Career Planning: Head Start Strategies for Entering Law School Students

Welcome to Wisconsin. The UW Law School Office of Career Services (OCS) staff look forward to meeting you and assisting you with your career planning. We are very excited to be able to share the next few years with you and give you the skills you'll need to find a great and satisfying job.

Fall Semester

We will offer you many resources while you're here -- we will be here to offer you guidance, present workshops, provide individual counseling, and do everything we can to assist you. But, ultimately your career planning and search will be up to you, and it will be your enthusiasm, networking, interview skills, credentials, interests, and efforts that will determine the success of your job search.

The National Association of Law Placement (NALP), an organization that regulates law school career services offices and the hiring practices at many large legal employers, restricts the services that law school career services offices can offer first-year students until after November 1 each year.

We agree with NALP that your focus during the fall should be on your academics, so we encourage you to get a head start in the job search process by spending some time this summer thinking about your career. Even before you arrive at UW Law School there are a number of ways you can start preparing for your legal career. Here are some ideas you can implement this summer.


You may have heard that the best way to find a job is to network. Studies consistently show that the vast majority of open positions are never advertised and are filled by people who found out about them through networking. The best time to start building a network is before you need to use it. If you are now located in an area where you want to be next summer and after graduation, this summer is a great time to start meeting people who can help you later.

It's hard to begin, and you may feel that you are asking people for something that will make them uncomfortable or will take too much time. An easy way to start is with our alums (and alums from your undergraduate institution who are lawyers). How you contact someone for help depends on your own personal style and comfort level. Some people start by writing a letter. (Don't send a copy of your résumé, so you can be sure that the letter won't be directed to Human Resources before your contact has a chance to read it!) Others are more comfortable calling on the telephone or sending an e-mail message. Try to arrange a face-to-face meeting so that you can meet the person and create a lasting impression.

Your goals this summer in meeting with lawyers are to find out as much as you can about what lawyers really do and to personally get to know several who may be able to help you in the future.

Here are some suggested questions to ask practitioners:

  • What are some of the things you do on a typical day?
  • How did you choose this area of practice?
  • What do you like most about your job?
  • Which law school courses were most helpful or relevant to your practice?
  • How did you find the position you presently have?
  • How might a law student or recent graduate prepare for the position you presently have?

Networking Suggestions

  1. Take an opportunity to watch lawyers at work. Ask lawyers if you can spend a few hours or a day as their "shadow," just to watch and see what their practice is all about.
  2. Make arrangements to sit in on court sessions. In most cases you can just walk into a courtroom, sit and watch. However, you can learn more if you make prior arrangements with the bailiff or the judge's clerk. Clerks generally are recent law school graduates who function as judges' professional assistants for one or two years after graduation. They may be able to suggest times when particularly interesting matters will be proceeding. They also may be able to arrange for you to talk with the judge or the attorneys, particularly after the hearing or trial, at which time you may have the chance to ask about what you've observed.
  3. Make contact with your local city, county or state bar association. Many bar associations have student memberships. You may be able to join even before you start law school, or you can make arrangements to join once you've started. Becoming a member will give you access to the bar association publications, which often have classified sections advertising positions available, and to their meetings. By reading monthly bar journals and other bulletins you'll add to your knowledge of the many different types of law that are practiced. You also will begin to acquire a sense of the important issues facing the profession at the present time.
  4. Become an expert on informational interviewing. One good book that might help you this summer is It's Who You Know: The Magic of Networking in Person and on the Internet, by Cynthia Chin-Lee, Book Partners, Inc. 1998.

Read Career Books and Lawyer Newspapers

Take a look at Guerilla Tactics for Getting the Legal Job of Your Dreams, America's Greatest Places to Work with a Law Degree, and What Law School Doesn't Teach You...But You Really Need to Know. These books, written by Kimm Walton and published by Harcourt Brace, are available online and in most university book stores. In these sources you will find terrific information on preparing résumés and cover letters, starting your network, interview techniques and other important topics. All of these books are well worth the purchase price; but if you don't want to buy them, you are welcome to borrow them from the Career Services lending library.

Periodically browse through the national and local "lawyers' newspapers." A variety of these publications have developed over the last twenty years. Your public library may have one or both of the national publications: The American Lawyer or The National Law Journal. Many major metropolitan areas have a similar local legal newspaper. Here you'll find articles about particular cases and profiles of attorneys and firms. Again, you'll be able to get a sense of some of the pressing issues affecting the profession. Even looking through the "want ads" included in many of the journals will give you an idea of the broad range of positions lawyers hold.

Revise Your Résumé and Develop a Cover Letter

Prepare a draft of your résumé. You'll be very busy with your classes once school starts, but for large law firms you may want to start as early as December 1 sending out résumés and letters inquiring about summer positions and arranging for interviews during the holiday break. You can give yourself a head start on the summer job search by arriving with your résumé up-to-date through your entry into law school.

Now, while you have more time to think about it, put together a draft résumé including your college honors and activities and your prior significant work experience. Try to think in terms of not only functions you have performed, but skills you've acquired. There are a number of books (including those mentioned above) to assist you in drafting your résumé and your cover letter.

Finally, remember that law school is a wonderful journey and that a job is a destination. Enjoy the journey. Keep your career planning in perspective. Your first priority will be to get a good start on your classwork and your legal writing and research training. If you decide you want to seek out a legal position for the summer after your first year, there will be plenty of time for that process during the holiday break and into the spring semester. If you've taken some of the steps outlined above, you'll have a good head start on looking for a summer position.

We look forward to meeting you!

Career Service Resources

  • assistance in résumé and cover letter preparation, primarily through individual counseling sessions
  • programming on various practice areas, including work in the public interest field and non-traditional areas
  • contacts with the UW alumni network
  • access to free telephone, copier and fax machine for job search purposes
  • job vacancy advertisements in our Job DataBank, which is accessible (password protected) through the Career Services website
  • a public interest law coordinator to work directly with students who hope to work in public interest or public sector jobs
  • mock interviews with local practitioners and/or OCS personnel
  • guidance on career paths and understanding legal markets
  • reference materials, produced in-house as well as purchased from publishers, on locating specific types of employers, developing search strategies, and other topics.

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