Friday, October 23, 2009

Career Planning for Evening Students

As an evening student, you may feel like there are not enough hours in the day to do all you have to do. We understand that balancing full- or part-time work, family and friends, community service activities, recreational activities, and school is not an easy task. The fact that you do it, and do it well, says a lot about your perseverance, strength, and skills.

Along with everything else on your plate, you should make time to evaluate your legal career objectives and begin implementing a career strategy. We have found that the sooner you implement a Personal Career Plan, a plan which you and your counselor work on together, the greater the likelihood of success in finding a fulfilling legal career upon graduation.

For those of you who have non-legal jobs, the first question you should ask yourself as you evaluate your career objectives is whether to leave your current position in pursuit of legal experience, or whether to keep your position and seek alternative ways to gain legal experience. For many, this is a very difficult decision, as you presently may be in a well-paying position with responsibilities that are challenging and satisfying.

Sometimes, a legal position you take while in law school will be lower paying, may have reduced fringe benefits (health insurance, life insurance, etc.), and may give you less responsibility than your current position. Keeping the non-legal job may keep the paycheck higher, but it may reduce your marketability when you graduate. Taking a legal job now may mean taking a pay cut short term, but it will increase your options upon graduation.

We have found that a good balance between these competing considerations is to attempt to make a transition from non-legal to legal employment at the beginning of your third year. In that way, you will have two years of legal experience, just as full-time students have that opportunity (since they do not generally work during their first year of law school).

However, such a transition will prove impossible for some. In that case, other avenues to gain legal experience must be explored with a counselor. Here are a few ways evening students can develop practical legal experience:

Examine Your Skills: Evaluate your skills, experiences, and expertise in your current non-legal position that may be transferable to the practice of law.

Law-Related Projects in your Present Position: Your employer may have a legal department that may be willing to assign you a short-term project involving legal research or writing. If your company does not have a legal department, consider whether there are other ways you could participate in legal-related projects, such as contract review or due diligence. Contact the person in your company in charge of legal matters to discuss this possibility.

Bar Association Activities: Become an active member of the Suffolk County, Nassau County, New York City, or other bar association in the geographic area in which you are interested in practicing (see links for these bar associations on page one). As an active committee member, you can network and work collaboratively with attorneys.

Volunteer/Pro Bono: One excellent way to obtain legal experience is through volunteering with a public service organization or government agency.

Law Journal and/or Publish: Writing a law-related article reflects your research and writing abilities. Write publishable papers on subjects that interest you, especially in areas that you want to specialize in later. Legal employers will recognize the time and commitment that goes into writing an article. You should also consider: Moot Court, serving as a Research Assistant, participating in clinical programs and/or externships, networking, conducting informational interviews, attending career panels, and joining student organizations.

Evening students need to make a special effort to consider how to gain legal experience before graduation. If you presently have a legal job, talk to a counselor to discuss if it is the right one for you to keep until graduation. If you do not have a legal job, consider making a transition at the end of your second year of law school. You need to stay in touch with your counselor to discuss these and other issues that arise during the course of your law school career.

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