. Read Hisham's story on the "Making Majors Work" webpage and scrolling down to "Becoming a Better Lawyer."
Eduardo Gardea: Eduardo interned for GSBT, LLP, an asset protection and estate planning law firm in Austin. Eduardo graduated in May 2008 and spent the summer working at GSBT and preparing for the LSAT. Read Eduardo's story on the "Making Internships Work" webpage.
Qualities & Skills Needed to Succeed in a Law Firm
Law firms look for students who can function in a professional environment (dress professionally, answer the phone professionally, etc.). Being dependable is key. Many firms look for bilingual students. The ability to multi-task and prioritize is important. You’ll also need a strong resume prior to applying so contact the front desk for an appointment with a career coach or check out the Resumes/Coverletters section to get started!
Craft a compelling resume and cover letter. Demonstrate your interest in legal affairs and your strong organizational and analytical skills in your documents. For help getting started, use our online resume-building tool, OptimalResume. Then bring in your documents for a review with a LACS Career Coach, call for appointment: 512-471-7900.
Research information about law firms. Consider the location, major departments/practices, base salaries, perks, reviews, stats, quality of life meters, clients and profiles. Check out the Vault Guide to the Top 100 Law Firms for help researching and evaluating all these areas, the guide is available in the LACS Career Resource Library, (FAC 18). Learn more about the online version of Vault here!
Network with friends, family, colleagues, professors and others who may work in or know someone who works in the legal profession. Check out the Texas Exes Career Network to connect with UT alumni working in law firms in the area of specialization and location of interest to you - alumni can offer professional and relevant advice about your interests and job search.
WHAT ARE COMMON LAW FIRM TITLES?
- Law Clerk
- Legal Assistant
- Legal Secretary
- Legal Intern
NETWORK YOUR WAY INTO A LAW FIRM
Start asking your friends, fellow classmates, members of pre-law organizations and sorority or fraternity members if they anticipate leaving their position in the future. Having someone else put in a good word for you is a quick way to get your resume on top of the pile.