If you recently graduated and/or took the bar exam, this period of waiting for scores while working and/or finding a job may feel like a “limbo” period. Maybe you are bummed about how the exam went and not sure which job will hire or keep a recent law graduate without a bar license. Perhaps you are confident you did well on the exam, but worry is still creeping in about whether your score will make the cut for a specific jurisdiction.
Being in a period of uncertainty offers an excellent opportunity to explore the possibilities for where your legal career can take you. This article offers some paths you can explore so this period feels less like limbo and more like hopeful possibility.
Federal Government Careers
Working for the federal government is a great way to engage in public service, utilize your law degree, and grow professionally. Additional attractive perks of working for the government includes developing mentorship relationships with government leaders and building a pension for your financial future.
One especially attractive aspect for law graduates with mounting debt, is that agencies are authorized to offer student loan repayment programs to attract or retain highly qualified employees, such as law graduates. You can start familiarizing yourself with which loans qualify and also see examples of federal agency best practices with repayment programs.
To get a sense of what you can do with your law degree, check out USAJobs, the federal government employment website. You will find that to apply for a position as a General Attorney, admission to the bar is required. However, this requirement is not jurisdiction specific. For example, if you apply for a federal attorney position in Washington, DC, you qualify with bar admission from Maryland or New York. This is helpful for students that are still considering which jurisdiction to apply to.
Another route to doing meaningful legal work pending bar admission is to seek a Law Clerk position within USAJobs. Law clerkships require graduation from law school and generally do not require admission to the bar. However, your legal education is still very much valued as you would be performing professional legal work often with and for attorneys. For example, I served as a law clerk for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Counsel to the Inspector General where my work included drafting briefs under attorney supervision to Administrative Law Judges. Depending on the agency, you may be engaged in providing comments and recommendations on regulatory guidance, interpreting legislation, and observing proceedings. For example: working for the Internal Revenue Service could provide enriching opportunities to observe tax court proceedings and see experienced attorneys in action.
Through my clerkship experience, I met current high-ranking officials in government, who obtained their Juris Doctor, and started their federal government career after graduation as a Presidential Management Fellow. This two-year fellowship seeks recent graduates with advanced degrees, including law, and offers leadership development training, and the opportunity to work for a range of federal agencies.
There are several excellent law clerkship opportunities at the state district court level. A major benefit of a district court clerkship is hands-on and variety in experience. You will likely be engaged in seeing the commencement of a lawsuit and be exposed to trial practice, providing variety in your daily experience. You will have a chance to observe proceedings, engage in discovery, jury preparation, and legal writing for various judges, which will be utilized to advise them on their ruling. If you see yourself practicing litigation, it is worthwhile to learn from the perspective of a judge what makes good and bad lawyering from the other side of the bench. You can find up to date openings for state district judicial clerkships here. If you are considering relocating to another state, applying to a state district court is a great way to learn the laws of the state that you may find yourself practicing in in the future.
Another route you can take it looking at opportunities within specialized courts such as the U.S. Tax Court and the U.S. Bankruptcy Court.
Regardless of where you may find yourself, in my perspective, one of the most enriching aspects is the ability to get to work closely with a judge and have a chance to develop a mentorship relationship and learn directly from your assigned judge(s).
Contract or Document Review:
There are private international, national, and local firms that specifically seek law graduates to conduct review of contracts and/or legal documents for discovery. The benefits of engaging in contract and/or document review is the sharpening of your skills to efficiently and accurately review information and familiarize with various types of legal and financial documents such as financial statements, tax forms, and agreements. These skills from time management to reading complex information, are helpful for your legal career.
Covid and post-graduation
The stress you’re naturally feeling as a result of job uncertainty can be daunting. When you put that kind of stress into the context of a pandemic that has upended society, the economy and overall health and well-being— the stress can be overwhelming.
Keep in mind that there are helpful ABA mental health toolkits and resources for law students and attorneys, which provide tips to reduce stress and anxiety on topics such as mindfulness, confidence and healthy habits.
Getting the support and assistance you need goes hand-in-hand with achieving success in your legal career, so be sure to prioritize your health.
Lastly, stay connected to people who understand you and are in the same boat. I personally enjoy listening to Law School Toolbox Podcasts that give me helpful insights, a sense of connection, and help me move onto my next best step. I highly recommend checking out: Career Implications of the Covid-19 Crisis and tips on networking in this climate. Stay connected and remember you’re not alone.