Re: Legal aid

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There are lots of paralegal opportunities for recent college grads. w-lfs-n did one of these for a while, so maybe he can weigh in on that. Other than that, entry-level secretarial jobs (like mine!) are pretty easy to get with a bachelors, and they also provide a good look at what it is that lawyers actually do.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 10-17-07 10:20 AM
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Not to be a smart-aleck, and certainly firsthand work is valuable. But one thing to do is just to take a few lawyers out to lunch and talk with them. One from an advocacy organization, one in public health, one in a university setting, etc.

If she doesn't have the connections, now is the time to start building them. And people like being asked about themselves, IME.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 10-17-07 10:31 AM
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Your requirements are in tension: A job that allows her to get a representative perspective on what it's like to live as a lawyer will not involve reproductive law or bioethics. If she's not rich and thus will have student loans, paralegal jobs at large firms will give her the best insight into how she will spend the 1-4 years after graduation.

In my experience, the people who go to law school and actually get jobs in sexy fields like reproductive law or bioethics are those who have been involved in that work for some time (years of volunteering, leadership in women's organizations, specialized degrees).


Posted by: Amber | Link to this comment | 10-17-07 10:35 AM
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what it's like to live as a lawyer

Obviously you should give her LB's address and tell her to just show up early one morning.


Posted by: Gonerill | Link to this comment | 10-17-07 10:41 AM
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As for your (b), if she's looking for paralegal jobs with big firms (which, I think is probably what she should do), they often post job opportunities on career office websites or the like. At least, there were many such postings on my school's career website.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 10-17-07 10:46 AM
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But one thing to do is just to take a few lawyers out to lunch and talk with them. One from an advocacy organization, one in public health, one in a university setting, etc.

How would one find these people?


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 10-17-07 10:47 AM
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How would one find these people?

The career office probably has a list of alumni who are interested in this sort of thing.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 10-17-07 10:48 AM
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Hmm. The firm route is the default, & it takes a certain amount of stubbornness & luck not to do it, but it's actually possible. I got into immigration & human rights stuff without any significant experience in it before law school, or even spending my summers on it (though I did have public interest experience generally, went to a fancy school & I got into the field partly by being sort of a lunatic)...I guess immigration law isn't actually at all sexy. But suing Blackwater is up there with throwing alarm clocks in garbage cans, right?

Specialized knowledge certainly *helps* but you can acquire it during school. And if she can find a paralegal job in her area of choice, she'll have connections.

I do recommend only going to law school only if you have a pretty clear idea of what you're getting into, because there are big downsides, & without a clear idea of what you want it's easy to end up on the default path...I did some law intern stuff in college. My first summer I worked at the Brooklyn da's office & they all told me "don't be a lawyer", but that was also when I discovered that law school is 3 years, not 5.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 10-17-07 10:51 AM
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I would encourage her to work in the fields she is interested in. Life as a lawyer differs greatly depending on speciality (or focus), size of firm, location, etc.

If her interests are in bioethics and reproductive law, then those lawyers she should find. As B.A., she is overqualified as a paralegal, but that may be her best entry to really see what is up.

That and talking to attorneys.


Posted by: Jason | Link to this comment | 10-17-07 10:58 AM
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How would one find these people?

In my experience, it's largely a matter of shoe leather:

1. Send out an e-mail to your friends and "weak ties," explaining in 1-2 paragraphs what you're looking for. Goal is to be extremely non-invasive and genuinely interested in the field ("As many of you know, I have been very interested in ___, beginning with my high-school volunteer work at XYZ. Now I'm considering a career in the field and would very much like to talk briefly with professionals who have followed that path...").

Keep in mind that it will get forwarded around, and that super-busy people are more likely to say yes to a breakfast or lunch with a young person who is scrupulous about honoring their time, genuinely interested the field and not sport-job-hunting, and has put in a little prep time. The e-mail telegraphs a lot.

2. Spend at least three hours doing web research. Use Idealist and Guidestar to track down organizations working in that field, and then review their websites to understand their specific work and figure out what staff member is best to talk to. Then cold-call.

(Note names of people on the board of directors, too -- most lawyers can't resist putting "Esq" after their names, and they might be useful contacts as well.)

