Post Authored By: Teresa Dettloff
As the first attorney in my family, I can be completely honest when I say that when I applied to law school, I had no idea what I was getting into, or really, where I was going. The legal profession is distinct from many others. As a young attorney, I am so grateful for the professors and experienced lawyers I met along the way who helped me to survive law school, discover my passion, and navigate the legal profession as a whole. Below I’ve listed tried and true advice that served me well in starting out my legal career:
Take advantage of every opportunity to learn about different careers in law school. The only way to discover how you want to use your legal education is to put in the groundwork to discover what’s out there after graduation. Many times, I would attend seminars as a student and walk away saying, “I had no idea that was even an option.” I did not know what to expect upon graduation from law school and learning about what opportunities were out there helped me discover what I was passionate about and how to use my law degree. Learning from others also created opportunities to apply for internships or clerkships that I had not previously considered, simply because I didn’t know that those opportunities existed in the first place.
Spend some time thinking about what your interests are and where you want to be in 5, 10, and 15 years. I was advised as a young lawyer to map out my long-term career goals to create a focused plan of how to achieve my goals and to make sure that the steps I was currently taking were aligned with where I wanted to be long-term. I’ve found that this is a great way to focus my current interests and to help create a stream-lined plan to take advantage of opportunities and structure a career in such a way that will help achieve my long-term goals.
Ask questions. I’ve been incredibly fortunate in that my law school fostered a welcoming environment, and the lawyers I had an opportunity to interact with were more than willing to discuss career options with me as a young law student and lawyer. Don’t hesitate to ask about a seasoned lawyer’s career path – how did they get where they are today, what steps did they take to get there, and what is the best way for you to achieve your long-term career goals.
Network organically. Don’t overextend yourself by becoming involved in every bar association and committee possible. Be selective in finding ways to volunteer and serve your community to connect with other attorneys that have similar goals and interests. Those types of connections have the potential to turn into job opportunities and long-term friendships.
Prioritize stress management. Practicing law is demanding, but also extremely rewarding. I attended law school immediately after graduating from college, and therefore, my first full-time job in the workforce was working as an attorney. As a new lawyer, I struggled with organization, time management, and how to deal with difficult clients. These are skills that you develop through trial and error as you slowly learn how to manage a caseload effectively and what types of tasks should be prioritized. Once you have an effective system, it makes all the difference. However, if you don’t know how to handle or channel stress, it makes walking into a demanding profession that much more difficult. Spend some time thinking about stress outlets and what you can do during the day to stay focused and performing at your best. For me, that means exercising after work so that I can shake off the day and walk into the next day focused and ready for whatever comes my way. It looks different for everyone but having in place effective stress management tools at the outset of your legal career can help prevent burnout.
About the Author:
Teresa Detloff practices law in Chicago, Illinois and is a graduate of Loyola University Chicago School of Law, where she served as a lead article editor for the law journal. She is also a member of the United Nations Association Chicago Chapter.