There are many career paths available to students pursuing a law degree. The one you choose depends on several factors, including your interests, personality, prior experience, and academic and practice strengths. Changing national and international economic factors also affect the demand for lawyers in specific practice areas at different times. You should begin thinking about your career path early in law school and take proactive steps to accomplish your goals.
The CDO has resources and programs to help.
See below for some basic information about some of the most common career paths for lawyers:
Many students are interested in pursuing teaching careers. Traditionally, law schools have filled faculty positions with people who performed very well academically, with law review experience, a judicial clerkship, some practical experience, and a demonstrated commitment to legal scholarship. With greater emphasis on practical skills through class work or clinical programs, sometimes law schools hire lawyers with more practical experience, especially in adjunct roles.
Other academic areas are open to law graduates and practicing lawyers, although not always for tenure-track positions. Many undergraduate institutions hire lawyers to teach in interdisciplinary departments (for example, business law to business students, criminal justice law to criminal justice, or political science majors). Also, virtually all higher education institutions have legal departments representing the institution in various legal matters. Many law schools hire lawyers for administration positions, including Admissions, Career Development, and Student and Alumni Relations.
Not all law school graduates practice law. People with law degrees are employed in virtually every industry in the country. Some of the most common examples of non-legal careers include management consulting, sports or entertainment agents, finance (banking, investment banking, private venture capital), education, legislative/lobbying, and work in non-profit organizations.
Every year the CDO hosts presentations about non-traditional careers for people with law degrees. There also are several references in the CDO devoted to non-traditional legal careers. Contact the CDO for more information.
Most large corporations and other business entities of all types and sizes hire lawyers as direct employees in permanent positions. Some of these positions involve the traditional practice of law, while others do not. Lawyers engaged in legal practice areas are often referred to as “in-house counsel” or “inside counsel.” Like private law firms, corporate legal departments vary in size and practice areas. Lawyers working for smaller businesses may find themselves handling a variety of legal matters from litigation to transactions. Lawyers in larger corporations may specialize in particular areas of practice.
Some businesses hire newly-graduated lawyers for their legal staff, but many require at least some level of experience. A few enterprises interview on-campus, but most of these positions are acquired through direct contact or referrals. The CDO can help you develop a plan if you want to pursue a career as inside counsel.
State and federal governments employ lawyers in all three branches--executive, legislative, and judicial. While the most commonly recognized example of government service is criminal prosecution, lawyers work in various federal and state agencies and federal and state legislatures. Many Baylor Lawyers find that working for the government provides hands-on experience that is difficult to obtain in other positions.
- State & Local Government Career Resources
- Texas Courts
- Texas District & County Attorneys Association
- National District Attorneys Association
- Work in Texas
- Government Honors & Internship Handbook (password required - see Symplicity document library)
- OSCAR (Federal Judicial Clerkships)
- Federal Legal Employment Opportunities Guide
- Department of Justice Honors Program
- Presidential Management Fellows Program
- US Court Jobs
- US Senate Employment Bulletin
- US House of Representatives
- US Department of State
- US Government Policy and Supporting Positions Book
- National Legal Aid & Defender Association
- National Juvenile Defense Policy & Practice Career Resource Guide
Judge Advocate General
A post-graduate judicial clerkship is a prestigious position that allows a law school graduate to work directly with a judge in a state or federal court. Baylor Lawyers who have served as judicial clerks describe these positions as the most rewarding of their careers and note the unique relationship formed with the judge for whom they clerked.
The duties and functions of a judicial law clerk vary by the judge and type of court. In most chambers, a law clerk's broad responsibilities include conducting legal research, preparing memos, drafting orders and opinions, proofreading the judge's orders and opinions, verifying citations, and assisting the judge during courtroom proceedings. Law clerks also are expected to work cooperatively with fellow legal staff and court personnel. Judicial clerks serve for one- or two-year terms after graduation.
