Life After Law School: What You Need to Know About Starting a Career in Law
Take the LSAT. Go to law school. Pass the bar exam. Become a lawyer. Sounds straightforward, right?
However, if you ask law school students close to graduation about their future careers, you’ll get a much different reaction. Those approaching graduation have just dedicated three years of their lives to grinding away with high hopes and aspirations of becoming the next big lawyer. Now, anxiety is at an all-time high. The opportunities after law school are endless, but they can also be extremely overwhelming, and many law school students are extremely concerned about making the right decision.
What better way to ease some of that stress than to ask a successful lawyer who has gone through it all for help? Jeff Rosenbaum, a personal injury attorney in Philadelphia, received his J.D. from Villanova University and founded Rosenbaum & Associates. To help those law students who may feel anxious about graduating, Rosenbaum sat down and answered some of the questions soon-to-be lawyers often ask about life after law school.
Katie Bassett: What does the partner track actually look like? How long does it usually take? Why do I want to be a partner?
Jeff Rosenbaum: In its general form, partner track looks like this: Get to work early, pump out reliable work product, befriend current clients to instill confidence, befriend potential clients with the hopes of them sending business to your firm, stay at work late, repeat.
At the end of the day, it’s about business and the firm’s bottom line. If you serve to increase the firm’s bottom line, then you are an asset. When a firm wants to retain an asset, they make that asset a partner. If you plan to stay at a firm for an extended period of time, then of course you want to be a partner. There is no better testament to the quality of your work and the value you bring to the firm than being made partner. Plus, it comes with the added benefit of more money.
KB: What are the benefits of staying with a law firm vs. going in-house?
JR: Two major benefits of staying with a law firm: money and opportunity. In-house gigs are fine. They are reliable. They are predictable. There is no pressure to bring in business/clients. But they are also somewhat stagnant. By that, I mean the opportunities for advancement are limited and the opportunity to meaningfully increase your salary is negligible when compared to firms.
In contrast, working at firms provides you the opportunity to interact with individuals up and down the corporate ladder, both internally (at your firm) and externally (your clients’ business). This has the added benefit of potentially opening many doors if you decide to make a move at some point down the road.
KB: If I want to work in-house, how can I work towards that track?
JR: As is the answer to many legal questions, it depends. If you are talking about working in-house with a business on the transactional/corporate side of the spectrum, then I would have geared my elective courses in law school in that direction.
In the world of business, who you know is as important as what you know. Get to know the people around you. What do they do? What do their parents do? Talk to as many people as possible. Find out who the attorneys at business are and send them emails expressing interest. Be a pest. It’s a numbers game. Try enough times, and something will pan out.
If you are talking about being an in-house attorney in the claims department of an insurance company, then there is no real track. Get a few years of handling general liability cases under your belt at a firm and then scour the Internet for a job opportunity. If the firm does a great deal of work for a particular insurance company, then do your best to get to know as many representatives and adjusters from that company as possible.
KB: How do billable hours work? How can I make sure that I get all of my hours in?
JR: Billing your time is an acquired skill that just takes a little getting used to. There is no real trick. Just make sure you keep track of what you are doing as you are doing it. If you wait until the end of the day to try to figure out what you did, you will inevitably forget something. That stinks. Effectively capturing your time is important, and if you don’t do that contemporaneously with the work you are doing, then some billable hours will get lost in the shuffle, never to be found again.
KB: How can I get more involved in the firm? Joining a committee, etc.? Would you encourage this, or should I just try to conquer associate life before taking on more work?
JR: Say yes to everything – every committee, every work event, every drink after work, every lunch, every softball game, every client function. This is important when you first start. You want to make a good first impression. People like positivity. People like other people who say “yes.” If the people around you like you, they will be there for you when you need them –whether it be for advice, help with an assignment, or a positive evaluation at the end of the year. You are going to be working more hours than you want to be working anyway. What difference does a couple of hours here and there make over the course of the year when it could be beneficial to your career?
KB: Aside from salary, what are the benefits of joining a big law firm rather than a medium-size or smaller law firm?
JR: My prior responses get tied in here. The way I see things, very few people remain at their first job out of law school for the rest of their career. Many people use their first job as a catapult, and working at a big firm can be just that. Big firms have more people. More people means more relationships. More relationships means more opportunities. More opportunities bring you one step closer to finding that job that you really like and that job that is really satisfying.
But really, saying “aside from salary” is a loaded question. Salary is a pretty big thing to put aside. It is doubtful many people would voluntarily turn their lives into endless six-minute increments without the salary. It is sort of like asking, “Aside from the cheese and sauce, what are the benefits of pizza?” Sure, that parallel is somewhat extreme, as big firms are not simply plain bread, but the salary (i.e., the cheese and sauce) make them much more palatable.
KB: How realistic is it to go from a medium-sized firm, in-house job, or non-legal job to a big law firm?
JR: As long as you have a transferable skill set, it is not difficult to change jobs. A person whose role is extremely specialized may find it difficult to switch firms. So, wherever you end up, make sure not to get pigeonholed.