Just like any other career, you know that success in the law field is going to require a lot of effort and dedication. Getting through law school will be rigorous, to say the least. There may be 7 years of study plus getting over the final hurdle of passing the bar exam to obtain your license. But the satisfaction in winning a case and helping people through the legal jungles to safety and compensation will be your main motivation, no doubt.

There will be other things that compensate for the long years of study and probably getting into debt to do so. The career prospects and salaries for law graduates from the top US law schools are excellent. Penn Law School and New York University School of Law graduates were starting at an average salary of $160,000 when working with a private firm.

It must be said though that the job market overall is tough, although the situation is improving. We know that about 70% of the 2014 law graduates were in full time employment but there were 10% who were unemployed or were on short-term contracts. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics states that average rate of growth projected for the years 2014-2024 is about 6% which is the average for all professions.

Here are 7 smart ways you should have on your to do list if you really want to get to the top and have a brilliant career in law.

1. Making sure you are the right fit

These are the qualities that any top lawyer needs to have although a lot depends on your specialist area. Top academic grades may impress but you need a lot of other skills to stay ahead. Overall however, you need to be able to show that you are able to speak persuasively and argue convincingly. Even if you do not have to appear in court, these skills will be enormously useful in other situations. You have to have analytical skills when confronted with masses of information and be able to draw logical conclusions.

If you are at school, start to hone these skills. Volunteer to make presentations, join the debating clubs and get involved in mock trials.

2. Spot the opportunities

Keep up to date with what is happening in the law. Above all, look out for opportunities as laws and society change. This will provide you with a niche in which you can excel.

Look at the new areas opening up. Discrimination against workers, family law and protection of the environment are offering more opportunities than the more traditional legal categories. If one of these matches your passion and skills, you will go on to be a winner. If you are into technology, you could look at litigation support and e-discovery.

If you are considering a change in career and you have another degree or specialization, then this is also a great chance to become an expert. If you have a background in accounting, that can help you to specialize in tax law.

Broaden your horizons and look outside the law field so that your degree can be a fit for large companies who are seeking legal consultants. Banking and finance, professional counselling, journalism, and even teaching law are all areas that might interest you and provide an alternative career path.

3. Use LinkedIn to build a great profile

LinkedIn is your way of being visible worldwide and a showcase for your skills, talents, and experience. In addition you are networking with the top influencers in your profession. There are many ways that you can build a great profile. Think of the header where a mere title of your job is not really enough. Use terms which are more descriptive like “Licensing and IP attorney experienced in growing video game space.”

The summary is even more important. You can add an infographic which shows off your achievements, skills, and work in progress. If you have a video of you giving a presentation include it. Law graduates who finish their summary with a CTA (Call To Action) asking interested parties to discuss opportunities in whatever areas they specialize in, are moving into the fast track.

Make sure you are using keywords that law firms are using when they are head hunting. After all, LinkedIn is also a search engine, so well worth doing some research on job descriptions and the career pages of the top law firms. Include these keywords in your profile, where possible. LinkedIn has 18,096 legal jobs listed in the Greater New York City Area at the time of writing. Now is the time to make sure your LinkedIn profile is complete!

4. Start networking early

Did you know that almost two thirds (64%) of law school graduates get their first job through networking? If you thought that means asking an influential member like a senior lawyer or law firm CEO for a job, you are wrong. It is all about seeking advice, making useful contacts and getting updates on what is happening on the law front.

Start with the people you know and then build on that, piece by piece. You are creating a jigsaw puzzle and each contact fits the other through a unique connection of acquaintances, same law school, similar background, hometown or interests in common. Don’t accept all comers but pick and choose those who may be potential clients or employers.

Tell people on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn what you are working on at the moment. It may be about a blog you set up or a presentation or any other projects you are working on. A simple status update may lead to an email and then a phone call. A new contact might lead to a face-to-face meeting which could land you a job. This is the power of networking.

You have made a great start by keeping your ear to the ground. This will pay you handsome dividends later on.

5. Don’t despise internships

You want to find a well-paid job as soon as possible but don’t turn down the chance of a legal internship or volunteer experience which offers no salary at all or a nominal sum. But look at the experience you are getting which you can later turn into a very marketable skill. You might offer to work in a legal clinic or volunteer for a court or a local government office. The professional contacts and relationships you are building here will be priceless later on when asking for recommendations or simply gaining contacts.

6. Get tech savvy

If you want to get on the upper rung in becoming a lawyer, it is imperative that you are up to speed on the technological changes that have revolutionized the profession. Just think of electronic billing, legal research software, and databases to search, edit and archive documents. Courtrooms are using e-filing and counsel can access all these documents remotely.

The new Federal rules for civil procedures make it compulsory for all litigation documents to be stored electronically. Database technology ensures that legal professionals can retrieve and manage this information which is now known as EDD (electronic database discovery.)

There is no shortcut – you cannot escape learning and using all this technology. Tech-savvy legal professionals are ahead of the game. Always mention these skills on your resume and profile.

7. Don’t forget your people skills

The law is written down but to apply it you need people skills. You need to be personable, a good communicator and negotiator. These people skills or soft skills are often most important in determining your success in any career. Being reliable, empathic and collaborative is more important than anything else. One survey shows that 23% of new hire failures was due to lack of emotional intelligence (EQ).

Now that you know what is involved in getting ahead in a law career, you can start making your to do list.

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