Hillary graduated from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville with a degree in English-Creative Writing. She then returned to her hometown of Memphis to pursue a law degree at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law. Hillary took the bar and received her law license from the state of Tennessee, where she has practiced in the fields of administrative law, criminal law, and general civil practice. She is currently pursuing her love for writing as a freelance writer and editor in Nashville, TN. She enjoys cooking, reading novels, spending time with friends and family, and trying new restaurants.
As a college student hoping to pursue a law degree, it can be difficult to plot your path in a challenging economy oversaturated with lawyers. Making the decision to apply to law school is the first step, but there are many ways that you can set yourself up for success in the working world while you are in college and in law school. In this article I will give you a few tips for success while clearing up some common misconceptions about the law school experience and legal profession.
It has been my experience that there are many myths floating around about law school, some of which I myself was guilty of believing prior to my first year in school. First of all, you should know that law school does not actually teach you everything you need to know about the law. In fact, many law schools teach you very little about how to be a lawyer in the everyday, working sense of the term. Learning to practice law most often comes with work experience in the legal field, while the process of attending law school retrains your brain to learn and think differently than you have in the past.
The learning process in law school is meant to nurture your analytical thinking skills, not to teach you about every law ever written in your jurisdiction. I can almost guarantee that you will find yourself sitting at the Thanksgiving dinner table surrounded by relatives begging you for free legal advice about their various problems. You will sit there, puzzled, wondering how you missed the day in class when your peers learned the answers to these legal questions. Don’t panic! Just because you don’t have expertise in family law, property issues, wills and trusts, and whatever other issues your Aunt Sue is experiencing at that moment does not mean that you are incapable of practicing law. Legal knowledge and expertise often comes from working in a specific area during a clerkship or legal job. It is almost certain that you will never know every single answer to all the legal questions thrown at you by family, friends, and random strangers, so relax, find your area of interest, and begin the process of becoming an expert in that field.
When determining what area of law you might like the most, consider your own background, passions, and experiences. Your own personal interests should help guide your legal career path, and this process can begin during your time in college. Many pre-law students assume that they need to major in political science or English in order to be an attractive candidate for law school. However, many law schools seek out students from a variety of backgrounds and undergraduate majors in order to diversify their student bodies. Spend your time in college pursuing a major you enjoy, and focus your efforts on excelling in that major to gain admission to the law school of your choice.
An undergraduate major in your personal area of interest can both enrich and focus your job hunt down the road because the legal profession covers almost every area of ordinary life. Lawyers can specialize in a variety of areas, from personal injury to patent law to real estate to family matters. Your own interests outside of the law can shape your career path within the legal profession and can help you truly enjoy practicing in your specific area. For example, if you have an interest in engineering, you could major in engineering and explore jobs with law firms who focus their practice on construction and engineering litigation. Likewise, an undergraduate music major could find success at a firm focusing on music industry recording contracts or intellectual property. The possibilities are limitless, and a specific interest or passion can make you unique amongst the crowd of other applicants for legal jobs.
Discovering your areas of interest and matching those interests to a career in law can be a challenge, especially when students do not feel that they know enough to choose a specific direction. In my experience, this feeling is typical for the majority of law students. For students with this type of confusion, I would suggest seeking out legal clerkships in a variety of areas of law during your time in law school. The reality of the legal profession is that you really don’t know what to expect until you are in the trenches and doing the work. Finding work with a firm or an attorney who allows you hands on experience with specific practice areas gives you insight into the direction you would like to pursue in your legal career. Many law schools also offer externships that give you get course credit and work experience with participating firms while you are still in school. Work experience in the legal profession is the best way to find your specific areas of interest and to weed out the areas that you dislike. You will not know you don’t like a certain type of law until you try practicing in that area, so get out there and get work experience until you find your niche.