Career Advice for Twenty-Somethings (Part Six): “So, How is the Law?”

“Oh, sweetheart, you don’t need law school. Law school is for people who are boring and ugly and serious. And you, button, are none of those things.”  Legally Blonde (2001)

Our lovely daughter Katelin is studying cultural anthropology and business at SUNY Geneseo. Her friends are all nice, interesting people, and we have enjoyed spending time with them. It’s fun to see things from their perspective. During a recent visit, one of her friends surprised me with the title question: “So, how is the law?” I wasn’t sure how to respond. The law has been good to me. I am less sure it is a good career for twenty-somethings. I am not encouraging Katelin to go to Law School and did not want to encourage her friends to attend either. Here are some sobering statistics:

  • In 2009, the median salary for new Law School graduates was $72,000. In 2010, it was $63,000.  The national mean salary for attorneys was $93,454 in 2009, and $84,111 in 2010.
  • The average debt for Law School graduates is $75,500. That’s a lot of Cheetos.
  • The number of applicants to Law Schools was 83,400 in 2008 and 87,900 in 2010.

If you are considering Law School after graduation, please keep the following points in mind:

  • Law School can prepare you to do many things. You don’t necessarily need to practice law after you graduate.  We live in a society governed by the rule of law. Knowing what the rules are, or more importantly knowing how to figure out what the rules are, is a valuable skill in many areas.
  • If you go to Law School, you will want to spend at least some part of your career in the private practice of law. Three-fourths of Law School graduates are in private practice. It is where the jobs are and where the money is. Fortunately, it is also the best way to learn what it means to be a lawyer who zealously represents her clients. If you spend your entire career in government service or with a corporation as your client, you will miss out on this important perspective.
  • Avoid taking on too much debt. Apply to a number of Law Schools and pick the one that is the best deal. If you spend $40,000 per year to make $60,000, it will take longer for the investment to pay off.  If your third choice school is offering you a scholarship, it may pay off financially to accept it.  Student loans are easy money, until it is time to pay them back. You want to minimize your debt burden to give yourself flexibility after you graduate.
  • Don’t mess around once you start Law School. You need to graduate near the top of your class to get a great job in such a competitive market. I am 15 years out of Law School but still have my GPA and Law School ranking on my resume. You will carry those statistics around with you for the rest of your career.
  • Go to Law School near where you want to live. I went to Albany Law School. It is the best place to go if you want to practice law in Albany. There are some Law Schools that have a national reputation. You can go anywhere with a Harvard or Yale Law School degree.  A regional Law School is perfectly fine, though, if you know were you want to live.

Career Advice for Twenty-Somethings (Part Five): Fire Up Your Dreams

It is college graduation season. New graduates are celebrating their achievements and giving themselves a well-deserved pat on the back.  I congratulate each and every one of you. Good job.

You are probably  thinking about your next step in life.  Should I get some experience in the “real world” or continue on to graduate school? Can I find a job that will allow me to be self-supporting or do I need to move back home with Mom and Dad? What can I do with a major in Canadian Studies?

I remember that feeling. My first step after graduating from college was to move from Minneapolis to South Florida. I didn’t have any job prospects, but I did have a place to live.  Moving back into my parents’ house was not an attractive option at that stage of my life. They were nice people but a little set in their ways at that point in their lives, which included playing the television at top volume through the prime time shows, The Ten O’Clock News and The Tonight Show.

In Florida, I worked as a waitress and then as a secretary.  After a year of struggling to find my way, I joined the Navy.

I could have benefited from some career advice at that point in my life.  These days, career resources can be found in print and online formats, and include  books, websites and people who make a living advising others on how to find their “dream job.”

But the point really isn’t to find your dream job. For most of us, the dream job is getting paid lots of money to think big thoughts, tell others what to do, and spend as little time in the office as we can get away with. That would be a boring disappointment though, because the real pay-off in life comes from experiencing your work as an extension of your dreams, hopes and desires, and not just as a paycheck. You are what you do. Make it count.

