1. Industry Overview
Lawyers and solicitors provide expert legal support and advice to clients. They take instructions from clients and advise on necessary courses of legal action. Clients can be individuals, groups, public sector organizations or private companies.
The legal industry plays an imperative role within the global economy as a whole. Lawyers are needed to facilitate investments, buy-outs, sales, take-overs and all manner of business transactions beside. With laws differing between countries and states, those in the legal profession need to be acutely aware of the global climate at any one time.
Politics and the political industry are primarily associated with activities regarding the governance of a country or other area, especially the debate or conflict among individuals or parties having or hoping to achieve power. Politics can range from a global or national platform to a more local scale.
Law and politics can often intertwine and have many overlapping areas.
Depending on their area of expertise, solicitors and lawyers can advise on a range of issues, including;
Personal issues: buying and selling residential property, landlord and tenant agreements, wills and probate, divorce and family matters, personal injury claims and criminal litigation.
Commercial work: helping new enterprises get established, advising on complex corporate transactions (including mergers and acquisitions) and business-related disputes.
Protecting the rights of individuals: making sure they receive compensation if unfairly treated by public or private bodies.
Company types: What do they do? Who do they do it for? And why do they do it
Solo law firms - As the name suggests, solo law firms are run by a single lawyer. "Solo practitioners" typically handle general legal matters in a variety of sectors ranging from personal injury law to family law, but may also specialize in one particular area of law, like patent law.
Small law firms – Small law firms, also referred to as "boutique" law firms, generally employ from two to ten attorneys, often allowing for collaboration between lawyers on complicated or related legal matters.
Large law firms - Large law firms, also known as "full-service" firms, can range in size from several dozens of lawyers, to several thousands of employees including lawyers, paralegals, administrative staff, human resource specialists, librarians and others. They can exist in multiple cities, states, and countries. Large law firms specialize in many, if not all, areas of the law.
Litigation vs. Transactional Firms - Law firms are sometimes broken down by the type of legal services they offer. For example, a law firm might only focus on litigation, representing clients in court cases, or it can focus on transactional matters involving heavy paperwork relating to disputes over money, property, and insurance.
Politician – An individual who is professionally involved in politics, especially as a holder of or a candidate for an elected office.
Civil Service - The Government Communication Network is responsible for public and media relations, linking communications staff in all Government departments. Relevant experience such as a legal background is usually required to apply for posts with the GCN.
Political party agent - Organizing and supporting a party at constituency level and promoting the party and its representatives. The largest parties occasionally recruit graduates as trainee party organizers/agents.
Law firms are generally ranked by their field of practice rather than size. While law firms are the largest employers of lawyers, corporations of all sizes have in house legal teams thus there can be a lot of cross-over in to other industries.
2. The Job Market
Market outlook: Who's hiring?
Although law school enrollment has dipped in recent years, the market is still saturated with up to 5 grads per job opening across the United States. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates 196,500 law positions created by 2020, but that will still not be enough to employ every legal graduate.
Generally, law graduates enter the workforce in associate position and go through the ranks aiming to end their career as a partner at a firm.
Transferable skills learnt within law mean that graduates are also able to turn their hand to a variety of other industries. Common transitions include careers in development agencies, banking and finance, academia, public interest advocacy, government and politics, entrepreneurship and journalism, to name a few.
London is the leading global center for international legal services. 200 foreign law firm have offices in the UK, half of those from the United States. 316,000 people are employed in UK legal services, 1/3 of these in London.
There are over 55,000 people employed in legal services in the New York City area. About 60% of Am Law 100 Corporate associates and partners practice in New York.
Los Angeles is home to around 25,000 legal industry employees. The Los Angeles Superior Court is the nation’s largest trial court system. It operates 605 courtrooms and employs approximately 5,400 people in 12 districts and 50 locations in Los Angeles County.
There are many government schemes that help to recruit students and graduates in to the political industry. Individuals working within politics often have experience within research, administration and/or communication posts. The vast majority of those who begin their early careers within the political field start out as junior party members.
Roles, career paths, earnings and work-life balance: What can I do?
