Transitioning: Career and Professional Development

  • Your transition into law school is filled with planning and preparation. Spending some time thinking about your career and professional development needs is a critical component in such planning and preparation. The Office of Professional Development wants you to consider self-assessment, goal setting, and exploration as you make your transition into the legal profession.

    Assess
    As you begin your transition to law school, spend part of your summer assessing your skills, values, and employment preferences. Skills assessment includes looking for your strengths and weaknesses, and identifying areas for continued improvement and training. In addition, professional values tell you what to look for in employment opportunities, what associations to join, and who is needed to be key individuals in your network. Likewise, thinking about why you want to be a lawyer or how and where you wish to use your law degree is important when deciding whether or not to apply for a particular position.


    Consider using our Pre-Law School Assessment Worksheets to get started. Then, during your first semester of law school, meet with a member of the Office of Professional Development to analyze your assessment and to plan a strategy.

    For additional assessment tools, consider Mind Tools or CareerOneStop.

    Explore
    Following self-assessment you will no doubt have some questions. Questions about what skills you will need to be a successful lawyer; how to understand the differences in private practice, government service, or in-house counsel; what options are available for alternative careers; how to define a practice area; or what the difference between litigation and transactional work really means. These are great questions that require you to explore. 


    Exploration can begin before law school. Consider reviewing the resources and information made available by NALP or the American Bar Association. In addition, get to know members of the profession by scheduling informational interviews with Capital alumni. Informational interviews are a great way to learn and to expand your network. To find attorneys, use Martindale-Hubbell, an online resource that lets you find individuals, law firms, and corporations based on location and practice area.

    Exploring can also be done by reading. Consider any of the following books as helpful tools in understanding the legal profession as well as your career and professional development

    • Should You Really Be a Lawyer?: The Guide to Smart Career Choices Before, During & After Law School by Deborah Schneider (ISBN-10: 0940675617; ISBN-13: 978-0940675612)

    • The Official Guide to Legal Specialties by Lisa L. Abrams (ISBN-10: 0159003911; ISBN-13: 978-0159003916)

    • The New What Can You Do With a Law Degree: A Lawyer's Guide to Career Satisfaction Inside, Outside & Around the Law by Larry Richard Ph.D. and Tanya Hanson J.D (ISBN-10: 0940675714; ISBN-13: 978-0940675711)

    • 50 Unique Legal Paths: How to Find the Right Job by Ursula Furi-Perry (ISBN-10: 1590319974; ISBN-13: 978-1590319970)

    • Nonlegal Careers for Lawyers by Gary A. Munneke, William D. Henslee, and Ellen S. Wayne (ISBN-10: 1590316754; ISBN-13: 978-1590316757)

    • Managing Your Legal Career: Best Practices for Creating the Career You Want by Richard L. Hermann (ISBN-10: 1604429003; ISBN-13: 978-1604429008)

    Set Goals
    Part of planning is setting goals. First-year goals should fall into two categories: academic and professional. Academic goals focus on success in school and can focus on study habits, time management, and class preparation.

    When setting goals, make them S.M.A.R.T. Goals. George Doran, Arthur Miller, and James Cunningham in an article titled, "There’s a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management’s goals and objectives," outlined five key guidelines to be used when defining an employee's goals (Management Review, Nov 1981, Volume 70 Issue 11). Slightly modified for career and professional development, the following five guidelines can be used in defining your SMART career and professional goals.

    • SPECIFIC - Define a specific target. Use who, what, when, where, why, and which to help you. 
    • MEASURABLE - Define how you will measure success or failure.
    • ATTAINABLE - Make the target realistic, practical.
    • RELEVANT - Keep the target relevant to you and your success.
    • TIME-BOUND - Set a time frame in which to meet the target.

    Career and professional development goals may include scheduling informational interviews, exploring career paths or practice areas, updating a resume, etc. Make your goals meaningful.