How to Build Your Career as a New Lawyer

Written by
Rebecca Smith

Published
Feb 4, 2021

Feb 4, 2021 • by Rebecca Smith

Becoming a lawyer can be a lucrative career choice. Lawyers are in high demand, the career has great prospects for the future, and depending on how you practice, you may be able to earn a substantial salary as well. However, getting started in this career can be difficult – even if you have the right credentials in place. 

How to Start Your Career as a Lawyer

These tips can help you get started on the right track: 

  1. Choose your area of specialty. Most lawyers have a wide range of practice areas; even personal injury law can be broken down into categories like car accidents, wrongful death, and workplace negligence. But they ultimately specialize in a specific category. For example, they may focus heavily on personal injury cases, or they may specialize in family law. There are different advantages to different types of practices, so consider these areas carefully and choose the area that best appeals to you (or the area that allows you the best trajectory of growth). 
  2. Set your long-term goals. So you want to become a lawyer. But why do you want to be a lawyer? What are you hoping to accomplish, and what does the end of this journey look like for you? For example, are you interested in making as much money as possible? Are you trying to help people and do the greatest amount of good across your career? Are you more interested in forging your own path by starting your own firm? There are no right or wrong answers here, but you should have these long-term goals in mind as you make major decisions throughout your career. 
  3. Get some experience however you can. You may visualize yourself as starting a law firm that grows into something enormous and powerful, but this sense of grandiosity shouldn’t dictate your early career decisions. Before you can work your way up the ladder of an established firm or make progress with a firm of your own, you need experience, however you can get it. If you’re still working on your degree, consider getting a job as a paralegal or getting a position as an intern with a major law firm. If you’ve already passed the bar exam, you’ll need to start looking for associate positions. 
  4. Polish your soft skills. Many lawyers in the early stages of their career focus on getting experience and learning the law inside and out. These are good steps to take, but you’ll also need to think about your soft skills. If you’re going to get hired and succeed in any legal position, you need to be able to communicate effectively. You need to have strong emotional intelligence and awareness. And you need to be able to collaborate with others. 
  5. Professionally network. Spend time building out your professional network. Meet and talk to other lawyers in your area and make your face known at local professional gatherings. Expanding your network is a great chance to get to know other people and learn from their experience. It’s also a good chance to build your reputation. Depending on your goals, it could even help you land a new job or find employees and clients to start your firm. 
  6. Volunteer. Along similar lines, it’s a good idea to volunteer. Volunteering for good causes is a great way to meet like-minded professionals and establish yourself in the community. Plus, you’ll be doing good for the world. 
  7. Shadow and find a mentor. If you have the opportunity, before you get too deep in your career as a lawyer, spend time shadowing other lawyers in their job. See how they work and learn how they think; you don’t need to mimic them, but you can and should learn from them. Additionally, see if you can find a mentor, says Coach David Houle, a sports card appraiser and Hall of Fame coach. An experienced mentor with years, if not decades of experience in the legal field will be able to help guide you in the earliest stages of your career; they’ll stop you from making big mistakes and provide you with indispensable advice for how to develop yourself. 
  8. Keep learning. Lawyers are required to undergo continuing legal education (CLE) to stay up-to-date with the latest changes to the law. Even if this weren’t the case, it would behoove you to spend time learning new information and continuing to develop yourself. Don’t become complacent; keep growing as you advance your career. 

Inching Toward Your Long-Term Goals

After finding a job and getting busy with daily responsibilities as a lawyer, it’s easy to lose track of your long-term goals. If you want to continue making progress toward those goals, you have to keep them in mind. Do something each day that gets you closer to achieving them, even if it’s only a baby step; for example, you can spend 15 minutes reading study materials or talk to your boss about the possibility of a promotion in the future. Eventually, you’ll get where you want to be.