Whether you are just starting to explore, or have committed to a career in law, this track offers resources, tips, and action steps to move your career search and preparation forward. See instructions on how to join the Law Track from your Handshake account to receive periodical newsletters and notifications of relevant events and opportunities.
Assess Your Interests, Values and Skills
The first step in beginning your career journey is to assess your interests, skills, strengths, goals, values and self to better understand you and your "story" thus far. Then, we can help you make sense of these reflections and create career exploration goals.
Interests: Use the tools below to clarify your interests as they may help to align you with careers and possible job titles based on your likes/dislikes:
- Career Cruising - Use Career Cruising to assess your interests, values and skills and obtain recommendations on career options and graduate programs that may be a good fit for you.
- MyNextMove - Explore career options and interests by keyword or industry, or take the short assessment to find potential career matches based on your interests.
- Strong Interest Inventory (SII) - Take this widely respected career interest inventory to find a fit between your personality and work. The SII compares your interests and preferences to people in general and to people who have been happy and satisfied in their chosen careers.
Values: Use the tool below to clarify your values as they may help to align you with potential work environments and organizations that match your passion(s) and core belief(s).
- Imperative - This online tool will help you evaluate how you can bring meaning and authenticity to your work as you identify your passion and core values. The initial assessment is free and can be brought to an appointment in the University Career Center for more conversation.
Skills/Strengths: Use the tools below to clarify your skills and strengths as they may help to align you with well suited job titles, work tasks and work environments.
- Career Onestop - Take this short skills assessment to learn more about your skills and how they match up to potential career ideas.
- Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) - Take this self-report questionnaire designed to make Jung’s theory of psychological types understandable and useful in everyday life. The MBTI is one of the most widely used instruments for understanding personality differences and how they impact decision-making styles, preferences for communication, work environments and for career development/exploration.
Want some coaching on where to begin? Not sure which Career Track is right for you? Make an appointment on Handshake for “Exploring Career Options”. We will be happy to discuss your interests and skills in a coaching relationship.
Before Your Appointment:
Explore Your Track
Law-related careers span a wide range of positions, requiring different combinations of education, training and work experience. Below is some information to get you started in your exploration.
- Should I Become an Attorney: A Roadmap for Thinking About Law School and
- Exploring and Planning for Law School: Expert Advice for College Freshmen and Sophomores
There are three different types of law degrees a person can earn in the U.S.:
- A Juris Doctor (JD), which allows an individual to practice law within the U.S. and, with successful passing of the state bar, become an attorney;
- The Master of Laws (LLM), which is an advanced law certification particularly desirable for international students wishing to gain global credentials and for JD graduates interested in advanced legal study and specialization; and
- The Doctor of Juridical Science (SJD), which is particularly helpful to those wanting to work as law professors in academic settings.
Different from the Master of Laws (LLM) are Master of Studies in Law (MSL), Master of Science of Law or Master of Legal Studies (MLS) or Juris Master (JM), which are master's degree offered by some law schools to students who wish to study the law but do not want to become attorneys. See, for example, the MSL at Northwestern , Yale and Northeastern. MLS programs may focus on regulatory compliance, intellectual property, negotiation and advocacy, etc.
Keep also in mind that depending on your interests and focus, you may not need to obtain a JD to work in a law-related career. For example, a Master in Public Policy or Administration (MPP/MPA) or even a Master in Business Administration (MBA) may offer a more direct path for your specific goals. See, for example, this opinion on MPP/MPA vs. JD for a career in public service or questions to ask yourself should you consider getting a Master's in Public Policy. Either degree (MPA and MPP) can prepare you for careers in government, associations and advocacy groups, the nonprofit sector and the private sector. An MPP course of study will typically include more classes in economics and statistics and delve deeper into policy research and analysis whereas an MPA will include more classes in administration and leadership and focus more on management. See where MPA/MPP graduates work and what they earn.
If an advanced degree is not in your (immediate) plans, positions as paralegal or legal assistant may be an option. Paralegals provide support to attorneys in every area of the law in law offices, government agencies and corporations by researching legal precedent, performing investigative work on cases and preparing legal documents. Many UM graduates obtain this type of positions without pursuing additional paralegal certification or paralegal studies.
