College of Law

Career Paths

One of the most important things to do before leaving law school is to learn about the wide variety of career opportunities available to law school graduates. Below are links to additional information on several practice settings for attorneys, as well as alternative ways in which you might use your law degree. 

In addition to the overviews provided in each section, the College of Law and Office of Professional Development have a variety of resources designed to help you get a better feel for the legal profession and beyond.  One such resource is the Career Compass which provides descriptions, courses, and opportunities related to particular practice areas.  We also have a large network of alumni across the country with which students can connect to learn more about specific areas of interest.  For links to particular job search websites, click on Job Search Resources.   Please contact the OPD for more information.

Government Judicial Clerkships Private Sector Legal Jobs
Public Interest Alternative Legal Careers  


Opportunities for employment are available at every level of government from local to federal.  Lawyers may work with and represent governmental entities such as school districts, cities, counties, states, administrative agencies, and the federal government.

    • Federal Government:  The federal government hires lawyers for a variety of tasks in numerous agencies and departments and offers career opportunities in a broad range of specialty fields. The Department of Justice (DOJ) is the largest federal employer of attorneys.  Representative of other federal agencies, the DOJ has a well-developed Summer Law Intern Program (SLIP) for second year students and a Legal Intern Program for first year law students.  Many federal government agencies participate in Attorney Honors programs to assist with recruitment of entry level attorneys and, often, those programs are the only way the agencies hire graduating law students.  Recruitment for these programs is extremely competitive.  For more information, please visit the Office of Professional Development to secure a password for the Government Honors and Internships Handbook.  ( Another important job search resource is the website.
    • State & Local Government:  State government opportunities vary. Each of the fifty states maintains a staff under its Attorney General to litigate suits for and against the state; this is often the largest legal office at the state level.  In addition, many state and local agencies employ attorneys.  Non-attorney positions may also exist within many state agencies for which a law degree is helpful but not required.  Local government units will generally have a city attorney and a larger city may have a department instead of just one attorney to take on all the work. On the web, and are good resources. 
    • Criminal Prosecution and Defense: Positions as public defenders and prosecutors are often sought after by new law school graduates. Public defender offices provide representation to accused persons in criminal cases who are financially unable to retain their own lawyer. Prosecutor’s offices handle criminal cases but represent the state (or “the people”) in these matters. Caseloads tend to be high in this area, which provides a unique opportunity for young lawyers to get great experience. 

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Judicial Clerkships

If you are interested in pursuing a post-graduate judicial clerkship, you should reach out to the Office of Professional Development to set up a time to discuss your search plans.  OPD is also able to help provide information on available resources, spreadsheets, and past law clerk hires.

What is a clerkship?

Judicial clerkships are typically one or two-year appointments for recent law graduates, although some judges do hire permanent clerks.  In addition to the typical judicial clerkship in which an attorney works for a specific judge, some courts hire staff attorneys or judicial clerks who may work for all of the judges on the court.

One who seeks to become a judicial clerk is really preparing for the role of “advisor to the judge,” a coveted and respected role throughout the legal community.  Judicial clerkships provide an opportunity for a new lawyer to spend extended time with a judge, and to keep learning the law from the perspective and hand of that judge.

While the employing judge will determine the specific duties and functions of his or her clerk, judicial clerks typically will perform legal research, prepare bench memoranda on cases before the judge, draft opinions, verify citations, communicate with counsel regarding case management and procedural requirements, and assist the judge during courtroom proceedings.  Many judicial clerks find that the prestige and experience associated with service as a judicial clerk greatly increases one’s future employment opportunities.  For example, many law firms will grant second-year status to incoming associates who have completed a clerkship or will defer a graduate’s start date to allow for the one or two-year clerkship.

Requirements, Deadlines, and Process

Most federal clerkships are very competitive and require a high GPA.  Many state courts also offer excellent clerkship opportunities.  Experience interning for a judge; participation in Law Review, Moot Court, or Trial Advocacy Team; and other practical legal experience will help make you a more attractive candidate.

Federal Courts: The application process for clerkships at the federal court is highly competitive.  Most successful clerkship applicants have at least a 3.5 GPA and have participated in Law Review. If you wish to apply for a federal clerkship you must be prepared to hit the ground running during your second year. While there is a uniform date from which students can begin submitting applications in their second year of law school, there is no uniform deadline for all federal clerkships.  It is important that you are aware of the guidelines prior to beginning the application process.  Additionally, some courts will hire individuals with a few years of legal practice experience.  For more details on the federal court judicial clerkship hiring process, go to the OSCAR website.  To explore more about federal clerkships, click here.  The U.S. Courts have also put together a helpful Applicant Prep Kit.