3. Visit websites of local colleges to see which professors are doing research in this field. See what kinds of academic centers or think tanks they are a part of, and who else is on staff there. Approach the most likely person to ask for a connection (if it's your own university and your own department, ask the professor personally to introduce you to whoever it is you want to talk to). If you don't have any ties, cold call.

4. Show up at networking events and advocacy meetings. Get on the e-mail list for events, and now that we're getting into fall fundraising season, pay $50 to go to a fundraising dinner. This will only work if you have the kind of semi-assertive personality that will allow you to (courteously and non-obnoxiously) introduce yourself to fellow attendees. Don't overlook political organizations or interest groups (e.g. local Democratic party or local Latino professionals networking group), although those should be low on the list because the likelihood of meeting people in the relevant field is lower.

5. Go to your hometown newspaper's website and search phrases relating to your field. See if the experts quoted in recent articles are based locally -- if so, look them up. Look at cases that have been litigated and see which firms are handling them, then visit their website and see if they have a specialization in that area of practice, or if it was a one-off.

That's the general idea.

Whew, I hope that was a genuine question and not sarcasm.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 10-17-07 11:07 AM
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DON'T let the student talk to LB. DELETE all of LB's comments here. Why should someone clue this student in about law? None of the other lawyers here knew what they were getting into. Let the student learn by experience, the way the rest of them did.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 10-17-07 11:10 AM
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She isn't going to find much in reproductive law.

There just is not much work as a lawyer. She can check with http://www.reproductiverights.org or a planned parenthood chapter.


Posted by: will | Link to this comment | 10-17-07 11:16 AM
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As B.A., she is overqualified as a paralegal

Not really. A lot of firms want either a paralegal certification or a bachelor's degree.

If the student's in a decent-sized city, getting a job as a paralegal should be pretty straightforward. I got my job through an agency which did both temp and permanent placement, but just hitting Craigslist should show a number of job postings.

but that may be her best entry to really see what is up.

Yes, although it depends on what kind of paralegal the firm is looking for. For most of the time I was working as one, I was a glorified file clerk, responsible for organizing a room full of documents related to the case I was working on and making copies as needed (particularly assembling court filings). It was only after a year and a half that I got the opportunity to do *any* research.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 10-17-07 11:19 AM
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I don't think the specific nature of the work she'd be doing as a paralegal is that important. The important thing is just to be in the office and see how it works and what the life of a lawyer actually looks like.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 10-17-07 11:29 AM
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True enough. Two years as a paralegal was enough to convince me that I never wanted anything more to do with the legal profession. Plus, as a contributor to the firm's bottom line rather than overhead like the secretaries, she'll get to experience the joy of billing her hours.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 10-17-07 11:31 AM
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"Paralegal" as a job title, is all over the place -- it can mean a bunch of different things, from Erin-Brokovich-person-assisting-a-solo-lawyer-who's-basically-lawyering-without-a-licence, to doing filing and nothing else ever. I'm no help for getting in to work in her preferred area of practice, but one of the types of people who does get hired as a paralegal is the 'fresh out of good college, going to do it for a couple of years before law school' like her. To get one of those jobs? I bet the school careers office has lists of firms to send resumes to, and sending one off to any law firm she's ever heard of isn't crazy either.

It's not exciting work, but she will see what lawyers do all day.

On the public interest front -- she should have a line on the specific job she wants, and how to convince them to hire her, before law school. Otherwise the risk of getting sucked into BigLaw is just too huge.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10-17-07 11:31 AM
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If the goal is see how a lawyer works on a daily basis, secretarial work may be preferrable to paralegal (assuming the applicant has the requisite skills). Secretaries work with attorneys more closely than paralegals do, and they can read the documents they are preparing. The entry level paralegals find themselves in a separate room with a bunch of other paralegals coding documents. Entry level secretaries typically get equal or slightly better pay than paralegals.

Legal employment agencies that place both paralegals and secretaries, and various other related jobs, are easy to find in large cities. Martindale.com permits search for law firms by location. specialty, and such.

For both jobs and internships, try the college alumni association for a list of lawyer grads.