As you consider the possibility of pursuing a legal career, reflect on how the following skills, values and experiences (as identified by the American Bar Association) match your profile and/or sound enticing to develop:
- Problem Solving
- Critical Reading
- Writing and Editing
- Oral Communication and Listening
- Organization and Management
- Public Service and Promotion of Justice
- Relationship-building and Collaboration
- Background Knowledge
- Exposure to the Law
How can you develop these skills and experiences? Below are a few ideas to get you started:
- Consult with your pre-law academic advisor to devise a relevant course of study although no specific major nor classes will be required
- Meet with a career coach in the UM University Career Center to discuss your preparation beyond the classroom
- Join a pre-law or law-related student organization on campus or a service organization with a focus or cause close to your heart
- Reach out to UM departments in your major and beyond to engage in science or social science research opportunities, consider writing an honor thesis, or pursue other intellectually stimulating activities
- Check with local organizations for volunteer or paid opportunities in a variety of settings during the academic year and, especially, during the summer. See these sites for possible local volunteer pre-law opportunities and paid UM Student Employment, and check Handshakes for internships and job postings nationwide.
Typical Entry-Level Jobs
The nature and titles of entry-level jobs vary greatly depending on whether you will be starting your career in a law firm, goverment organization, business, industry, education, etc. Historically, jobs for which bar passage is required make up the largest group of jobs for recent law graduates, followed by law-related jobs (these are commonly referred to as "JD Advantage" or "JD Preferred" jobs) that do not require bar passage.
At least within a Big Law firm:
- Summer associates are current law students who have usually completed their second year of school and intern at a firm for the summer. They have not passed the bar exam and are not lawyers yet but, depending on their performance and the firm's needs, they may be recruited for full-time associate positions at the end of their term.
- Associates may be junior or senior attorneys who do not hold an ownership interest in the firm even if they have been employed by the firm for a number of years. First-year associates are entry-level junior attorneys and are usually recent law school graduates in their first year of law practice. Generally, they aim to be made a partner in the firm within several years and, when it does not happen, they are likely to move onto other career opportunities.
- Some firms will also have "non-partner-track" associates who, though performing satisfactorily as employees will not be promoted to partner.
- See What Law Firm Titles Mean: Of Counsel, Non-Equity Partner, Equity Partner Explained
According to the National Association for Law Placement, jobs in the JD Preferred/JD Advantage category may include, "a job as an alternative dispute resolution specialist, government regulatory analyst, FBI agent, and accountant. Also included might be jobs in personnel or human resources, jobs with investment banks, jobs with consulting firms, jobs doing compliance work for business and industry, jobs in law firm professional development, and jobs in law school career services offices, admissions offices, or other law school administrative offices. Doctors or nurses who plan to work in a litigation, insurance, or risk management setting or as expert witnesses could fall into this category, as could journalists and teachers (in a higher education setting) of law and law-related topics." See current openings for JD Required Entry Level Jobs and JD Preferred Entry Level Jobs on indeed.com.
Trends in legal education:
Applications to law school have been declining consistently for the past several years nationally and at UM. Law school tuition has been rising for a number of years. Fewer people are taking the LSAT and performing overall more poorly. Fewer law school graduates are successfully passing the bar. Legal jobs are more scarce and salaries have been stagnant.
In this less than favorable landscape, law schools have taken many significant steps to respond to these circumstances by reducing their class size and tweak their application processes; adjusting their admissions standards; augmenting their curriculum to better prepare their students; beefing up their career services; creating more clinics, externships, and professional opportunities to produce practice ready graduates; and stabilizing their tuition fees. The Law School Admission Council has increased the number of times the LSAT will be administered each year and a few schools have started accepting the GRE along with the LSAT for admission purposes (i.e., University of Arizona, Harvard, Northwestern University and Georgetown as of August 2017).
Although there have been fewer applicants to law school in recent years, those who indeed commit to attend are overall much better informed applicants than many of their predecessors. They can clearly and convincingly articulate why they want to pursue a legal education; they spend time talking to professionals to educate themselves; they research both legal and non-legal potential applications of their JD degree; they set specific criteria for targeting certain law schools; they know how much their degree is going to cost them and what their financial options are; they understand the realities of the current legal market and, probably above all, they are inwardly motivated.
