If you’re beginning your law school journey and want to know what work experience looks good on law school applications, read on!
On top of worrying about getting the right extracurriculars and ensuring you maintain a high GPA in your undergrad, another aspect to consider when applying to law school is gaining relevant work experience.
With everything else on your plate, it may feel like you can barely catch your breath during your marathon to become a lawyer!
This guide will discuss the best work experience for law school, explain the skills law schools are looking for, and how to best describe these skills on your law school application.
Top-ranking schools only recently began focusing heavily on work experience after realizing that students with work experience tend to perform better in law school.In fact, 82% of the 2021 Harvard Law students arrived on campus with at least one year of work experience, and 90% of the 2021 students at the Pritzker School of Law did.
Having relevant work experience shows that you have already begun developing the skills required of a law student and lawyer and also shows your genuine dedication to and focus on becoming a lawyer.
While this guide will provide some examples of jobs that can provide you with the best work experience for law school, it is crucial to note that there are no “wrong” jobs for law school. So long as you can demonstrate that you acquired the right skills and experience through your jobs, they can still help you stand out.
While legal experience such as working as a paralegal, legal assistant, legal clerk, or court representative will undoubtedly look good on your law school application, gaining work experience in other fields is just as worthwhile.
The significance of gaining law school work experience is to demonstrate you have skills transferable to law, which you can do with most jobs!
You’re probably wondering what specific skills you should be able to demonstrate through your work experience. Read on to find seven essential skills law schools look for and examples of jobs you can work to develop these skills.
To be the absolute best advocate for your clients, you’ll have to be able to present your ideas clearly and communicate persuasively.
Luckily, practically every job requires communication! However, to ensure you can adequately demonstrate your communication skills, you may want to work in a field that relies heavily on interpersonal relationships.
Teaching and tutoring positions are excellent jobs to demonstrate this skill, as your entire job revolves around you interacting with students in different ways to help them learn.
Other customer service and administration jobs can also prove you have great communication skills. For instance, receptionists are generally the first point of contact for clients, meaning they have to be able to maintain good interpersonal relationships.
Lawyers are required to work long hours and handle difficult clients under high-pressure environments. Law school is also extremely demanding and requires students who can handle the rigorous curriculum.
Gaining legal experience is an excellent way to demonstrate you can handle the specific pressures you’ll be expected to deal with as a lawyer. But gaining this type of experience is often easier said than done.
Camp counselling or lifeguarding are some accessible options to demonstrate this skill. Similarly, work experience in retail and hospitality can test your ability to work with demanding clients and meet strict timelines.
Since lawyers often work independently and lead their clients by preparing them for cases, you’ll need to hone your leadership skills.
While it would be ideal for you to have some managerial work experience, other options to demonstrate your leadership skills could be teaching, coaching, or working for a start-up company.
Emerging companies are always eager to hire bright, energetic, and often less experienced individuals to begin growing their business.They also often have fewer employees, meaning you’ll likely have to juggle different roles. This will give you several opportunities to gain leadership experience, like training new employees.
While these two skills can be separate, Your law school work experience should demonstrate both skills simultaneously. As a lawyer, you’ll be working in what’s bleakly called the suffering business; most clients come in with some form of conflict: crime allegations, disputes, bankruptcy, divorce, injury, and more.
As such, you’ll need to be committed to your clients, compassionate, and considerate regardless of your own opinions on the case.
The best jobs to show these skills involve community work, preferably serving vulnerable populations. Most of these jobs tend to be understaffed, exhausting, and emotionally draining. However, you gain valuable perspective and experience that will not only boost your application but can make for some moving personal statements!
Jobs involving community work can also help you figure out what type of law you’d like to practice!
You can also demonstrate this skill through volunteer experience, which you’ll want to include on your law school resume.
As a lawyer, your entire job is to solve people’s legal problems. So, it would be best to gain work experience that helps you develop your problem-solving skills.
Fortunately, every job requires some level of problem-solving, which means any job could work for this skill.
Customer service jobs are known to require good problem-solving skills. Working as a bank representative can be specifically helpful for those interested in the business or financial side of law.
Lawyers are required to read lengthy documents and take note of every detail to sufficiently represent their clients.
Some possible job options for prospective law students to develop their attention to detail skills are data entry or proofreading jobs.
Luckily, many data entry jobs don’t require any prior experience and have flexible hours, making this an excellent job for students to have while still in school. Also, since most companies require some form of data entry, you may be able to enter data for a law firm or legal research company.
Before you stress about having to beg your professors to let you in on their research projects, this skill is beneficial to have when applying to law schools.
While it is not necessary to have formal research experience, it is worth mentioning this skill. As a law student and a working lawyer, you will be conducting research on cases, making research experience an asset.
Aside from actual research assistant positions, teaching or tutoring are also excellent ways to demonstrate this skill, especially if you are in charge of creating your own lesson plans. Many summer circles and camp programs involve this type of independent teaching.
In these positions, you’ll have to research different curriculums and resources while observing your students to determine what learning strategies work best for them.
Getting the best work experience for law school is only half the battle. What’s even more important than the work you do is your ability to describe this work experience perfectly.
Most law school applications require students to submit resumes detailing all of their post-secondary work and volunteer experience.
As previously discussed, there is not a set list of jobs that you should list on your resume. Applicants from different backgrounds can still be outstanding candidates if they can describe their work experience sufficiently!
Most people are advised to humbly describe their work experience rather than show off their accomplishments. Forget this while you write your law school resume -- think of it as a highlight reel of all of your experience and accomplishments. The biggest mistake most candidates make in J.D. application resumes is underselling themselves.