Posted by: unimaginative | Link to this comment | 10-17-07 11:42 AM
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12: well now, wait, how do you know which side she's on? I'm sure the Family Research Council needs lawyers.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10-17-07 11:45 AM
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what it's like to live as a lawyer

Don't you have to live as a lawyer for at least two years before you start the reassignment surgery?


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 10-17-07 11:58 AM
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The entry level paralegals find themselves in a separate room with a bunch of other paralegals coding documents.

This totally depends. The little firm I came from before her, paralegals were doing clerical stuff, but it was working with lawyers all the time, being assistants: "Proof this document for typos. Bind six copies with exhibit tabs. Run down to the courthouse and file them. Go through this stack of documents, and put a tape flag on any one that mentions badgers." It was all pretty dopey work, on a task by task basis, but they really saw what lawyers do all day.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10-17-07 11:59 AM
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That sort of thing is a large part of what the (one) paralegal here does, though she also does research and most of the administrative stuff is handled by me and the other legal assistant.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 10-17-07 12:07 PM
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20: Yeah, that's the kind of work I did. Actually, I forgot about doing deposition summaries, which would really be a good introduction to what lawyers do.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 10-17-07 12:11 PM
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Hudson.com. They do recruitment for paras (as well as attorneys). Don't bother with an internship with some advocacy group. She probably won't end up working there after law school due to loans, so she'll get a false picture. Yes, working at a big or even medium sized firm in a big city like NYC can you put you off the legal profession. That may turn out to be a good thing.

We're not hiring right now, but we may doing so soon. fchs.com


Posted by: Phil | Link to this comment | 10-17-07 12:12 PM
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Yes, working at a big or even medium sized firm in a big city like NYC can you put you off the legal profession. That may turn out to be a good thing.

Word.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 10-17-07 12:15 PM
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I'd worry somewhat less about making loan payments w/ a public interest salary than the increased difficulty of finding a public interest job combined with the later hiring schedule. The prospect of graduating w/ a lot of debt & no job is very scary. I was pretty unnerved by it my 3L year, even though I got my offer in november/december & I had the security of knowing my husband would definitely be employed somewhere. I am easily unnerved by things like that, but part of it is also that most of your friends will simply do on campus interviewing in the fall of 2L year & then get an offer from their summer job place. Also, people look at you like you have a third eye when you skip on campus interviewing entirely.

I don't know to what extent there even are jobs in reproductive rights/bioethics. I think where paralegal experience might help the most as far as post law school prospects is in a field dominated by small to medium firms, where there are a lot of lawyers who make their living in that field but it's hard to break into it because they don't do a lot of recruiting, on campus interviewing, etc.

I've paid off half my loans while making about half what I would at a firm though. Again, a second salary helps a lot, as does not living in NYC, but I didn't expect to be making prepayments.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 10-17-07 12:34 PM
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I have a bunch of law school friends who worked as paralegals at big firms before going to law school, so B.A. doesn't really make you overqualified.

She should go to the career services office, like everyone said, or just send out cover letter/resumes/transcripts to big law firms in Big City She Would Like to Live in.


Posted by: m. leblanc | Link to this comment | 10-17-07 12:35 PM
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She should plan on attending only one of the three or four law schools with decent loan forgiveness programs.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 10-17-07 1:19 PM
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Another possibility would be to see if she could get a job as student help in the university's general counsel's office (assuming it has such a thing; most do). It's likely to be much nicer than what most lawyers do, but it's close at hand and may include some exposure to research-related legal issues.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 10-17-07 3:20 PM
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Labs, check your email.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 10-17-07 4:01 PM
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I think she could start reading some recent graduate blogs.

http://temporaryattorney.blogspot.com/
via
http://waitingfordorothy.blogspot.com/2006/08/ah-truth.html

But dying as a lawyer is both aggravating and mitigating.


Posted by: [Joseph Dunphy] of sci.research.careers | Link to this comment | 10-17-07 8:21 PM
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I love the law, but am always happy to try to talk people out of it. As the links in the prior post show, it certainly doesn't make sense to take on a lot of debt unless one is going to be in the top 5% of one's class (at a second tier school) or top 30% at a top tier school.

The good news is that the material isn't particularly difficult. The bad news is that the material isn't particularly difficult.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 10-18-07 9:36 PM
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