Trends in legal practice:
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of legal occupations is projected to grow 5% from 2014 to 2024 but the legal profession is experiencing great change. The emergence of global competition from legal service outsourcers, increasing domestic competition from non-lawyer professionals and corporations such as LegalZoom, and advances in information technology are impacting law schools and transforming the delivery of legal services.
Build Your Pre-Law Community & Knowledge
Below are lots of ideas to tackle your exploration of legal education and practice, and prepare accordingly:
- Take a few picks from this reading list, developed by the LSAC, to learn about law school and legal education, the legal profession, biographies, jurisprudence and legal issues, and financing a law school education
- Familiarize yourself with law specialties to understand possibilities. Refer to Stanford Law School's Career Navigator. For more in-depth information, see The Official Guide to Legal Specialties: An Insider's Guide to Every Major Practice Area
- Peruse various types of legal jobs in the Occupational Outlook Handbook and in Legal Career Path to learn about the duties, education, pay, and outlook for many law-related positions
- Find answers to FAQs about Exploring and Planning For Law School: 50 Tips from 29 Experts
- Use the keyword feature to search the LSA Course Guide for courses with a law focus. Consult with your pre-law academic advisor to devise a relevant course of study although no specific major nor classes will be required
- Meet with a career coach in the UM University Career Center to discuss your goals and preparation beyond the classroom
- Subscribe to the University Career Center's Law Track to receive notifications of relevant programs, events and opportunities
- Monitor your Handshake account for law related postings and events
- Attend the UM Law Day in Fall
- Get involved with student organizations on campus with a pre-law focus (Kappa Alpha Pi, Delta Sigma Phi, Kappa Omega Alpha, Michigan Pre-Law Society, Black Undergraduate Law Association, Phi Alpha Delta, etc.) and others with a focus on issues important to you, whether it's about the environment, health access, social justice, etc. Consider also organizations and leadership positions that may help you develop relevant skills such as the Mock Trial and Debate Teams
- Reach out to UM departments in your major and beyond to engage in science or social science research opportunities
- Contact Michigan Law admissions (and other schools) to see if it is possible for you to sit in a class once
- Observe courtroom proceedings wherever and whenever you get the chance. Serve as a vounteer juror during Michigan Law (or other law schools') mock trials
- Check with local organizations for volunteer or paid opportunities in a variety of settings
- Contact lawyers and other individuals you may know in law-related careers to learn about options and conduct possible observations/shadowing. Widen your network through your parents, neighbors, congregation, friends, acquaintances, UM alumni networks, etc. and, of course, be sure to tap into UCAN, the University Career Alumni Network.
- Search also for people, groups or universities relevant to your interest through LinkedIn. Reach out to these individuals for informational interviews, preparation advice, shadowing opportunities and, eventually, application coaching. LinkedIn groups are a great way to expand your network, contribute to a community and get questions answered. See these tips on How to Network on LinkedIn and these additional Networking Resources on the University Career Center website.
- Consider subscribing and/or reading relevant newsletters and publications, and peruse the following websites for further exploration:
Want some coaching around navigating your Career Track? Interested in talking with a Career Coach about your goals and plans?
- Attend UM Law Day/Law-Related Immersions/One-on-one Consultations with Admissions Officers/other events related to your Career Track as available/applicable.
- Make an appointment on Handshake for “Exploring Options” or “Exploring & Preparing for Graduate/Professional School”
- Before Your Appointment: Explore and engage with the tools and links in Explore Your Track; complete the 3,2,1 reflection exercise;
You have been exploring your Career Track, and may be wondering “What Next?” This short exercise will help you clarify your thinking and identify strategies to answer your career exploration questions:
- What are three take-aways from your exploration of this Career Track?
- What are two questions that you have?
- What is 1 specific action step you plan to take, to answer your 2 questions?
