Lawyers provide legal advice and representation to companies and individuals in both civil and criminal matters. They are essential to all major aspects of business, personal and government matters. Lawyers often find themselves on the cutting edge of political and social debates, responsible for managing deals involving millions of dollars or even helping to settle life and death questions.
A practicing lawyer’s work can encompass:
- Reading about legal precedents, spending hours or months in law libraries or with online databases
- Preparing contracts, briefs, and other documents, assembling boilerplate paragraphs or writing text from scratch
- Planning and conducting depositions, which in complicated cases can generate thousands of pages of testimony, all of which has to be read, analyzed, and refined into usable information
Lawyers who specialize in litigation will argue cases before judges or juries.
Almost all lawyers earn their JD degree after three years of law school, and then take the bar exam in the state in which they wish to practice.
While most jobs in the legal field require a JD, there are positions within law firms that are research focused, usually paralegal/legal assistant positions. Most students use these positions as a “stepping stone” to law school for 1-2 years. These positions may involve doing basic legal research, filing court papers, and gathering relevant information from clients.
Lawyers and paralegal/legal assistants typically work in the following settings:
- Private law firms ranging from sole practitioners to global firms with over a 1,000 lawyers
- In house counsel for companies.
- At all levels of the government (local, state and federal)
- Nonprofits and public interest organizations
While many lawyers are generalists, there are opportunities for specialization. Here is a comprehensive list of law specializations.
Skills to develop for success in the field
There is not a set prelaw major or prerequisites to apply to law school and pursue a career in law. It is important to note that being "pre law" does not denote a student's major or program of study. Rather, being pre law identifies a student's educational goal. There is no single path that will prepare a student for a legal career. Students who are successful in law school, and who become accomplished professionals, come from many walks of life and educational backgrounds
However, courses will provide opportunities to hone the following skills that law schools seek in applicants:
- Active Learning
- Analytical Thinking
- Attention to Detail
- Critical reading and ability to synthesize complex material
- Logic and problem solving
- Oral communication skills
Online resources specific to the industry
- Firsthand* is a comprehensive resource for information on what it is like to work within an industry, company or profession. *Note: Registration using Northwestern email address is required for access.
- American Bar Association: Career Paths in Law
- Chicago Bar Association
- Chicago Daily Law Bulletin
- LinkedIn Jobs
- Martindale Law Director
- Sample Law Resume (PDF)
- The Occupational Outlook Handbook: Paralegals and Legal Assistants
- The Occupational Outlook Handbook: Lawyers
- Top Legal Employment websites
- What Do Lawyers Do?
Key Information or knowledge for this field
- Do not limit your search to “legal” positions, as the majority of those opportunities are reserved for law school students.
- Public interest, nonprofits and government agencies tend to have more substantive opportunities for undergraduates than corporate law firms.
- Because it is common for “legal” interns to perform administrative tasks, highlight those experiences on your resume and in your cover letter.
- The best way to secure an internship in a legal firm is to utilize your contacts and further develop a network of legal professionals.
Legal interviewers use a conversational, non-directed approach to interviewing. Candidates should be able to clearly articulate why they are interested in a particular organization and discuss current issues – read the recent updates, press releases and/or talk to any personal contacts at the organization.
Be prepared to discuss every detail of your resume, including skills such as organizational, communication and writing. During a discussion on a legal issue or when addressing potential weaknesses, remember to remain calm, composed and focus on good reasoning.
Sample Law Firms & Legal Services Interview Questions
- Provide an example of a complex legal issue that you had to analyze and solve. How did you conduct your research?
- How do you organize your workload in order to manage multiple tasks and tight deadlines?
- Tell me about your experience dealing with confidential and sensitive information.
- How do you ensure accuracy of your work
To learn more about networking, please visit the NCA networking webpage
Relevant student groups & professional organizations
Northwestern Student Groups:
- Northwestern prelaw chapter of Phi Alpha Delta: Coed professional Legal Fraternity
- Northwestern Mock Trial Team
- Northwestern Undergraduate Law Journal
- Northwestern Womxn in Law
External Professional Organizations:
- Association for Legal Professionals
- Individual State and City Bar Associations
- The Chicago Council of Lawyers
- National Association of Legal Assistants