July 23, 2014
Last week, I wrote a post laying out some survival tips for today’s legal job market; one of those tips advised against allowing your legal education to collect dust. And by this, I meant that “no matter what your day job is, you should always find some way, no matter how small, to put your J.D. to use.”
The problem is that the post didn’t go into any further detail on how to put that J.D. to use. So, to help with that, here are some ideas for keeping the dust off of your legal skills.
Offering to work for free is the easiest way to find something to do with your J.D. in the professional world. Plus, it always looks good on a resume.
But I’m not talking about taking pro bono clients; unless you have enough time to commit to handling a full-blown case from start to finish, you shouldn’t be offering to help clients for free. Instead, you should volunteer your time with any number of organizations that specialize in low-income legal assistance. You don’t need to make any kind of extended commitment to a particular case or client in these circumstances, but you get a lot of exposure to a wide variety of legal problems.
In addition, such organizations can provide actual records of your time spent volunteering, and – perhaps more importantly – you often encounter many other lawyers while working with these organizations, which provides an excellent opportunity for networking.
Help out another lawyer
Along the same lines as volunteering is offering to assist another attorney with his or her case work.
This is the preferred alternative to taking on clients solo, assuming that you aren’t already working in a legal practice, and for much the same reasons as you shouldn’t take on pro bono clients: taking on a client – even a pro bono one – requires a considerable commitment of time. If you are working another job full-time, you may not be able to meet those commitments, which could lead to ethical violations.
Instead, helping out another attorney with his or her cases is a safer and easier alternative. Whether it be document drafting, litigation shadowing, or something else entirely, you don’t have to worry about all of the ethical obligations attached to representation of a client because your name wouldn’t be next to the client’s on court records.
But you get highly valuable experience in volunteering your time like this. You get to learn how to practice law as you’ve likely never learned in law school: with practical, real world experience. Finally, and once again, this type of undertaking often leads to encounters with a wide array of other attorneys – making it another excellent opportunity for networking.
Audit law school courses
Although this probably isn’t providing real world experience, and you are likely quite loathe to willingly take another law school class after passing the bar exam, auditing a law school course is often an inexpensive way to keep your legal skills sharp.
Most of the time, you’ll want to steer more towards advanced courses specializing in specific subject matter relevant to your own area of practice (or at least useable in your jurisdiction), but it also wouldn’t hurt to take introductory courses in practice areas that you’re thinking about getting in to.
These types of achievements improve the appearance of resumes by leaps and bounds. If there is a certain area of law that you’d like to get in to (compliance, mediation, etc), certain certifications are often not only recommended, but required. And it is an excellent time to obtain these certifications when your workload as an attorney is (relatively) low and your resume is likely going to be somewhat bare otherwise.
The obvious downside to taking these programs is the cost: depending on the subject, a single course could run upwards of several thousands of dollars. If you can find a way to finance them, however, you should definitely take the opportunity to get your certifications for your desired area of law. Doing so will open many more doors to great opportunities.
Aside from these, there may be other possibilities for keeping your legal skills up to date. So find those that work best for you. There are a variety of ways to stop the dust from collecting on your J.D.