Consider Your Legal Career Options
The Career Services Office has created this resource for students and alumni who are interested in exploring legal career options including private practice, corporate and business practice, judicial clerkships, government legal positions, public interest law, graduate study and fellowships, and teaching, administration, and librarianship. Please use this guide, along with other resources available in our office and the Law Library, as you begin searching and narrowing your career choices to find the niche that is right for you.
Our staff is here to support you during your job search. We are available to discuss your career options, future plans, and to provide guidance in your career planning. Please sign up for an appointment with a staff member or stop by if you have questions. We look forward to working with you!
Each year, about 60 percent of Indiana Law graduates begin their careers in some form of private practice. Within its boundaries are a wide variety of arrangements, commonly divided into solo practice and practice with small, medium, and large law firms. Solo practice and small firms can be found anywhere, but medium and large firms are most heavily concentrated in urban areas. Throughout the nation, 85 percent of all attorneys work in law firms with 15 or fewer attorneys, 90 percent work in law firms with 10 or fewer attorneys, 8 percent work in firms with 11 to 50 attorneys, and 1 percent work in law firms with 50 or more attorneys.
Solo Law Practice
Many solo practitioners could easily be partners in prestigious firms but choose to practice law where they are the sole decision-makers. Solo practice attracts people who are self-starters, self-motivated, self-disciplined, and enjoy controlling their future. Some solo practitioners band together in a space sharing arrangement in which building and overhead costs are shared.
What to Expect:
- Flexibility and independence
- Being your own boss and setting own working hours
- Freedom from hierarchical structures that some feel interfere with legal practice
The Small Firm
Small firms, generally defined as a firm of less than ten people, vary from large city to rural or suburban area and from general to specialized areas of practice. Most small firms engage in the general practice of law, but some firms, particularly in metropolitan areas, specialize in a particular practice area. Firms that specialize in one or two areas are known as "boutiques.” The small firm attorney may find specialize in a particular area after the first few years of practice, but may not be strictly limited to that area.
What to Expect:
- Greater number of individual and small business clients
- Opportunity to deal with more “human” problems
- Involved with the client throughout all phases of the case
- Some small firms can compete with salaries offered by larger firms
The Medium Firm
A medium-sized firm generally has somewhere between 11 to 50 members and, depending on the firm, could resemble a small firm or larger firm in many respects. Once a firm reaches 20 to 25 lawyers, a firm administrator is often hired and the firm becomes concerned with growth. Many large law firms have a staff attorney (someone who is not on the partnership track, nor will ever be). Staff attorney positions are desirable to those attorneys who do not wish to meet the demands of extremely high billable hours needed to make partner and the responsibility of rainmaking (being responsible for bringing in new clients).
What to Expect:
- May allow new lawyer to try more areas of law than a large firm would
- More flexible and less formal than larger firm
- Most medium firms hire with partnership track in mind
The Large Firm
Large law firms are the most institutional of the private practice environments, with corporate structures and management styles. These firms have upwards of 50-300 lawyers and that number in support staff. Large companies usually look to large firms for legal representation. Mega-firms with branch offices in cities all over the world have become common, and being able to list a large, well-known firm on a resume can be a great asset to a new lawyer.
What to Expect:
- Matters handled by the firm typically present complicated legal questions
- Salaries usually higher than smaller firms
- On-campus recruiting prevalent
- Formal training programs for new staff and sponsored continuing legal education common
Legal departments in corporations have grown dramatically and businesses are finding that students with a legal background—or a joint MBA and JD degree—can fill a number of slots commonly associated with business degrees. The following are some of the corporate positions that are most appealing to new attorneys:
- Corporate Legal Departments
In-house legal counsel ranges from one-person offices with time split between legal and management responsibilities to companies with 300 or more lawyers. Gives attorneys the opportunity to represent only one client, the corporation, or a small number of clients, the subsidiaries and the chance to work on a project from start to finish, offering legal advice before something happens and becomes a legal problem.
- Banking Opportunities
Trust departments of banks have historically hired attorneys for a number of different kinds of tasks that include investment management, working with individuals setting up trusts, administering estates, dealing with estate taxes, and working as portfolio managers.
- Public Accounting
Most accounting firms recruit for their tax departments and are most interested in students who have undergraduate majors in accounting. All will expect anyone working in public accounting to eventually get their CPA license.
- Legal Publishing
Lawyers who are good researchers and writers are of particular interest to legal publishers for writing and editing their various publications. Salaries are a little lower than average law firm salaries but hours are substantially more regular and the atmosphere is generally rather casual.
Each year, 10 to 15 percent of Indiana Law students take advantage of the opportunity to serve as a law clerk to a state or federal judge. While the responsibilities and certainly the jurisdictions vary from court to court, there are some commonalities: the time directly after law school will likely be the only opportunity you will have to sit at the right hand of a judge and learn from the inside out about the judicial decision making process. As a clerk, you will have the opportunity to learn and grow intellectually and to develop a relationship that will be of great personal value. Research and writing are the common threads of all clerkships.
Most positions in the federal government are available in Washington, D.C. Limited opportunities exist with regional offices, and each regional counsel or solicitor makes employment decisions independently of Washington, though the D.C. office may act as a central deposit and collector of resumes. Students interested in regional office openings should send their application to both the regional or field office as well as the D.C. office (indicating the regional offices of interest). If your resume is sent to both places, the hiring attorney can flag your resume once it arrives. When applying to a general department, rather than to a specific opening, send your resume to the Office of General Counsel rather than to personnel.
