Source: American Bar Association
It's difficult to believe that I’ve been in the professional legal world now for 10 years. Law school feels like just yesterday — until I begin to think about all that I've seen and done since then. I've made some wrong turns, had some epic successes, made some incredible connections (and probably a few enemies), but all of it has been a learning experience that has led me to where I am today. So I'm here to share with you where I was — and where I am — in hopes that you can learn from my experiences, find some camaraderie and make your own way in the world.
As a law student, I was mostly clueless about how I wanted to use my degree. I knew that I could do almost anything in the legal field by attending law school, but I had no idea how to make that practically work. I just knew I wanted to be a lawyer. Not fortunate enough to snag a summer associate position while in law school, I spent my first summer in Europe on a study abroad program (great idea, I highly recommend) and my second summer working for a small trial firm. It was there where I became intrigued with the idea of being a trial attorney — objecting in depositions, cross-examining witnesses in front of a jury of 12 — it all sounded so glamorous.
I jumped into trial work two months after passing the bar (actually jumping, I tried my first jury trial two and a half months into my first job!) and did not really explore other options. That first job afforded me amazing experience, and I tried eight jury trials in my first year of practice. Unfortunately, that job had a rather narrow scope, and rather than explore other skills, I honed in on one particular skillset: trying and settling cases. I parlayed that into another trial job and then another without really expanding my skillset. I was rather successful, winning way more cases than losing, but I did not get the opportunity to go beyond that experience. After a few years in that world, I ultimately decided that being a trial attorney, while challenging and exciting, was not what I wanted to do with my career.
In retrospect, I wish I had explored other areas of law while I was still in law school before honing in on one single area. I should have talked to my professors and alumni in various areas of the law; Establishing those relationships may have helped me find an area of law that I found more enriching. Law schools do a tremendous job at connecting their alumni to the school; use that and meet some people! Interacting with many lawyers makes it much more likely you will find yourself on a fulfilling career path.
Moreover, I recommend spending a lot of time thinking about what you want to get out of law school. (Yes, the dreaded "why did you go to law school?" question.) Do you want to join a big firm? Do you want to be partner one day? Do you want to be a judge? What is your five-year plan? How about in 10 years? These are all important questions to consider even in your first year when your curriculum has been preselected. Sure, everyone has to learn about negligence, but you'd be breaching your duty to yourself if you didn't explore other options. (See what I did there?) Then, you make your plan. Of course, the plan might change, but arming yourself with the knowledge above and answering the difficult questions now make things move much more smoothly.
Now, you're probably wondering now what I did next in my career if I wanted out of trying cases. Yes, I'm still in the legal world, just a new side of it. I'm a legal recruiter, helping corporate clients find qualified lawyers to fill their corporate legal department needs. Did I expect that career move in my 10-year plan? Not really but it's one that has played out quite favorably and let me use my law school learnings in a completely different way. So while I never saw my path ahead of me, my lack of forethought worked out — it can for you, too — but imagine where I could have been if I had explored my opportunities when I was still in law school.
See the feature article in American Bar Association for Law Students, November 20, 2015.
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Amanda Ziemann is a Director in Major, Lindsey & Africa's Chicago office where she specializes in placing attorneys in corporate legal departments in a wide range of industries in a variety of locations. Prior to joining MLA, Amanda was a trial attorney in both the public and private sector. She began her career litigating a variety of personal injury cases, and moved on to handle the subrogation department at a national creditor's rights firm. Most recently, Amanda was an Assistant Attorney General for the State of Illinois in the Tort Unit.