State and Local Courts: No single application process or centralized database for applying to state court clerkships exists.  Each court, and often each judge within a court, will have varying hiring needs or timelines.  These courts offer a great opportunity to shape the law in a particular state while getting to know the legal community. If you have a specific state in which you'd like to practice, this experience can offer you connections with local attorneys and judges, as well as the opportunity to hone in on areas of expertise.  State court application deadlines vary widely from court to court and are sometimes as early as the second year.  Some courts start to consider applicants in their final year of law school.

Related Websites

Online System for Clerkship Application and Review (OSCAR):
The Online System for Clerkship Application and Review (OSCAR) is a centralized resource for notice of available federal clerkships, clerkship application information, and law clerk employment information.

U.S. Courts:
This site provides background information and helpful resource links for the U.S. Court System.

U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary: 
This site provides information about judicial vacancies, nominations, and confirmations.

Judicial Clerkships.Com:
This site provides some useful links for judicial clerkship applicants.

VLS Guide to State Judicial Clerkship Procedures:
The username and password are posted in the “Career Website Subscription Links and Passwords 2014-2015” document found under the Resources tab on Symplicity. This guide provides a great starting point for information about state and local courts across the country.

Ohio District Courts of Appeal:
This site provides information on the Ohio Courts of Appeal and the various jurisdictions.   

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Private Sector Legal Jobs

Law Firms

Lawyers who work in the private sector can be found in numerous settings, the most common of the private sector settings being the law firm. Law offices can take on many shapes and sizes ranging from solo practice to small, medium, and large. Some firms have multiple locations and even international offices.  Law firms might have expertise in one specific area of law, their lawyers might pursue broad general practices, or the firm may be broken up into numerous practice area groups. Some law firms focus on litigation or transactional work, while at others you may find a combination.

Due to the fact that larger law firms are more likely to interview on campus, there is a distorted sense of the numbers of attorneys who actually practice in the large firm setting. The majority of lawyers nationwide work in solo, small, or medium sized firms.

Small and Solo Firm Practice

In small firms, a graduate generally has the opportunity to take on more responsibility for cases and have more client contact early on.  However, smaller firms may have fewer resources for attorney salaries and support staff, which means associates may receive a lower starting salary and could do a lot of their own administrative tasks.     

Small firms usually do not hire on a regular annual cycle, and tend to hire for summer and permanent positions on an as-needed basis.  The process of finding employment in a small firm is more complicated and unregimented than finding one with a large or medium-sized firm.  Although some people have had success finding a small firm position through mass mailings, a more targeted approach tends to be more fruitful.  One resource for searching for small firm employers by city, state, and/or practice area is

If your ultimate goal is to practice in a smaller community or in a small firm in a larger community, your plans may not be settled as early as some of your classmates.  In fact, it may not be until after you’ve taken and passed the bar that permanent employment plans materialize, and this is not uncommon. 

Many attorneys across the country, especially in smaller towns and rural areas, are solo practitioners.   Solo practice can be rewarding and challenging.  Some individuals prefer the autonomy of being a solo attorney, which gives them more control over their practice and business outcomes.   Practicing solo requires an entrepreneurial spirit and a good support network.  If you are considering going solo, you should build a network of more seasoned attorneys in the region where you plan to practice who can help you as you build your business.   

Various bar associations may provide helpful resources for solo and small practice attorneys, including committees dedicated to solo/small issues, access to form banks, discounts on practice management software, and client referral services.

Medium Firm Practice

Medium-sized law firms can range from firms with 11-20 attorneys or 21-50 depending on the geographic location of the firm and the type of firms in/around it. (What is considered medium in Toledo may be small in Chicago.)  Firms in this range may also be “boutique firms,” which means they have specialized practices. 

While some medium-sized firms are similar to large firms and recruit in the late summer or early fall, some will not make summer law clerk hiring decisions until later.  In order to avoid missing opportunities, it is wise to send letters of inquiry to medium firms in the late summer.  Medium-sized firms tend to be a little more flexible on application criteria than large firms, and may even consider hiring outstanding first year law students for summer law clerk positions. 

Large Firm Practice:  

Large firms are generally defined as those firms having 50 or more attorneys. This varies depending on the region/geographic location.  Large firms generally provide the highest starting salaries, the greatest opportunities for specialization, and a steady client base.  Large firms are known for their high billable hour requirements of new associates, which translate into long work hours.  