Launch Your Preparation for Law School
Academics & Beyond
- Consult with your pre-law academic advisor and major advisor to refine your course of study. Remember, no specific major/classes will be required! Use the keyword feature to search the LSA Course Guide for courses with a law focus
- Meet with a career coach in the UM University Career Center to discuss your progress
- Apply to participate in relevant UM programs such as the Public Service Internship Program and the Michigan in Washington Program
- Consider writing an honor thesis, engaging in research, or pursuing other academic venues to enhance your reading/writing/analytical/project and time management skills
- Connect with law school admission officers at the UM Law Day, via one-on-one consultations, or at various other programs and events organized by the University Career Center (see Handshake for details)
- Familiarize yourself with the LSAT. Take advantage of free or low-cost preparation materials made available by the Law School Admission Council. Watch LSAT Prep Guide.
- Continue to engage beyond the classroom (refer to above section "Building Your Pre-Law Community and Knowledge" for many tips and ideas)
- Learn your options to finance your legal education
- Become more knowledgeable about legal jobs and the legal market. See for example, Selected Findings for Jobs & JDs for the Law School Class of 2016.
TIP: Maintain a spreadsheet of all your co-curricular involvements (not just those law related), keeping track of dates, number of hours, type of experience, the responsibilities you had, supervisor’s name and contact information, and especially your reflections on what you learned, how this experience may have affected your worldview, reinforced your interest in pursuing a legal career, etc. These records will be particularly handy in the short term to monitor your progress and identify areas for additional involvements. Later, they will be equally helpful for crafting your personal statement, completing your applications, and identifying possible sources for your reference letters.
- Hard Work
- Attention to Detail
- Courtesy and Respect
It will be important for you as a prospective law school applicant to demonstrate that you have had experiences that have allowed you to develop or enhance these abilities. The personal statement will be an excellent vehicle to discuss such experiences, ideally supported by the endorsement of a recommender in their letter of reference.
Internship/Job Search Essentials
Whether you are looking for a local opportunity during the academic year, or a summer job to get some exposure to the legal profession, or a full time job during your gap year/s prior to going to law school, you will probably have to take a multi-pronged approach of reaching out to people and organizations, responding to postings, submitting applications, and connecting with professional in the field to uncover leads to reach your goal. Remember that true "legal internships" are typically reserved for law students, but many opportunities exist for undergraduates as well. Start researching application timelines for organizations of interest to you in early fall, keeping in mind that, depending on the employing organization, hiring will be fluid and could very well extend through Winter and Spring. Here are some interesting reads for you:
Internship/Job Posting Sites
Depending on your interests, goals and location preference, you may wish to explore opportunities in:
- Government related settings such as congressional and state legislative offices; city, county, and state government offices; Public Defender's Office; State's Attorney Office; agencies such as the EPA, FBI, etc.
- Political campaigns for national, state and local offices
- Non-governmental organizations (NGO) active at the local, national or international level around issues concerning human rights, environment, health, etc.
- Private practice, in law firms big and small
- Legal Departments of larger corporations/organizations (working with in-house attorneys)
- Nonprofit organizations and agencies supporting causes close to your heart, whether it's children's rights, religious freedom, etc.
Below are some helpful sites and resources for you:
- UCC Resources - Postings in Handshake, Local Opportunities, Gap Year Ideas
- USAJobs.gov - Official site for government jobs
- Government Jobs - Look for federal, city and state jobs at all levels.
- Department of Labor - Learn about wages and find postings
- Career One Stop - Great source for career exploration, training and jobs.
- Political Job Hunt - A collection of politically-centered jobs and careers
- Federal Agency Job Vacancies - Look for listings for each agency and department
- NALP Directory of Legal Employers - Provides information on law firms, government agencies, public interest organizations, and corporations
- iHireLegal - For paralegal jobs
- idealist - Helps people move from intention to action all over the world
- indeed - A broad, searchable posting site
Connect with Professionals
Whether you are looking for an internship or gap year job prior to law school, a referral or insights from a personal contact will go a long way. Only a small portion of all available opportunities are advertised on job boards or filled through on campus interviewing, so checking job posting sites should only be a small component of your total job search, along with more proactive efforts to connect with people and organizations that may have the opportunities you are seeking:
- Tap UCAN, the University Career Alumni Network to connect with Wolverines currently in law school or already in legal practice
- Leverage your Handshake account for contacts in law related postings, fairs and events
- Use LinkedIn to Find a Job and LinkedIn groups to expand your network
- Find out about the next Legal Meet Up in your area.