There are many areas of law and politics that a graduate may be interested in pursuing. Here are a few of the main specialties.
Commercial law: Manage all legal sides of corporations including but not limited to creation, dissolution, merging and reorganization.
Contract law: Exclusively deals with the creation and handling of contracts generally involving the sale of goods, land or services.
Corporate law: Facilitate the relationship between creditors, directors, shareholders and employees in a company.
Criminal law: Prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys focus on sanctioning behaviors which are regarded as illegal or defending a client accused of such behavior.
Employment law: Concerns the relationship between employers and employees including but not limited to: harassment, payment, discrimination etc.
Family law: This field is focused on the relationships within families seeking legal representation. Divorce, child welfare, civil unions and abuse are all represented by family lawyers.
Human rights law: This discipline is dedicated to protecting the basic rights of every human at the international, regional and domestic level.
Insurance law: This is the practice of law surrounding insurance. This realm deals with everything from insurance claims to the regulation of policies and content.
Personal injury law: Liability, wrongful death, workplace injury or any other intentional or unintentional circumstance are generally covered in this field.
Property law: Sometimes called Real Estate Law, property law can be residential or commercial and is geared toward ownership, litigation and disputes.
Sports and media law: While rooted in ‘Intellectual Property Law’, this sector generally deals with athletes and performing artists to ensure regulation compliance as well as contracts for those they represent.
Tax law: Tax law is an area of legal study dealing with the constitutional, common-law, statutory, and regulatory rules that constitute the law applicable to taxation.
There are also different roles within each specific field of law:
Solicitor: Provides general counsel. Mostly manages small claims and civil cases.
Barrister: Usually have specialty in certain field. Spend time in superior courts with complex cases. Do not spend much time with clients.
Chartered legal executive: Has very specific area of focus and extensive training. Similar to a solicitor, but with specialized concentration.
Paralegal: Works directly under lawyer and usually writes first drafts of documents. Must have college degree and extensive legal knowledge.
Attorney: Certified legal professional who has passed the Bar examination and is authorized to give legal advice and represent clients in court.
Tasks depend on the sector in which you intern but may include:
- Meeting and interviewing clients to establish the firm's suitability to provide the necessary advice and services, based on the firm's specialism and likely cost
- Advising a client on the law and legal issues relating to their case
- Drafting documents, letters and contracts tailored to the client's individual needs
- Negotiating with clients and other professionals to secure agreed objectives
- Researching and analyzing documents and case law to ensure the accuracy of advice and procedure
- Supervising the implementation of agreements
- Attending meetings and negotiations with opposing parties
- Acting on behalf of clients in disputes and representing them in court, if necessary
- Instructing barristers or specialist advocates to appear in court for the client in complex disputes
- Preparing papers for court
- Supervising and delegating work to trainee solicitors, paralegals and legal secretaries as appropriate
- Arranging and attending further client meetings where necessary to progress with the case and finalize documentation
- Calculating claims for damages, compensation, maintenance, etc
- Administrative duties, e.g. completing time sheets so that charges for work can be calculated and billing clients for work done on their behalf
- Taking referrals from other firms of solicitors when a conflict of interest arises or if they have no specialist practitioner available
- Keeping up to date with changes and developments in the law by reading journals and law reports
Local council: Members are expected to represent their ward or constituency (which is the area of the country whose political interests they look after), take part in strategic decision making and attend council meetings.
Politicians: Expected to perform a range of tasks including meeting with their constituents at ‘surgeries’ (one-on-one meetings with those who live in the area they politically represent), giving interviews to the media and campaigning for their party.
Politicians' Assistants: Basic role is to carry out whatever behind-the-scenes work is necessary to enable a politician to represent their constituents.
