Real Advice from Real Lawyers (who happen to be UMass alums)

At the beginning of this school year, I asked some of our UMass Amherst lawyer-alums to share their best advice for undergrads who are considering legal careers, and they responded with some great stuff!

From Samantha Duncan, a contract enforcement attorney at a large labor union in Washington DC:

Have realistic expectations of the three years in law school. I was at the top of my class at UMass so I assumed law school wouldn’t be that difficult. It was. I also assumed since college was so fun, law school would be too. More often than not, it wasn’t. It’s a grind.

Samantha Clarke, an associate in a Providence RI law firm, recommends research:

Spend at least a week at your legal dream job, and that’s the bare minimum. Observe carefully what the attorneys at that office spend most of their time doing. Ask them how they spend their weekends. You may be surprised by what you learn. Very few prospective law students spend enough time researching what their legal career will be like. Invest that time on the front end, and if you decide to pursue a legal career, you will be well served by your knowledge as you navigate law school and the job search beyond.

Joe Mendes, an associate at a mid-sized Boston law firm, speaks eloquently about the importance of networking:

And on the topic of networking, do it. Even if you go to a cocktail hour and eat all the free food and don’t talk to anyone, do it.

You never know who’s gonna be at an event (when you’re in need of a job) that remembers you were the guy eating all the free food at that other event where he overheard you say something clever and funny and so you seem like an approachable person and then hey look someone’s offering you a part-time position that leads to another, better position one-year later…all because you couldn’t stop eating shrimp at a cocktail party.

Your reputation starts Day 1. Build it in whatever way you can.

Duncan McKay, Deputy General Counsel at Eversource Energy, urges time off:

[T]ake a year (or more) off before venturing into law school. Having some “real world” experience (work or otherwise) will enrich your law school learning experience and perspective on the law. Also consider coupling your JD with an MBA or other joint degree program, which may add an additional year (though some schools may offer the combined program in three years), but will enhance your options and marketability upon graduation.

And Dave Peterson, a solo estate planning attorney in Danvers, offers this caution about mobility:

Understand the geographic limitations of practicing law. You’ll see your friends move across the country at the drop of a hat to take on new opportunities. However, it’s very difficult to get licensed as an attorney in a new state. You may have to take another bar exam, which is essentially a couple of months of misery and a few thousand dollars. Once you’ve built a substantial practice, it daunting to give it up and start over from scratch somewhere else. I love the practice that I’ve built in Massachusetts, but it would be nice to have the freedom to give California a try.

To read more, join the UMass Amherst Lawyer-Alumni and Pre-Law Network group on LinkedIn. Don’t have a LinkedIn profile yet? Check out these tips from UMass Career Services on setting up your first profile.

And if you want to learn more from our amazing lawyer-alums, sign up for the Fall 2016 edition of “Meet the Law,” our popular speed networking event.