University of Illinois

Thinking About Law School

Exploring Legal Careers

Have you always wanted to be a lawyer? Or have you just recently begun to think about law as a career path? Pre-law students range from those who have never met a lawyer and have just begun thinking about law to those students who have been drawn to the legal profession from a very young age. This page will help you learn more about exploring legal careers, and will guide you toward resources to further your explorations.

Portions of this page are excerpted from the University of Illinois Pre-Law Handbook.

A J.D. (Juris Doctor) can lead to a wide range of law-related careers and can open doors to careers in government, business, higher education, communications, and numerous other fields.  Law school graduates are administrators, teachers, librarians, and business managers as well as advocates, judges, and politicians.

The law can be a rewarding profession.  At its best, legal practice challenges the intellect, demanding the exercise of reason and judgment.  The ethics of the profession require attorneys to promote justice, fairness, and morality; thus, legal employment can bring particular satisfaction to those who seek to work, within the law, to rectify social injustice. 

There are significant differences in career choices lawyers make, from public interest law and government law to private practice in a firm.  The differences among starting salaries alone can exceed $100,000.  And, the need to pay back law school loans can greatly affect the career choices of a new graduate. 

Before beginning the application process, consider carefully if a law degree is right for you.  It is not necessary to know what kind of law you want to practice, but it is advisable to explore the various career options of a lawyer as part of your decision-making process.

How can you learn more about the realities of a legal career?

Explore internship and externship options

  • Check out The Career Center website for internship and externship opportunities.
  • From time to time, Pre-Law Services also helps to arrange internships. Make sure that you are coded Pre-Law, which means that you will receive newsletters, emails, and updates from Pre-Law Advising Services about internships and other opportunities. You can request to be coded pre-law by emailing the Pre-Law Secretary Dimitria at dimij@illinois.edu.
  • Temporary jobs in the legal field are posted at Lawjobs.com.
  • Search for internships and jobs related to the noprofit sector at Idealist.org.
  • Get That Gig has a section on its website devoted to internships in International Law and Public Safety.

An important step in making a decision is to distinguish between commonly held expectations and the reality of legal practice.  Hours can be very long and often include weekends.  Legal work can require spending considerable time in tedious, painstaking research.  Depending on the type of law practiced and the location, entry into law firms can be difficult and salaries may not meet expectations.  The market for new lawyers is competitive for those seeking positions in cities and firms that are in high demand.

Networking

Join one of the following student organizations and attend their meetings, where many lawyers from different legal fields talk about their experiences.

Ask any lawyers you (or your parents) know if you can have a brief chat with them about their career path. This is also known as an informational interview.

Publications

Read publications catering to lawyers, such as:

Books and Resources

  • Explore the Law School Admission Council’s resources under their Thinking About Law School menu.
  • Investigate online resources, including the American Bar Association, the National Association of Law Placement, and Internet Legal Research Group.
  • To get a better idea of what skills lawyers use and how to be a strong candidate for law school, start by reviewing the American Bar Association’s Statement on Preparing for Law School
  • Talk with a career counselor and/or a pre-law advisor about your interest in pursuing legal studies.
  • Conduct research on legal careers using online resources or those at the Pre-Law Advising Services office or the Career Center.
  • Watch the videos about different areas of law at Discoverlaw.org
  • The Pre-Law Advising Services Resource Room contains copies of the National Association for Law Placement’s Official Guide to Legal Specialties, which contains profiles of many different types of legal practice, from corporate law to environmental to sports and entertainment. These profiles contain very helpful information, such as what a day in the life of these lawyers is like, what types of clients and projects they have, work/life balance, etc.
  • Honestly and realistically assess your interests as well as your strengths and weaknesses.
  • EPICS (Exploring Pathways in Career Success) is an online program offered by the Career Center that offers several tools, such as the Interest Survey, to help you determine whether a legal career is a good fit for you. Utilize the EPICS program website
  • A good resource that includes self-assessment exercises is Should You Really Be a Lawyer? The Guide to Smart Career Choices Before, During & After Law School, by Deborah Schneider and Gary Belsky.
  • The classic career guide Do What You Are by Paul Tieger and Barbara Barron also contains helpful Myers-Briggs based diagnostic exercises to help you determine what your Myers-Briggs personality type is, and to help you match your personality type to a career.
  • Intern with a law firm or law-related organization to gain exposure to the field and to experience the work environment
  • Conduct informational interviews to learn about the legal profession. Talk with lawyers who are family members, family friends, or alumni of your college to learn:

    • what lawyers do in a typical work day
    • personal attributes needed to be successful in a legal career
    • satisfactions and dissatisfactions of the field
    • impact of a legal career on personal lives

Some of the information above is attributed to the NAPLA Pre-Law Guide, and used with permission. For more information consult the Illinois Pre-Law Handbook.