While you definitely want to highlight your skills, you also want to remain realistic. You don’t want the admissions committee to look at your resume and roll their eyes at your exaggerated claim to have increased profits by 300% at a company you only worked at for two months.
It might seem a little confusing to both oversell yourself and avoid exaggeration. To understand how to best describe your law school work experience, here is a real law school resume that got a student accepted into Harvard Law.
Looking at this resume has probably sent a wave of panic through your body because of how many words it has and how different your work experience is from this student’s.
Remember, this resume is simply one template and not the only way to write your resume. That said, it does have some excellent qualities that you can easily incorporate into your resume, regardless of your experience.
Let’s break it down into some tips:
In this student’s resume, they’ve separated their education from their professional experience.While it may seem like a relatively simple formatting choice, this separation is an excellent way to keep your resume readable and organized.
It also eliminates any confusion over your different accomplishments. Law schools like to see you’ve done well in your academics and personal life, so the best way to show you’ve excelled in both is to separate these accomplishments.
Another critical section this student has included is “service learning.” Alternatively, other students have titled this section “volunteer experience” instead. It is essential to keep this section separate from your work experience to show your genuine commitment to your community (since you’re willing to give back to it for free!).
Most law schools want to see that you consistently keep busy working/volunteering. Some schools will even ask you to write an appendix if you have any long gaps in your resume.
So, you want to include precisely how long you worked at each job by listing the month, and year you started and ended.
This student has multiple bullet points for each job they worked, and each bullet point is two lines long.
Strong descriptions are vital to provide evidence of your skills and adequately explain all of your roles. When writing your resume, aim to write at least one full line per description and avoid vagueness.
If you’re trying to describe a specific achievement (which you should aim to do in each job and volunteer description), remember your new friend SAM:
Let’s see SAM in action using an example from the Harvard student’s resume:
“reduced resume turnaround time by 2-7 days through the introduction of an Additional Information Form used to provide requested documents prior to draft completion.”
Solution: reduced resume turnaround time
Accomplishment: by 2-7 days
Method: through the introduction of an Additional Information Form
The order in which you add these components to your descriptions doesn’t matter. For instance, the following quote from his resume takes on more of an MSA format:
“Updated case logs with pleas and sentencing, eliminating a 2-month backlog of over 500 cases.”
Method: updated case logs with pleas and sentencing
Solution: eliminated a 2-month backlog
Accomplishment: of over 500 cases
Your description should be specific enough as long as you incorporate these three elements logically.
This Harvard student’s resume is two pages long, and yours can be too.
While the idea that resumes must only be one page has been drilled into all of our heads, this isn’t the case with law school application resumes.
Since you want to showcase your best work experience for law school, you might need to extend your resume to fit everything. This is completely fine to do if you have relevant and exceptional work experience.
Another way prospective students can explain their law school work experience is through their secondary essays or personal statements.
If you have a lot of unconventional work experience that is unrelated to law, this can be the perfect opportunity for you to focus on why you decided to choose law over your other career options.
By focusing on your career change, you can demonstrate the relevant skills you gained from your previous jobs while explaining what inspired you to pursue law.
However, you should always avoid reiterating your resume in personal statements! These essays are meant to humanize you and provide deeper insight into who you are and what you value.
If you make it to the interview stage of the law school admission process, they may ask questions about your work experience.
Possible job-related interview questions the admissions committee can ask are:
When answering these questions, it is essential to highlight the skills and roles previously mentioned in this guide that will transfer well into a law career. You want to use strong and confident language when describing your roles. This proves you made an impact and were a valuable team member.
Also, why you left a particular job comes into question; ensure you do not speak poorly about past employers. Instead, speak on the formative experience that resulted from these positions and how they helped you discover your passion for law. Alternatively, you can say you wanted more challenging roles that better aligned with your law goals.
The following frequently asked questions may answer any concerns you still have.
There is no perfect resume for aspiring law students. While legal education looks good on law school applications, any jobs that showcase relevant skills will work.
No, you do not specifically need law experience to get into law school. Many law students have no experience in law but have significant experience in other fields that they can prove are relevant to law.
If you have no work experience, you can still gain admission into law school, especially if you have a lot of volunteer and extracurricular experience.
You can also take a gap year after your undergrad to gain relevant work experience that will help you stand out and give you a better chance of gaining admission into a top-ranking law school.
You’ll want to include your education, work, and volunteer experience on your resume. Don’t limit yourself to only one page -- you want to sell yourself to the admissions committee.
Include any jobs where you demonstrated exemplary leadership, communication, commitment, dedication, and flexibility. Even if you only worked at McDonald’s throughout your undergrad, you can still prove you’ve gained these skills through this job.
Avoid underselling yourself, but also avoid exaggerating and making unrealistic claims. You also want to avoid vagueness when describing your skills and accomplishments, so there is no reason for the admissions team to doubt you.
There is no magic number of jobs you should have before entering law school, but it is essential to prioritize quality over quantity.
Having a bunch of jobs that you only stayed at for one or two months will make the admissions committee wonder why these roles were so short-lived. Also, it will be harder to demonstrate the impact you made and the skills you developed at these jobs.
If you’ve only had one or two jobs but have been working there for months or years, that’s great! Not only does this show loyalty, but you can easily demonstrate your impact at these jobs and how much you have learned from them.
Have you caught your breath? After going over the best work experience for law school, the skills law schools look for, and how to describe your work experience, you should hopefully feel less stressed about figuring out what law school work experience you need.
Whether you’re an experienced legal assistant who has worked in the law industry for years or just recently decided to go to law school, you can demonstrate the relevance of any job and stand out as a candidate!
See you at the finish line. Good luck!