By Jamy J. Sullivan, JD, Executive Director, Legal Practice Group, Robert Half
Over the last two decades, I’ve counseled college students on the best ways to prepare for professional careers. Many students have an eye on continuing to graduate school and seek advice as they prepare for additional years of rigorous academic training. As a talent solutions executive who is focused on legal careers and also earned a Juris Doctor, it’s a pleasure to work with these students to help them make the decisions that will bring success and fulfillment.
Here are the three questions students ask me most frequently, along with my advice:
What’s the best undergraduate major for a future lawyer?
If you ask a dozen lawyers what they recommend, you’ll likely receive a dozen different answers. There are definitely some popular majors among students: English, economics, political science, business and philosophy are a few. But there isn’t a single major that will guarantee law school admission or success.
My advice: Choose a major that interests you and will help you develop valuable skills for graduate school and your career. It often surprises people when they learn I chose communications as a major, but this was the perfect fit for me. I enjoyed speech and debate in high school and set my sights on a career in advocacy.
Communications is about more than just becoming a stronger writer; it enables you to become a better storyteller. This is critical for lawyers: The ability to engage an audience, connect them from point A to point B and convince them of the strength of your position are all vital skills. A great storyteller connects with juries and judges, makes compelling presentations to executive management and colleagues, leads teams, and persuades others.
What should I be doing as an undergrad to prepare for law school?
Earning solid grades and learning as much as you can from your professors and fellow students are paramount in your undergrad years. You also want to “learn how best to learn.” Law school will be three years of demanding classwork and projects, followed by the bar exam. You want to figure out best practices for studying, retaining information, working with groups on projects and pacing yourself so you don’t burn out. Your best practices may be quite different from those of your fellow classmates.
I always advise students to research legal careers, salaries and practice areas in demand and to get legal experience as an undergrad long before starting law school. Doing so will enable you to decide if the law is truly right for you. It will also help shape your career interests. Find a part-time job, internship or volunteer role; you will gain experience and make connections no matter which path you choose.
What’s the best way to network as a student?
Even in large cities, legal networks often feel like small, tight-knit communities. Everyone seems to know each other — or has a connection who does. Get comfortable networking as an undergrad, as it’s a skill you’ll continue to rely upon in law school and throughout your career. Join clubs, find ways to volunteer in the community and keep in touch with those you meet.
I also encourage undergrads to find a mentor who can help guide them as they apply to law school and start their legal careers. Many law firms and corporate legal departments offer formal mentoring programs to help new employees acclimate and succeed in their new environments.
However, having a mentor before you begin your career can help you with critical decisions about choosing a law school, career focus and your first job. I’ve seen many mentor relationships continue for years, with each party offering value and support to the other. Mentoring is truly a two-way street; it’s not just about the mentor providing wisdom and advice to the mentee.
There’s not one “right path” to take to law school. There are many choices you’ll make that will create a unique path that’s right for you. By carefully considering your undergraduate major, gaining experience and building a meaningful network, you’ll enable a smoother start to law school.
One final thought: Remember that pursuing law school and a legal career is a marathon, not a sprint. Enjoy the process, learn as much as you can and surround yourself with smart people — all will help build the blocks to an exciting and rewarding career in the legal profession.