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Law Careers and the J.D.’s Value

Finally the sheepskin is clutched tightly in your hand. The years of testing, classes at polar ends of your interest spectrum and seemingly endless late nights of studying are at an end. It’s time for you to take your first steps as the holder of a coveted J.D.

So… now what?

“Follow your passion and you can never go wrong,” advised Harvard Law School Assistant Dean of Career Services Mark Weber.

The first five years of the 21st century have seen many changes in law firm hiring practices and law careers seekers need to be aware of what they are facing. They also must know what is going to be expected of them once they join the firm.

“Firms are being run much more like a business,” Weber explained. There isn’t as much time to adjust and learn the ropes. More and more, Weber said, firms want new hires to be up to speed and to hit the ground running in order to assure the highest possible customer service.

“(Clients) are paying top dollar. There’s a huge expectation that goes along with that,” Weber said. “You’re also going to see it harder to make partner.”

With an unstable economy and ever increasing numbers of law graduates entering the workforce, those conducting the hiring are looking much more intently at applicants seeking law careers in order to ensure they are getting the cream of the crop.

“Firms are looking more closely at credentials and work experience,” explained Stanford School of Law Assistant Dean of Career Services Susan Robinson.

Robinson suggested that while students are in school, they need to take advantage of all the opportunities they have at their disposal. Internships and work experience will not only look good on a resume during the application process, but will help the individual with study and law careers habits.

Robinson also pointed out that many students don’t keep on top of world events and news, something that can be seen as a huge detriment once they begin their job search in the legal field, a belief that Weber wholeheartedly supports.

“Everything is becoming more complex,” Weber said, explaining that international borders have all but been torn down in the field. “Now you’re seeing firms that have a global presence.”

This breaking down of borders and creation of a “global community” is helping the growth of law practice in the fields of employment, labor and intellectual property law, but not without a price to future graduates. Weber explained that with the growth comes new skills and applicants will need to fill the gap.

“Lawyers have to be cognizant (of cultural considerations),” Weber said, continuing to explain that lawyers who have traveled and understand other cultures and countries are, and will continue to be, in high demand.

The consensus at law schools across the nation seems to be that in addition to the “book smarts” learned in the classroom and late night study sessions, those seeking law careers will need to bring other skills to the table such as computer skills, research abilities and an understanding of technology – both in theory and practice.

“It does seem to be becoming the norm,” said Renee Post, Dean of Admissions at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.