Tasks depend on the sector in which you intern but may include:
Responding to enquiries from constituents (known as progressing casework), other politicians, the media, lobbyists and pressure groups
Secretarial duties, such as managing the politician's diary, making travel arrangements and taking minutes at meetings
Carrying out research into local, regional, national and international issues as required
Arranging meetings for constituents
Writing press releases, newsletters and mailshots
Assisting with campaigns before and during elections
Providing administrative support in relation to expenses and helping to deal with budgets
Attending public and private functions
Liaising with members of government and local government, party headquarters, other politicians and their staff, embassies, commissioners, relevant interest groups, the media, relevant voluntary sector organizations and constituents
Helping draft amendments for reports and preparing briefing material
Salaries within law can range from $45 - $100K+ depending on position, experience and specific company. The US National Average industry salary is $80k
Salaries within politics can range from $40 - $100K+ depending on position, experience and specific company. The US National Average industry salary is $60k
Work/life balance: 3/5
Both of the above rely on clients, unless you have serious political ambition. Generally, as you move up the ladder in a law firm, your work/life balance may improve. But as a politician, it may decline.
Academic, hard and soft skills: What do I need?
In fields as competitive as law and politics, a strong resume is something that sets candidates apart. Relevant work experience as well as extra-curricular activities on campus are recommended. Good examples include societies such as the Pre-Law and Debate clubs as well as being a member of political parties.
You will need to show:
- Excellent communication skills, both written and oral
- Dedication and commitment
- Commercial awareness and negotiating skills
- Analytical and problem-solving skills
- Accuracy and attention to detail
- Numeracy and IT skills
- Stamina and resilience
- Ability to plan work and prioritize tasks
- Interpersonal skills, to work as part of a team or with other people and organizations
- Potential to lead and delegate responsibility
- Flexibility and openness to new ideas
- A professional approach to work, integrity and a respect for confidentiality
3. Industry Knowledge: Things you should know
Terminology: What terms, phrases and concepts should I know?
Damages - Lawyers generally use the word Damages to refer to the amount of money that a client recovers in a law suit.
Default - A default is a process by which the court bars a party (plaintiff or defendant) from advancing claims or defenses because they failed to do something required by the rules of court or statutes. While defaults can be a valuable tool in a lawsuit, judges often open (or lift) the default when the party complies with the requirement in question.
Defendant - The defendant is the person defending himself/herself in a law suit, or the person who is being sued. Although defendants can bring their own claims against the person suing in the same case, called counterclaims, we generally think of a defendant as the person accused of wrongdoing.
Docket - A docket is the way the court keeps track of a case, and can be either singular or plural (the court’s entire docket of cases – sometimes in the hundreds). You may hear that your case is “on the docket,” meaning that it is scheduled for some type of hearing.
Liability - Liability is the term we use to say that a defendant has responsibility for the damages. Put another way, the purpose of a law suit is to prove that one party is liable for the injuries and damages suffered by the other.
Malpractice - Improper, illegal, or negligent professional activity or treatment, especially by a medical practitioner, lawyer, or public official
Negligence - Failure to take proper care when carrying out a task
Plaintiff - A plaintiff is the person who brings a lawsuit, sometimes also called a claimant. A plaintiff is the one who seeks to recover damages for a wrong committed by a defendant.
Testify - To testify means to make a statement (or testimony) under oath, whether it be at trial, at a deposition or in an affidavit (a written statement made under oath).
Bipartisan - An effort that brings together both political parties in mutual agreement.
Partisan - Something that only works toward the goals of one political party, and often works against the goals of the other.
Public Servant - Political jargon for an elected official.
Reform - To change a law or a system to make it better or more efficient.
Left-Wing - a politician or citizen who is more liberal than the average person. Typically, this is someone who is for socialized medicine, for gay rights, and pro-choice, among many other issues.
Right-Wing - a politician or citizen who is more conservative than the average person. This typically means someone who is looking for lowered taxes, especially on the upper class, for decentralization of government, and someone who shoots down gay rights issues with discussion of “family values.”
Hot topics: What topical happenings should I be able to discuss?
E-Discovery: Recent amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure make electronically stored information such as e-mails, instant messages, voicemails, e-calendars, graphics and data on handheld devices discoverable in litigation. The discovery of electronically stored information (ESI) is known as electronic discovery.
