Choosing where to practice law

By John Allison 

Making a careful and thoughtful choice about where to practice law is the key to having a successful and fulfilling legal career. A good starting point for a recent law school graduate is to remember what inspired you to want to become a lawyer. For experienced lawyers who are thinking about changing jobs, it is important to understand what you enjoy about the practice and why you want to make a change. 

Understand the tradeoffs

There are several different environments in which to practice law. Solo practitioners can have considerable independence and a flexible schedule, but they do not have the support of partners and associates and they must rely on themselves to attract clients. Lawyers in law firms have less independence but may have the chance to work on more complex legal matters.  Government agency lawyers have greater financial security but may earn less money than lawyers in private practice. Lawyers practicing in the legal department of a corporation do not need to spend time marketing to attract clients, but they are usually expected to help advance the business objectives of the corporation in addition to giving legal advice. By understanding tradeoffs such as these and being aware of your own preferences and personal goals, you will be able to choose the law practice environment that will be best for you.   

 Learn about the culture.

Unless you are a solo practitioner, you will be practicing law in an organization such as a law firm, a government agency, a business corporation or a non-profit. Learn as much as you can about the culture of the organization by talking with people and performing research online. The reputation of an organization is also important. You will do best in an organization with a culture and a reputation that are aligned with your own values.  During the interview process try to meet as many people in the organization as you can and notice whether they are interested in their work. Also notice whether they seem to be happy.    

Do expectations match?

If you are thinking about practicing law in an organization, find out what will be expected of you as a lawyer. Make sure those expectations are consistent with your goals. Also determine whether, as a member of the organization, you will have the opportunity to develop the law practice you want.    


John Allison is a professional career coach backed by years of experience as a successful lawyer. He is the founder of The Coach for Lawyers and author of "The Art of Practicing Law: A Practical Guide for Lawyers." 



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