Most large law firms recruit for summer associates exclusively in the late summer to early fall.  The second year summer associate program is heavily relied on to fill permanent first year associate positions, and many times a permanent offer of employment follows a summer spent at a large firm.  Whether a permanent job offer is made to a summer associate will depend on the needs of the firm and the work performance of the student over the course of the summer. 

Large firm recruiting is very competitive; typically large firms are interested in students who are in the top of the class, have outstanding legal research and writing skills, and who have been selected for law review and/or moot court.  Detailed information on many large and medium firm employers is available through the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) Directory. (

Other Private Legal Service Providers

As a result of changes in the economy and advances in technology, companies and law firms have sought ways outside the traditional law firm model to get their legal work completed efficiently.  Companies involved in Legal Process Outsourcing have sprung up across the country and globally to meet this need.  Typically, this work relates to E-Discovery, other litigation-related work, due diligence, and contract review.  


Corporations, banks, accounting firms, insurance companies, publishing companies and consulting groups are all businesses that employ lawyers. In addition, libraries, hospitals, colleges, school systems and a host of other entities rely on attorneys as well.

In-House Counsel:  A common private sector role for attorneys is as in-house counsel. These attorneys work for corporations, associations, and other private-sector organizations. Typically, these positions require several years of law firm or government practice experience before making the transition in-house.  However, some corporations will occasionally consider bringing in excellent newer attorneys with a specialized background or prior experience for entry level associate counsel positions.  Unlike law firm attorneys, in-house attorneys work with only one client and generally cover a variety of areas for that one client.  

Depending on the size of the company, in-house counsel attorneys may function as generalists with responsibility for the legal affairs of the corporation, or they may have a very specialized role in a particular facet of operations, such as employment issues, financial regulations, or intellectual property matters.  Sometimes, in-house counsel positions will require a background specific to the industry in which the lawyer will be working.  For example, an alternative energy company might hire an attorney with experience working for a federal or state government environmental agency to assist with monitoring corporate environmental regulation compliance and managing any related litigation.

Accounting Firms:  Accounting firms also look to lawyers to handle areas such as accounting, auditing, tax planning, and management services. Some openings for lawyers will be in the tax departments of the big accounting firms and may require a background in accounting as well as a law degree. Regional accounting firms may also hire attorneys.

Academia:  Universities and other educational employers, both public and private, hire attorneys to represent them and manage their corporate affairs.  Attorneys can be found in the General Counsel’s Office, in the medical center, in legal compliance, and in areas that deal with intellectual property where patents and trademarks need protecting. Lawyers may also serve in a faculty or administrative role.

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Public Interest

For information on Public Interest career paths, please see the Public Interest page.  

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Alternative Legal Careers

A law degree may lead to any number of successful career paths, both legal and non-legal.   There are many opportunities for attorneys to use the skills they have gained in law school in alternative, or non-traditional, career settings.

Finding a fulfilling alternative legal career requires perseverance and commitment.  Students looking for non-traditional work may need to show the employer why their legal skills make them the best candidate for the position. 

The following list is just a sample of the common non-traditional legal career options that are pursued by individuals with a law degree, there are many more.

Affirmative Action Office Border Patrol Agent
Child Support Enforcement City Planner
Claims Specialist Compliance Officer
Congressional Staff Consumer Advocate
Contract Negotiator/Administrator Corporate Affairs Administrator
Court Administrator Customs Inspector
Development Office Employee Relations Specialist
Environmental Affairs Officer Estate Planner
F.B.I. Agent Government Affairs Officer
Human Resource Manager Industrial Relations Officer
Insurance Underwriter or Examiner Internal Revenue Officer
Law Firm Administrator Lobbyist
Mediation Specialist Mergers & Acquisitions Manager
Mortgage Office Pension Specialist
Planned Giving Administrator Probate Administrator
Property Manager Regulatory Affairs Officer
Risk Manager Strategic Planner
Tax Specialist Trust Administrator

If you are thinking about pursing an alternative legal career:

  • Begin by analyzing your abilities and assessing the job market for the position. 
  • Determine how you can best present your skills and achievements in the most positive light for the targeted position. 
  • Check with the Office of Professional Development if you would like more information about alternative career options. 
  • Review the Non-Traditional Job Search Websites section of the OPD website.

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Last Updated: 6/27/22