Are You Law Firm Material?

You have decided that your next big career move will be working for a law firm. Starting a career in the legal field can be worth the switch, especially for those who appreciate a steady flow of work, great pay, good benefits, and a fast pace. And it may be surprising to some, but law firms can offer a wide array of different opportunities for the right candidate. From an Administrative Assistant to licensed Attorney, law firms are a business like any other and look for talented individuals in IT, Marketing, Human Resources, Finance, and more. There are great opportunities for law school grads who want to leverage their education in a new way.

But what does it take to be the “right candidate?” Here are a few things to consider as you start on your new path:

Check the basics. Before making any changes on your career track, be sure to know what the basic requirements will be expected of you. Check what type of positions may be a great fit for you by visiting the career pages of law firm websites. Then be prepared with the right skills, education, and experience. Does it require special training, certification, or education?

Make your experiences relevant. Before you apply to any position, you should always review your resume. Update it to include current and relevant experiences that show you can easily transition to the law firm’s culture and way of doing things. For example, are you familiar with maintaining confidentiality of business transactions and sensitive/personal information? Have you had exposure to and understand basic law firm practices? If you start working for a law firm early in your career, you’ll have a leg up on the competition. Law firms prefer to hire professionals with law firm experience.

Skills are held in high regard. What do law firms feel are important skills for their candidates to succeed? Just like all other successful businesses, the legal field seeks people who have a professional demeanor and great communication skills. They look for organized and detail-oriented individuals who are not afraid to pull up their sleeves and be a part of a hard-working team. In many cases, you may be expected to work independently and manage multiple tasks simultaneously. Depending on the position, you may also need specific skills that are relevant to the role (e.g. attorney).

Education is extremely important. Law firms require a Bachelor’s degree for most positions and give preference over those who attend good schools. Lawyers require a Juris Doctor degree and need to be licensed in the state where they will be practicing. If you’re an aspiring attorney, keep in mind that top law firms, also known as the Amlaw 100, hire attorneys from the top schools with few exceptions. Starting salaries for those jobs are now $180,000.

Learn the tools of the trade: Most law firms are up to date with technology and will expect that you have a working knowledge of the software they use. Check what software experience may be desired or required for the positions that you are seeking. For example, some will require expertise in legal applications such as Relativity (Ediscovery), Elite (Accounting), Interaction (Marketing) Westlaw, LexisNexis, or Pacer. You may need to be familiar with databases or other information technology in addition to MS Office including SharePoint, Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Access.

Working for a law firm can be very demanding and is not for the squeamish. You may be expected to juggle the demands of multiple attorneys in multiple locations. Depending on the job, you may also need to work long hours, possess an understanding of legal terminology or be expected to support others who are engaged in high stakes litigation. The ability to work well under pressure in a team environment is key. The challenges may at first seem overwhelming but will reap rewards for those who have a passion for law and willingness to work hard.