Resumes & Cover Letters
For internship and job search:
A well-written resume connects your skills and experiences to the needs of an organization. The University Career Center’s Resume Resources will help you develop a strong resume. Check also these resources to help you craft targeted cover letters. Schedule an appointment to have your resume and cover letter drafts critiqued at The University Career Center.
For law school application:
A resume written in support of your law school application needs to be academically focused since your audience will be admissions committees rather than a prospective employer. Thus, skip sections like “Objective” and even “Summary of Qualifications” since your audience clearly knows why you are applying. Law school resumes may be a little longer than traditional resumes and include more hobbies, activities, and experiences beyond the professional realm since, in the absence of an interview, they can help paint a picture of who you are as a whole person. Yet, you should always follow individual school's directions and focus mainly on education and academic performance, work experience, and community or campus involvement that can help you highlight relevant skills and personal traits. In particular, include and explain college honors if not intuitive; senior or honors thesis, research and other similar intellectual pursuits; study abroad; and language/s spoken with proficiency. When detailing co-curricular and employments, highlight accomplishments vs. sheer "duties". A few years ago, Harvard Law made available these examples:
Depending on whether you are applying for a summer job, a gap year position or a seat in an entering law school class, you will be exposed to various interviewing formats. A prepared interviewee knows the similarities and differences between the formats and has practiced appropriately.
Only a relatively small number of law schools conduct interviews as part of their admission process. Of the schools that interview candidates, some do so in one-on-one interactions while others in a group format. Some schools allow applicants to request an interview while others conduct them on an invitation-only basis. Some schools will give you the option to conduct the interview in person vs. remotely, via phone or Skype for example. Whenever feasible, always opt for visiting the school in person to better evaluate your fit with that program and community. Clarifying your interview format, duration, medium, etc. and thoroghly researching the school(s) and reflecting upon how to best discuss your qualifications will be great steps toward your successful preparation.
- See Tips for Law School Admissions Interviews
- Peruse the University Career Center’s Interviewing Resources for jobs and internships
- Consider scheduling an appointment to practice your interviewing skills at the University Career Center
There is no "best" time to applyto law school. You have to look at your specific circumstances to determine what makes the most sense for you. There will be both academic and non-academic factors to consider:
- Your metrics (numerical academic performance in previous classes and your ability to pass standardized tests) will help admissions representatives determine if you can handle the rigors of the law school curriculum and pass the bar exam.
- Your experiences and attributes will help schools determine if you have invested time in researching and preparing for the field and whether your skills set and personlity traits are a good fit with the legal profession.
In order to assess your application readiness, you may wish to ask yourself the following questions:
- Is my GPA competititve for the schools I want to target?
- What about my LSAT (GRE) scores?
- Have I engaged in substantive community and volunteer service and am I capable to reflect on and discuss these experiences?
- Did I take the time to understand the basics of how legal education and practice work, opportunities in law related fields, the cost of going to law school etc. enough to make an informed choice?
- Have I talked with lawyers and spent time in settings that helped me form a realistic view of the profession and current issues and trends in the field?
- Do I have people in my corner that can vouch for me and address the strength of my candidacy for law school through their letters of evaluation/recommendation? Do they know me well enough to address my intellectual ability, communication skills, time and project management, reliability and dependability, qualitative reasoning, etc.?
- How have I demonstrated integrity and ethical responsibility to myself and others? If there are any irregularities or misconduct issues in my profile, what have I done to address them/put time and distance from them to "redeem" myself?
- Can I clearly articulate why I want to go to law school and what life experiences have led me to that decision?
- Do I have time to prepare for the LSAT (GRE), put together a strong application, with thoughtful application essays, well researched schools, solid letters of recommendation, etc.?
It is important that you are able to step back and assess your profile prior to applying so that you can determine both your strengths and areas that need attention. If you find yourself falling short on several categories, consider taking a year or two off to bridge those gaps. Remember: a dream delayed is better than a dream denied. While the list below is not 100% inclusive, these could be sound reasons to delay application. Give yourself permission to wait to apply if you need or want to. After all, on any given year, applicants that took 1 or more years before attendig law school greatly outnumber those who went straight through:
- Travel/study/work abroad for a while
- Take a reflective pause to ensure this is still the career you want
- Show your senior year grades to demonstrate grade improvement
- Make time to adequately prepare for the LSAT/GRE
- Gain more exposure to the field to solidify career choice
- Repair your credit score by working and saving for a while so you can be eligible to borrow money to pay for your education
- Take a rejuvenating break prior to diving in the books again
- Tend to some health or other personal issue before embarking in law school as needed.