The Career Development Office and the faculty judicial clerkship advisory committee assist interested law students and alumni in applying for judicial clerkships. We work together to advise applicants about the application process, help perfect applications, and submit applications to judges. Baylor Law hosts an information session for students presented by judges and former clerks each fall, and we offer a program about the application process in the spring. All students applying for a federal judicial clerkship are encouraged to attend these programs. They should begin working with the CDO on researching opportunities and preparing applications in the spring or the summer after their first year of law school.
Students should note that a judicial clerkship is different from a judicial internship. Judicial internships allow students to gain exposure to the judicial process as a student during law school.
Types of Courts that Hire Clerks
- U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals
- U.S. District Courts (District Court Judges and Magistrate Judges)
- U.S. Bankruptcy Courts
- U.S. Court of International Trade
- U.S. Court of Federal Claims
- U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces
- U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims
- U.S. Tax Court Federal Administrative Law Judges
- Immigration Courts
- Supreme Court of Texas
- Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Texas
- Intermediate Appellate Courts (a few hire recent graduates as briefing attorneys)
OSCAR (federal judicial clerkships)
Vermont Law School Guide to State Judicial Clerkship Procedures (password required)
Most private practice lawyers are members of law firms. These for-profit business organizations are typically some form of partnership or professional corporation. Law firms vary in size and practice specialties. The largest law firms have offices in cities worldwide and can have many lawyers practicing in all specialties.
There are several ways to enter private law firm practice. First, many law firms recruit law students through on-campus interviews (OCIs) or resume reviews coordinated through the CDO. The CDO hosts formal OCIs in August, November, and February each year. Participating firms hire students for summer associate or summer clerk positions after their 2L year. From the summer clerkships, many firms make offers of permanent employment to begin after graduation the following year. Some OCI firms also interview 3L students to start work after graduation without requiring a previous clerkship. Although rarer, some law firms interview 1L students for internship positions during the summer after their 1L year. The CDO will have informational presentations about the OCI process and will notify you about important deadlines.
Generally, smaller and mid-size law firms hire as needed for summer and permanent positions. However, these smaller and mid-size firms make up the majority of Baylor Law OCI participants. Additionally, they often accept direct applications from students. The CDO can help you plan to research and identify firms that may interest you. We can guide you in preparing application materials, usually a resume and cover letter. The best time to directly apply for these positions depends upon several factors, including the national and international economies. Consult the CDO for more information.
“Public interest law” is a broad term that describes several practice areas, generally involving legal work in service of underrepresented people or causes; or legal representation of public interest groups. The term can also include government public service. See the Government section for more information about the government as a career option.
Examples of organizations serving underrepresented populations include civil legal services organizations (a local example is Lone Star Legal Aid) that provide certain legal services to people under a designated income level and public defender offices that provide criminal defense to people who cannot afford their representation.
Public interest groups are non-profit legal organizations that represent specific people or causes. Some examples include the Institute for Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union. Some groups seek to achieve legal and social change through litigation, policy centers and “think tanks,”; and community development groups. There also are international public interest organizations that advance causes of global interests.
Most public interest organizations seek applicants demonstrating a commitment to public interest work. If you are interested in such an opportunity, be sure your resume accurately reflects any experience that shows your interest in public service, especially community and volunteer work.
However, some public interest organizations interview on campus or post open internships, clerkships, and permanent positions on Symplicity. Along with the other Texas law schools, Baylor Law participates in an annual Public Interest Job Fair held during the spring at the University of Texas School of Law.
For various reasons, many lawyers decide to open their own law offices. If you are interested in exploring this option, meeting with lawyers throughout your law school experience who have successfully established a law practice is essential, and you will want to find a mentor who will be available to you as you establish your practice.
Upon graduation, you should also plan to attend Legal Mapmaker™—a program recently launched by Baylor Law to assist young lawyers start successful and efficient law practices. The course, which will be taught at a Texas law school in August each year, will cover the following topics:
- Mission and professionalism
- Selection of practice areas
- Office and staffing
- Business plan
- Financial management
- Avoiding malpractice (compliance issues)
- Case evaluation and referrals
- Client relations and delivery of services
- Bar and community involvement
See the Legal Mapmaker website for more information.