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How do I achieve my goal of being a lawyer?

I am in highschool and am interested in politics and debate. I plan on joining the debate team this year and researching more on topics I care about. Is there anything specific I can do to become a Employment Lawyer? criminal-justice law-school lawyer

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Matthew L.’s Answer

Hi Zaria. Great question!

I agree with much of what Michael said in his answer, but I would add a few things.

Michael is absolutely right when he says to "be flexible." When I went to law school (at the University of Detroit), I was absolutely certain that I wanted to be a trial lawyer. However, after I got out of school and practiced for a few years, I realized I really didn't like being a trial lawyer at all. Now I own a law firm and we do appeals.

Generally speaking, employment attorneys either work on the employee side (representing employees or unions against companies) or employer side (working on behalf of companies against employee and union claims). States also have different laws governing employees, so where you decide to practice has a lot to do with what you'll be doing. It can be a lot of contract work (reading and drafting), trial work, or negotiations, depending on your role and specialty.

The trick to being a happy lawyer is to give yourself the most options for your career and here are the best ways to do that. That way, if you don't like being an employment lawyer you can change.

1. Get Good Grades - The first, best tip I can give you is to get good grades in high school. Getting into a good college is very competitive. Only the people with the best grades and test scores get into good colleges. Why is it important to get into a good college? Because if you graduate with good grades from a good college, you can get into a better law school. And getting into a better law school and graduating at or near the top of your class (top 10%) means you will have many many more employment opportunities. The best firms want the smartest, hardest working new attorneys. You don't have to go work for a big prestigious firm, but you will make better connections and have more interesting cases to work on. And you may change your mind about employment law somewhere along the way. If you decide you only like environmental law or election law or international law, only the bigger firms have those departments, generally speaking. With great grades, you can decide where you want to work and not get stuck working at a firm or in a city you don't like because that's all you could get. Take hard classes (AP in high school if you have them). You also get much better mentoring and learning opportunities at a big firm. The managing attorneys are also going to be super-smart and have great ideas for you to design your dream career.

2. Extra Curriculars - Debate and forensics is a great way to get better at researching, constructing arguments and thinking fast on your feet. I loved debate and forensics in high school. Winning some trophies and doing lots of competitions looks great on a college resume. But take a broad approach to extracurriculars. Don't just do things like debate, forensics and chess club. Be well rounded. Get into drama. Act in plays. Do sports, be the captain or co-captain of a team. Get involved in student government. Many schools even have trial teams compete with other schools. Doesn't matter if it's tennis or basketball. Do volunteer work with churches and charities. Tutor younger kids.

3. Learn to Network Like Crazy - So much in life is dependent on your network of professional and personal connections. You never know who will give you your next job or next opportunity. Build a network and stay in touch. The people you meet in college, law school and at work are very important. At ANY firm, a lot of your success (as you get older) will likely come from the clients you can bring in (unless you work for the government or a large company as in-house counsel). And bringing in clients, whether as a partner in a huge firm or your own solo practice, depends in large part on who you know. There is a great chance that the smart people you meet in college and law school will go on to run big companies. If you stay in touch with them, they will send you legal work (no matter what specialty you choose). So get good at networking. If you have a great network, no matter what kind of lawyer you become, you will never struggle for clients.

4. Do Internships, Clerkships and Work-Study - Working in the industry is a great way to find out early if you like it. You can probably get a job or internship at an employment law firm NOW. They always need runners and file clerks and stuff like that. Find a firm that does employment law and tell them you are interested in what they do and you want to work for them. Same for while you are in college and law school. Working at a firm looks great on a college, law school or job application. And they will write great letters of recommendation if they like you. You're really lucky in Detroit in that there are tons of employment firms because of the auto companies and related industries.

5. Get Really Good at Reading and Writing/Learn How to Study - To get good grades in high school, college and law school requires you to be able read and write really well. Take all the writing classes you can. Learn to read and understand what you read. The best readers and best writers get the best grades in college and law school. The "science heads" in my law school class really struggled with all the reading and writing. The liberal arts types like me who had read hundreds of books and written hundreds of papers in college had a much easier time.

6. Find What You Love - I spent too many years doing jobs I didn't like because they sounded good to me in high school or college. Take aptitude tests. Your school counselors can help you with this, but there are tons of them on the internet for free. Keep an open mind and be open to finding what you love. It may not be law.

Great question and good luck!

Matthew L. recommends the following next steps:

Get good grades in high school, college and law school so you get the best opportunities at every stage. Learn how to study.
Become a really well-rounded student. Get involved in sports, drama club, student government, debate, and do charity work. This applies to high school, college and law school.
Learn to network like crazy. The people you meet now, in college, in law school and after will give you jobs and may be come your future clients.
Get an internship at a law firm or in a company with a labor department. See what you're getting into.
Above all find what you love. Don't fall in love with a career because it sounds fun or you'll make a lot of money. Do what you love.
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