After realistically assessing your credentials you will be better positioned to decide whether you are truly ready to apply.
Ready to Apply?
Although the University Career Center staff is available to guide you through the exploration and preparation stages (beyond the classroom) of your Law Track, individualized assistance with your law school application is available through the Newnan Advising Center (call 734-764-0332 for an appointment) and possibly also through the advisors within your own School, College, Department or Program.
Procure Reference Letters
As you get involved in your classes and co-curricular engagements, start thinking about potential sources for reference letters. Keep these tips in mind when arranging for your letters:
- Consider the range of possible writers, and which writers might best serve your purposes. Writers could include faculty, teaching assistants, past employers, or supervisors from volunteer and leadership experiences.
- Request evaluations only from people who know you well enough to write strong letters of support; you may wish to arrange a meeting with the writers to discuss your future plans for an advanced degree.
- Evaluate the pros and cons of requesting a confidential vs. a non-confidential evaluation, keeping in mind that most law school have a strong preference for confidential letters since they tend to be more candid.
- Provide them with supporting materials (copy of your resume, transcript, personal statement draft, etc.) to help them write a more informed narrative.
- Ask for the letter shortly after the completion of your interaction with the author, when your work habits, skills and interests are fresh in their mind.
- Allow enough time for the letter to be written, keeping in mind that you may be one of several applicants requesting a letter from a particular individual.
- Utilize the LSAC’s Letter of Recommendation (LOR) service to manage your letters, which is included in your Credential Assembly Service (CAS) registration. This service allows you to manage your letters of recommendation through your LSAC.org account.
Write Compelling Application Essays
As part of your application process you will be asked to write various essays. Collectively, these reflections should capture why you are interested in law, what type of experiences led you to such a choice, why this field is a good match for your skills and talents, and any other information about you that an admission representative should be aware of to form an informed and accurate opinion about who you are. See these resources for writing your law school personal statement and to view a couple of essays from admitted applicants.
Become Knowledgeable About Schools and Programs
Take advantage of individual schools’ information sessions and tours, open houses, law school forums like the UM Law Day, admissions webinars, and any opportunity you can get to understand their offerings, garner preparation and admissions tips, get a feel for their distinct culture, speak with current students and faculty, and—when possible—experience the campus and community at large. Explore online and mark any relevant dates in your calendar. A great place to start your exploration is the searchable LSAC Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools and the ABA 509 Standard Information Reports.
Register and thoroughly familiarize yourself with the LSAC Credential Assembly Service, its workings and timeline.
Cost of Applying & Attending
Applying to law school is an expensive endeavor. The most significant expenses will include:
- LSAT/GRE preparation materials and/or organized preparation course
- LSAT/GRE registration
- LSAC Credential Assembly Service registration
- School-specific application fees
- Interview attire, transportation and accommodations when applicable
- Deposits to hold seats in a class upon admission
All these costs and fees can add up so it is important that you plan in advance. If you have serious financial constraints, you may be eligible for fee waivers.
It is critical that you maintain a strong credit record as you prepare for and apply to law school. Do not let a poor credit history interfere with your ability to borrow money for law school.
Want some coaching around launching your Career Track?
- Attend UM Law Day/Law-Related Immersions/One-on-one Consultations with Admissions Officers/other events related to your Career Track as available/applicable.
- Make an appointment on Handshake to meet with a member of the University Career Center Staff and call 734-764-0332 to schedule an appointment with the pre-law advisors in Newnan Advising Center
- Before Your Appointment: Explore and engage with the tools and links in Launch Your Preparation for Law School; complete the 3,2,1 reflection exercise
You have launched your preparation for law school, and may be wondering “What Next?” This simple exercise will help you get started.
- What are three take-aways from exploring the resources in “Launch Your Preparation for Law School”?
- What are two questions that you still have/what are you questioning now?
- What is 1 specific action step you can take to help answer your 2 questions?
Photo Credit: Tiago Gerken