I see career resources as being grouped into six broad categories, which I list for you below, along with some examples in each category that are worth exploring:

1.      Figuring out what you should do with your life:

2.      Finding jobs that fit your interests and skill:

3.      Honing your job hunting skills:

4.      Learning how to network:

5.      Preparing to enter the real world:

6.      Succeeding at your first job:

Happy dreaming!

Career Advice for Twenty-Somethings (Part Four): Go Make a Plan

If you don’t have a plan for yourself, you’ll be part of someone else’s.”

American Proverb

I saw Go when it came out in 1999.  It is one of my favorite movies, mostly because it reminds me of what it felt like, to me, to be a twenty-something.

In the movie, Ronna is trying to make some extra money to pay her rent and agrees to work an extra shift at the grocery store for Simon on Christmas Eve so he can celebrate in Las Vegas. While she is working at the cash register, two guys looking for Simon ask Ronna whether she can score them some ecstasy. During the course of the evening, she comes close to getting arrested in a drug sting, shot by the drug dealer who thinks she duped him, and killed when she is run over by a car by the two guys who set her up.

In the end, Ronna is banged up but able to walk. She and her friends come out of their misadventures relatively unscathed and start making plans for New Year’s Eve.  They could have ended up in prison or dead, but instead it was just another wild night.

Like Ronna, I worked at a grocery store in my early 20’s. I was paying my own way through college and the unionized jobs at the store paid much better than most part-time jobs.

I wasn’t a wanna-be drug dealer like Ronna, but I did go out to clubs and party.  Doesn’t everyone? Isn’t that what you are supposed to do at that age? I certainly had my own misadventures, and I can think of more than a few nights where my life would have been altered significantly if things had taken a turn for the worse.

What I did not have at that age was a plan. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, and because of that, I didn’t understand or appreciate that the thoughtless things I was doing could have had a significant impact on my future. Fortunately, looking back, I now know that I had luck on my side. But you can’t always count on that.

My friend Kevin, on the other hand, had a plan. He knew he was going to take over his father’s mortuary business and that we would be coming to him in the future after a loved one died. He handled both of my parents’ funerals.  He was fun to be with, but he never did anything that could have been perceived as inconsistent with his future role as respected businessman and grievance counselor.

Most of us cannot see that far ahead.  We aren’t sure what we want to do today, let alone for the rest of our lives. For those of you in your twenties, now is the time to explore the possibilities.  To get you started, here are ten questions to ask yourself:

  1. What motivates you to do something (e.g., financial reward, approval of friends, desire to help someone)?
  2. Are you willing and able to take on financial risk or do you need a secure income?
  3. Are you willing and able to obtain the degree, license or certification needed for a particular job?
  4. Do you want to work at home or outside the home?
  5. Do you like working by yourself or in a group?
  6. Do you want to travel or stay in one place?
  7. Do you want a flexible schedule that could include nights and weekends or would you prefer a set schedule (e.g., 9 am to 5 pm Monday through Friday)?
  8. How can you turn what you like to do into paying work?
  9. Do you want to “work where you live” or “live where you work”?
  10. Who do you know that likes what they do?

The answers to these questions will give you some idea of the types of jobs you should consider. But remember this quote from Peter F. Drucker: “Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work.”

Pick three jobs that you think would be a good fit for you and do some further research. Find and interview someone who does each of those jobs. Ask him or her what they like and don’t like about their job, how they got it, what training is needed, and what advice they have for you.  Research whether there will be high or low demand for this type of job in the future when are looking for work, and how much the job typically pays when someone is first starting out.  Look for a paid part-time job or unpaid internship in the field to get a first-hand look at what you would be doing.

Ultimately, a plan is simply a structure for finding and organizing useful information, and then crafting a course of action around it. Information may be power, but power deployed toward a purpose is far more productive than a random, directionless sizzle.