The multi-generational workforce: For the first time in history, four generations are working side by side in the workplace: Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y. As attorneys, paralegals and other legal professionals work beyond retirement age, many law firms and legal departments are trying to balance a generation gap of more than 50 years between the oldest and youngest employees. Four generations working together in the same work environment present new workforce dynamics and challenges. Moreover, the pending exodus of nearly 80 million retiring Baby Boomers and the entry of Generation Z (born between 1991 and 2012) will continue to change workplace dynamics.
These generational shifts also affect modern politics as politicians clamber to connect with various age-groups – each with their own sets of values and opinions. This has seen modern politics increasingly turn to platforms such as social media, and blogging in recent years.
Virtual law firms: Powerful mobile devices, software-as-a service, and secure, web-based technology allow legal professionals to work from virtually anywhere. As a result, more legal professionals are working remotely from home or a virtual law office. Virtual law offices provide an alternative method of practicing law that permit flexible work hours and foster a better work/life balance for legal professionals. Virtual work is not just for lawyers – a growing number of legal professionals are working remotely. Working virtually allows legal professionals to serve their employers and clients while maintaining a better work/life balance and modifying their schedule to fit personal and family needs.
4. Resume & Interview Preparation: Things you should do
Resume content: How can I make my skills, experiences and interests count?
Being a part of law and politics societies and other related clubs like the debate team are excellent ways of showing that you are passionate about your chosen industry.
Examples of your writing and case building skills are also appealing for potential employers. An online portfolio of your work is another great way of showing that you are actively involved in furthering your skills and pursuing a career in the sector.
Social media is a modern way for employers to check out candidates before they have even spoken with them. Make sure that you are sharing related content and engaging in debate surrounding hot topics.
Interview preparation: What interview questions do I need to master?
- Why did you decide to go to law school?
- Why did you choose your law school?
- Is your GPA an accurate reflection of your abilities? Why or why not?
- What makes you think you are a good lawyer?
- What do you know about our institution?
- What area of law/politics most interests you?
- Tell me about a major accomplishment.
- What are your long-term career goals?
- What interests you most about the legal/political system?
- When did you first find a passion for law/politics?
Must read blogs and websites:
SCOTUS - The Supreme Court of the United States blog keeps you updated on every ruling to come out of the high court complete with explanations and analysis.
Daily Kos - Thorough news reporting, opinionated reporting and guest features from political figures on the state of US policymaking.
Lawyer Watch- A wide-ranging blog that touches on various legal sectors and themes.
The D&O Diary- A blog teeming with views and opinions on the legal industry, put forward by attorney and Executive Vice President, Kevin LaCroix.
Above the Law- A conveyer belt of industry news, careers advice and discussion.
Political Betting- Britain’s most read political blog. Constant analysis of UK and world politics and how the news is reported.
Jack of Kent- David Allen Green is the authoritative voice on all manner of legal matters and discussion. Regularly updated with new content but the archives are well worth a read too.
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) - In Gregory Peck’s Oscar award winning performance, he plays Atticus Finch, a lawyer standing up for a crippled colored man (Brock Peters) framed for raping a lonely white woman. Note: also a must-read for law students.
A Few Good Men (1992) - This movie deals with the question of whether doing something wrong for the greater good justifies the means. The charismatic Tom Cruise plays a military lawyer, Daniel Kaffee, defending Marines accused of murder.
Anatomy of a Murder (1959) - This courtroom drama projects questions on the very purpose of adversarial legal system. A perfect measured dose of legal ethics and trial strategy makes this a must-watch law movie.
Erin Brockovich (2002) - Based on a true story in which a single mother turned paralegal (played by Julia Roberts) single-handedly investigates the effects of water pollution by a California power company and successfully brings of the biggest class action lawsuits in American history against a multi-billion dollar corporation.
House of Cards (2013) - Follows U.S. politician Francis Underwood, a ruthless, corrupt politician seeking revenge. Brilliantly uncovers the murky world of government politics.
Wag the Dog (1997) - A dry political satire that shines a spotlight on political manipulation and spin-doctors. The themes share a worrying similarity with those that were played out in President Clinton’s tenure as President of the United States a year later.