advice for law students

I'm occasionally asked for advice for law students who want a career similar to mine.  A summary of my advice is below.

Becoming a Lawyer
  • Get a well-rounded legal education, unless you know for certain your intended specialty (patent law, tax law, etc.).
  • If you know for certain your intended specialty, then take as many specialty-related classes in law school as possible.
  • Consider taking non-law school classes to supplement your specialty-related knowledge (i.e., accounting classes at the local junior college for a non-accountant wanting to become a tax lawyer).
  • Sign-up and take a professional bar preparation program for passing the bar.  See my advice about the bar exam.
  • If financially feasible, have some unique law school experiences, like a study abroad program during 1L summer.  It's one of the best experiences you can buy.
Finding a Job (generally)
  • Cast a broad net.  Be creative in who you network with and approach for jobs.  The worst they can say is no.
  • Be willing to work for free initially (i.e., as an intern during law school).
  • Work within your intended area of specialty as much as possible.
  • Treat networking and finding a job as a full time project.  This requires a workplan, spreadsheets, a paid LinkedIn account, etc.
Tax Careers
  • Careers in tax either start in the Big-Law firms, or Big-4 firms.  Either is a good path.  The pay is 2x at the former vs. the latter.  At a Big-4 firm you will be expected to do accounting.  Otherwise, the hours, long-term career opportunities, and eventually the pay will be similar with either path.
  • Tax careers are not easy, especially in the initial years.  The working conditions are very strenuous, and there is a steep learning curve.  
  • Being a CPA, or having some form of finance or accounting background will help tremendously in terms of securing the first job and dealing with the learning curve.
  • Also read career paths for lawyers in the Big-4, and career advice for starting at Big-4 firms.
Working for a (High Tech) Company
  • It is generally not possible, nor a good idea, to become corporate counsel unless you have at least 3-5 years experience in a firm setting.  This is due to the training that takes place at firms that is not possible in a corporate setting.
  • You need to be where your audience is.  High tech companies are primarily in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Finance companies are in New York.  Entertainment in L.A.  Etc.  You will need to be willing to relocate to the proper geography, if you aren't there already.
  • Do not set your sights on one company.  That is not a broad enough net.  Select an industry (high tech), and pick the top x companies you would want to work for in that industry.  Make that your target list.  Start this process as soon as you know that being corporate counsel is a goal.  Be willing to update the list as economies change and companies change.
  • You will likely get a corporate counsel job through networking.  Job openings are known internally before they are posted externally.  Focus networking on your list of target companies.  You need to be in this for the long haul - building relationships.

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