What is the career path to a successful career in law?
There are many paths to a successful career in law. However, a few common denominators along the way would be:
-- Demonstrating academic excellence, leadership and an interest in the law during college. Prior to college, there are no real "musts" to be done to prepare for a career as a lawyer. However, law schools carefully examine your college record, so it is important to a) get good grades in college and b) get involved in campus or community activities that demonstrate your interest in the law and/or your leadership abilities. Through your law-related activities, you will learn about different facets of the law, which will assist you in writing your law school application essays. For example, if you volunteer with an anti-domestic violence community group, you will gain exposure to domestic violence cases; or, if you intern for a Congressman, you will learn about the drafting of laws. You can major in anything and be a successful lawyer. In fact, an engineering or science major can be a big plus for certain legal fields.
-- Preparing for and taking the LSAT. Law schools place considerable importance on this test, so it is crucial to prepare carefully. You can take it while you are still in college, if you wish to go to law school directly after college, or you can take the test after your college graduation. As with any test, practice and more practice are the key.
-- Applying carefully to law schools. Choosing a law school is an important decision. You should think about location because you often start practicing in the same geographic area as your school. You should also investigate the faculty, specialty areas, and class size, among other variables. Apply early because many schools have rolling admissions.
-- Working dilligently during law school. Acing every law school class is incredibly difficult. Therefore, focus on understanding the basis and finding your niche. For instance, you may become very interested in criminal law or intellectual property law. Take more classes relating to your niche and excel in those courses. In terms of the basics, pay attention in your legal research and writing course. When you start working, your research and writing skills are (almost) all that matter.
-- After law school, you must pass the bar examination of the state in which you would like to practice. Then, you can officially begin working as an attorney. Carefully research and converse with potential employers. It is important to find the right type of practice for you, whether firm, government, NGO or corporation.
My advice to become successful in law I think would be the same for success in any field. I think the one true thing that you need to be able to do, is be willing to work work work. Whether that is in school or outside of school, working hard will take you very far. Some things are easier and some things may be harder for an individual. You need to know your strengths and weaknesses and use those to your advantage.
No matter what undergraduate school you go to, no matter what law school, no matter what job you are working at, do your best for yourself and later for your client. Even if you are not successful every single time, your efforts will not go unnoticed.
I think it is very important to see outside the normal scope of things and realize that there may be more creative solutions to the problem you are looking at. Many cases result in settlement and not in a trial. This is the best case scenario. So if you can be respectful of others and be willing to work with your opposition you will get a lot farther than coming on strong with full force every single time. You may need to be tougher at times, but I have found that being compromising is usually the better path to success.
I agree with all the other posts and have a few additional thoughts on prepping for a career.
The field of law is immense and so are the opportunities. Having an understanding of specific areas that you may want to pursue may help you prepare for a career and give you a leg up. Selecting an undergraduate degree that gives you the technical understanding of the field may be valuable. If for example, you're interested in pursuing a career in Intellectual Property law, it may be useful to pursue an undergraduate degree in engineering, computer science, or life sciences. If you are interested in working in corporate finance (securities, M&A), it might be useful to pursue an undergraduate degree in business administration. Or, if you want to practice entertainment law, maybe you get a fine arts background.
By diving deep, you may find that you're really passionate about a specific area and want to pursue it further by way of the law.
Of course, work experience and internships can be helpful too.
Having said this, many people go to law school without knowing what they want to practice. That's okay too but I personally believe its great to show initiative and experience in a field so you can stand out from the crowd.
In addition to the answers above related to doing well in school and working hard, it can be really valuable to get some practical experience in different areas of law / practices that interest you. I work in-house (at a company rather than at a law firm) and experience of industry has been really important in my career, as well as being good at the law. I'd suggest trying to get some good work experience placements, either during school or over the summer, and shadowing professionals that are already working in the area/s of industry that you are interested in - not just lawyers. You will really broaden your understanding this way and will become a valuable asset to your future employers and clients.
You have asked a really important question Karma. Before you commit yourself to a career path for becoming a lawyer, you may want to ask yourself why being a lawyer is important to you. What is is about the profession or other lawyers you may know that inspires you?
As some of the comments above indicate, becoming a lawyer is challenging and requires real dedication and very hard work. You'll need to learn the law first then determine how to apply it in a wide variety of real life scenarios. You will need to think about an issue from a variety of different angles and arrive at your own conclusions. Learning new ways to think is challenging . . . but, as I discovered when I decided to pursue this path, the study of law can be a lot of fun too.
As for the actual career path to follow, all of the commenters above have given you really good advice. I would add simply to take any opportunity to go watch lawyers in action. You can visit the courthouse in your city or county and observe. Ask questions as you are doing here to gather information from lawyers about the practice of law. If you have the chance to volunteer as an intern for a company's law department or for a public interest firm during your college years take advantage of that. You will soon get a feeling whether the practice of law is for you.