Investigate Career Paths
Developing an understanding of practice areas and settings and how those fit with your preferred work style, goals and interests is the first step in the employment search process. You will find
lawyers in many different settings. Below is a brief snapshot of the environments within which most lawyers work.
- HG.org provides information on over 260 areas of legal practice.
- Courses of Study describe opportunities at Richmond Law in 12 major practice area, including courses, clinical options, and dual degree programs.
Law teaching is a unique, rewarding and extremely competitive career choice, as the number of positions available is quite limited. Academic institutions consider pedigree, grades, journal participation, post-graduate judicial clerkships and legal scholarship when making hiring decisions.
Summer positions in academia (primarily as research assistants) are a very popular option as they can provide an excellent opportunity to hone your research and writing skills. You may have the chance to work on interesting projects, participate in the preparation of research for a book or article, and establish and solidify a close working relationship with a law professor (which is particularly helpful if you are interested in a post-graduate judicial clerkship).
Typically, professors hire summer research assistants late during spring semester. Some professors solicit research assistants by posting job opportunities on Symplicity; however, the majority of professors use different methods to conduct hiring. Some may post a sign on their office door, but many will wait for students to contact them. If you have a particularly strong relationship with one of your professors or a serious interest in a professor’s area of specialization, make an appointment to meet with him or her during office hours and bring your résumé to express interest in a research assistant position.
Corporations generally hire their attorneys laterally from law firms (in many cases from the firms that work on their matters). As a result, few entry-level positions are available. These employers generally do not hire summer interns or clerks as an organic part of their recruiting activity; however, you may be able to obtain this kind of job through your outreach efforts. Generally, employers in-house counsel internships during spring semester. Prior work experience can be a key to landing an in-house internship.
The Directory of Corporate Counsel, available in the Law Library, provides information about in-house legal departments at U.S. corporations. Also, some corporations post summer internships on their websites.
Many government agencies and public interest organizations offer interesting and meaningful work in a setting where work-life balance is possible. Public sector attorneys work in a variety of practice areas, and report high job satisfaction.
Summer employment with public sector organizations is important for students whether they intend to go into public or private practice. Students who intend to go into private practice perform valuable work and gain important skills, while those students who are interested in public-sector careers are also able to demonstrate commitment to an organization's mission, which is a key consideration in making post-graduate hiring decisions. Students may also gain skills and demonstrate commitment to public service organizations by performing pro bono work at the law school's Carrico Center for Pro Bono Service.
While summer opportunities abound, competition for entry-level attorney positions can be stiff, and most organizations do not hire until after the release of bar exam results. Fellowships, including Richmond Law's Bridge to Practice fellowship, are a highly competitive but important entrée to government and public interest practice. During the spring semester, Richmond Law hosts the Commonwealth Law School Government and Public Interest Interview Program, in which Richmond Law students participate with students from the law schools of Washington & Lee and William & Mary. Each October in Washington, D.C., hundreds of public sector employers from all over the country participate in the Equal Justice Works Conference and Career Fair.
Summer internships in the public sector often are unpaid. Through the Summer Stipend Program, the School of Law provides financial support to students working in qualifying unpaid positions in the public sector.
The Government Honors & Internship Handbook provides information about summer and post-graduate positions, primarily with the federal government.
PSJD provides both job postings and a database in which you can search public interest organizations by issue and geographic area.
Some post-graduate positions in the federal government are posted on the USAJOBS website.
The CDO has collected some information about project-based [sheet one] and organization-based [sheet two] post-graduate public interest fellowships available in 2014.
[Download Excel spreadsheet - netid login required]
State and federal court judges hire students as judicial interns for summer work and graduates as judicial clerks for a period of one or two years. Judicial internships and clerkships provide the opportunity to get an inside view of the litigation process.
Judges typically hire judicial interns based on unsolicited applications. First-year students pursue these opportunities more frequently than second-year students.
Post-graduate judicial clerkships are highly selective, though this varies based on the court and geographic location. Some judges may begin accepting applications as early as the spring semester of your 2L year, while others will hire during the fall semester of your 3L year. Judges post opportunities via Symplicity, state and local government websites OSCAR, and accept unsolicited applications.
Resources, including the CDO Judicial Clerkship website, Vermont Guide to State Judicial Clerkships, the faculty judicial clerkship committee and the CDO judicial clerkship advisor, Valerie L’Herrou, will assist you in navigating the post-graduate judicial clerkship application process.
Large law firms rely almost exclusively on their summer associate programs as the primary means for hiring entry-level attorneys. Typically, these firms interview second-year law students in the summer and early fall for summer associate positions the following summer. Offers of post-graduate employment are made at the conclusion of the 2L summer. In most circumstances, large law firms do not interview third-year students for post-graduate employment. Thus, if you want to work at a large law firm immediately after graduation, it is important to secure a position with one during your 2L summer. Later in your career, there may be other opportunities to join these organizations after gaining some practice experience.
Large law firms are among the most grade-conscious of legal employers. Strong academic credentials and participation in co-curricular activities including law journals and moot court are highly valued.
Some large law firms, particularly those in the Richmond area, will participate in the School of Law’s on-campus interview program (OCI); however, it is important that you supplement your OCI applications with direct applications to law firms in which you have an interest, especially those in other regions. Late July is an appropriate time to apply to firms that are not participating in OCI.
The majority of attorneys in private practice work in small (fewer than 50 attorneys) and mid-size (50-100) law firms. In fact, according to the American Bar Association, more than 60% of lawyers work in small firms. With few exceptions, small law firms hire on an as-needed basis in the same manner as most other employers. Few participate in OCI. They often seek summer associates or interns during the spring semester and entry-level attorneys following bar exam results. Some will post opportunities, while other will rely on unsolicited applications or their referral networks to identify new talent.
Though small and mid-size firms cannot always make post-graduate hiring decisions following summer employment, developing a relationship with a small firm of interest and developing related practice area expertise through your summer work will increase your chances of landing post-graduate employment.
Personality fit, practice-area-specific knowledge and geographic ties (key to successful client development) are among the most important factors to small and mid-size law firms when making hiring decisions.
A few small and mid-size law firms will visit campus. Every March, Richmond Law hosts the Commonwealth Law School Consortium’s Spring Interview Program exclusively for small firms.
Choosing Small, Choosing Smart: Job Search Strategies for Lawyers in the Small Firm Market by Donna Gerson (available in the CDO resource library).
Martindale-Hubbell (also available via Lexis)
An increasing number of law school students and graduates decide not to practice law at all. There are a wide variety of positions for which the analytical, communication and advocacy skills developed through legal training are a plus.
Given the wide variety of non-legal careers, you should meet with your career advisor to discuss your specific situation. In most cases, alternative employers make hiring decisions on an as-needed basis.