Tales of a Recent Law Graduate
*Beverly is a 2010 graduate of Seattle University School of law and a 2007 graduate of Western Washington University. She lives in the Proctor neighborhood of Tacoma with her husband of four years, Anders and their cat Murphy. Beverly can be reached at email@example.com.
In 2007, I was working as a student intern in the Admissions Department of Seattle University Law School when I was asked to archive the files of admitted students. I came across my own file and took a peek inside. Scribbled on the first page was something like “No Financial Aid Award.” I already knew that of course, but it was a rude reminder that in order to graduate, I had to take on more than $100K in debt. “No problem,” I thought. “Odds are that I will be one of the lucky 97% that are employed within nine months of graduation and making $90K a year.” And then the Great Recession of 2008 struck.
Fast forward to graduation 2010. There was a strange mixture of anxiety and hope in the air of the Key Arena auditorium. None of my close friends (including the friend on Law Review who graduated in the top 5%) had jobs lined up. We traded rumors of who had managed to land that lucky position. Some students had a close relative who owned a law practice. Others had managed to land at the right place at the right time.
My path was not so straightforward. I gravitated to government and non-profit work. These fields attracted me because they tend to have a great work-life balance. I also felt great serving vulnerable populations or defending taxpayers. This led me to take positions with the YWCA of Pierce County and the Pierce County Civil Division. I had a great experience with both organizations and would eagerly have accepted a job with either. Unfortunately, an entry level job was not in the cards (or budget). As I accepted my diploma on stage, I beamed with pride and tried to shush my inner doubts. The raging headache and upset stomach that cut my family celebration short were not good omens.
After taking the bar exam, I started my job search. I found the internet to be rather hostile to entry level attorney jobs. Almost every entry on Craigslist, Indeed.com, or the law school job database required 3-5 years of experience. I had better luck with my informational interviews and landed a job in the Misdemeanor Division of the Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office. Unfortunately, the contract was only for three months. One month into my contract, I learned that I had passed the bar exam. My contract ended, but I was now a licensed attorney. In theory, I could practice in any state court doing any type of law. So now what?
I decided to band together with two other graduates in my class to form a law firm in Seattle. After putting in a year with the firm, I decided to move my practice back to Tacoma. Tacoma is just the right size for a new attorney. And our local bar associations are extremely supportive.
Every once in a while, I’ll meet someone who is thinking about law school. The advice I give them is to plan with the end in mind. In other words, what career do you hope to have at the end of it? If you are not planning on practicing, that’s one thing. A law degree might complement your other skill set if you are positioned to move up in the business or education arena. But if you are planning to actually practice law, here are some practical survival tips:
- Evaluate each course and internship for its practical value. If you like environmental law, take environmental law classes. Cultivate a relationship with your professor. Go for those environmental law internships.
- Don’t count on being hired right away. Take some drafting labs and some clinic courses. That way you’ll at least be able to write a will or draft up a divorce petition if you find yourself on your own.
- Join your local bar association. Sign up for membership with different affiliation groups. The Washington State Bar Association has many sections that you can apply to. Go to wsba.org for the list. If you are a woman, join the Washington Women Lawyers. There are also many minority bar associations that provide a lot of support.
- Cultivate mentors. Never be afraid to ask for help. Veteran attorneys were young once too. They can be of enormous assistance in helping you navigate the job market or helping you figure out how to file your first complaint. There are no stupid questions.
That is not an exclusive list, but it will do for a start. If you want to talk to someone about law school, feel free to shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m happy to answer any questions or point you to someone who can.