The Federal Bar Association and the National Association for Law Placement publish guides to federal summer positions. In addition, a key source of information about federal jobs in general is the book Now Hiring: Government Jobs for Lawyers, which is available for your review in the Career Services Office.
State and Local Government
State and local government jobs are similar to federal positions, though there can be a wider range of legal and non-legal positions at the state level. Because of the enormous variety of these positions and differences between various states/counties/cities, begin your networking process early. Try to identify people in your target area who have ties to the government. If you do not know someone, schedule an informational interview or job shadow in which you come in and learn about their career, expressing your own interest in the field. Gather as much information as you can, at the same time, make an acquaintance who might be able to give you guidance and help you later.
Many states publish directories of the legislative, judicial, and executive branches of government. These books are called “blue books,” “state manuals,” or “state registers” and generally list all state agencies and their addresses, phone numbers and names of key personnel. Listings for all administrative and elected officials for every state, by type of agency or office, are available in State Administrative Officials Classified by Function and State Legislative Source book. Check the Law Library or the Career Services Office for more information.
The armed services recruit attorneys each year for a variety of legal careers, both with the services and as civilian counsel. Each branch has a Judge Advocate General (JAG) to handle legal matters, and a three-year time commitment is customary. Positions in all branches cover many civilian and military issues and include both civil and criminal law (primarily), appellate work and international law. The military lawyer enters as a First Lieutenant or Captain and receives training at the military justice school. Most initial assignments will be at bases in the United States.
Each branch of the service also has an Office of the General Counsel, which offers civilian positions that typically deal with government contracts and procurement and foreign sales of arms.
Most District Attorneys Offices (or Prosecuting Attorney Offices) around the country handle felony cases with a Solicitor Office handling misdemeanors. In other places, the Prosecutor’s Office will handle all cases. Although the crimes and penalties are different, the day to day routines are very similar. Prosecuting Offices offer wonderful opportunities to gain hands-on litigation experience and responsibility at an early date. Some prosecuting offices will have specialized units or divisions to handle certain types of crimes. For example, there may be a Domestic Violence Unit, Municipal Division, Felony Division, Child Support Unit, and Juvenile Division. A number of prosecuting offices provide their attorneys a loan forgiveness program that assists the young attorney in making their student loan payments. The appropriate time to ask about the availability of such a program is at the call-back or offer stage of interviewing.
Public Interest Law
Public interest law encompasses a wide range of career opportunities that include legal services, public defender positions, and public interest groups such as the Sierra Club, Mental Health Law Project, the National Organization for Women, and the National Wildlife Federation. Students interested in public interest law should consider the broad range of organizations that represent various social action concerns. These organizations often hire lawyers to conduct research, lobby, organize, and occasionally litigate. Some social action agencies handle large-impact work, while others work on a more personal level. Consider this information and determine if you want a more people-contact position or enjoy the large social impact issues. Representative organizations include citizen’s action groups, consumer federations, and lobbying groups. A consistent background and commitment to a given organization or issue is important in finding positions. The Public Interest Files in the Career Services Office contain some information on these types of organizations. IU participates in the Midwest Public Interest Job Fair in Chicago and the Equal Justice Works Job Fair in Washington, D.C., each year.
Public Interest Law Centers
Public Interest Law Centers are often involved in law reform and class action litigation in areas such as employment discrimination, housing, voting rights, women’s issues, gay rights, civil rights, the environment, and education. Many are working on legislation or litigation affecting the area of their focus and can span the spectrum of political opinion. Some centers will hire graduating law students, but positions are subject to funding problems and centers generally have problems projecting their needs and recruiting and hiring in advance.
Many of these positions are located in Washington, D.C., where they can continue to lobby and see to their legislative interests, but there are programs all over the country. Contacts and networks can be very important and, as has been stated before, a background or prior demonstrated interest in a given area can be key.
Graduate Study and Fellowships
Students interested in continuing study and working toward an advanced degree can pursue post-graduate programs. There are a number of different kinds of advanced degree programs leading to advanced degrees in areas such as taxation, litigation, banking, labor, admiralty, energy and environment. For more information on these programs, contact admissions officers for law schools that interest you or check the comprehensive guide to programs offered throughout the world in the Directory of Graduate Law Degree Programs found in the law library. Post-graduate fellowship opportunities are numerous and are available in the U.S. and abroad. The competition for these grants is stiff, and you’re advised to apply at least one year prior to the anticipated time of beginning the project. Faculty members who have been recipients of grants or fellowships may be good sources of information.
Teaching, Administration, and Librarianship
There are a number of opportunities available in the broad fields of teaching and administration at both the law school and undergraduate level. Some of those options include teaching at a law school, undergraduate college, paralegal school, trade school or two-year and community college. Some law schools hire recent graduates to teach legal research and writing to first-year law students. Some schools allow students to work toward law degrees while teaching.
A law degree can be a valuable tool for entry into administrative positions at law schools and elsewhere. Law graduates are often be found in various departments of the law school, including admissions, career services, development, clinical programs, continuing legal educations and general administration. Many colleges and universities need people with a legal education, especially for financial aid, admissions and general college administration in order to cope with the mass of regulations.
Law librarians serve in courts, law schools, bar associations, law firms, legal agencies, government agencies and departments, and business. Salaries cover a broad spectrum, although they usually compare favorably with beginning private practice in some geographic areas. By far, the largest concentration of opportunities is in law schools, with increases in the number of law firms and state law libraries.