Uncertainty of career path
I'll let you in on something. Almost no one who graduates from law school ends up doing exactly what he or she intended on doing back on that infamous first day of 1L. (I graduated from Harvard Law School in May, and now I'm a high school math tutor and law school application consultant!) Ask most lawyers how they ended up in their current field and they'll tell you something like this:
"Well, I never thought I'd be interested in [insert field of law here], but I happened to take a class/hear a speaker/meet an alumnus that sparked my interest, so I looked into it and the rest is history..."
Surprising, huh? Law school attracts some of the most driven, ambitious people around, but many of them end up far off the path that they meant to follow when they matriculated, let alone applied. Of course, there are plenty of JDs who end up doing exactly what they always intended, but to be honest, they are far more the exception than the rule.
Why does this happen?
It's a great question, and I'm not exactly sure. Part of the explanation might be that, except for those people who come into law school having worked in a legal office, many incoming law students don't know what the practice of law really looks like. It might also be that the realities of the legal job market these days don't always line up with many incoming students' visions of legal work.
I think a lot of the explanation, though, comes from the fact that law school is just full of interesting classes, interactions, and practice opportunities -- all of which can shape the path you take through and beyond law school. Student practice organizations are one common route into new types of work: in my second month of law school, for instance, I was the lead defense counsel in a disciplinary hearing at a local prison (and got all charges dismissed!). Relationships with professors can be another entry into previously unknown areas: I was assigned to a 1L reading group on Tribal Sovereignty, which ultimately led me to internships in American Indian law in Alaska, Hawaii, and Washington during my summers and January terms. (As a law school tutor in Boston, I'll tell you this -- you can't beat Oahu when it's below freezing in Cambridge!) Sometimes the best opportunities almost happen by chance: I volunteered to do some part-time work for an alumnus and ended up arguing an important consumer-protection case in front of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. It was unexpected, all-consuming, and fascinating.
I never knew any of those amazing opportunities existed before I started law school. Of course, I decided not to pursue any of them beyond school... I just love teaching too much. But, the point is that those jobs exist. And they—plus so many more—are just there for the discovering.
So what does this mean for me?
First of all, I think it means that law school is one of the most unique educational experiences you can have: a place of incredible intellectual and professional opportunity, unlike perhaps any other.
More pragmatically, I think it means that the most successful law students -- and lawyers -- will be the ones that are open to anything and actively seek out new opportunities. In law school, and in the dreaded application process, there's sometimes pressure to choose a field and specialize: to say you are a future public defender, in-house corporate counsel, plaintiff's attorney, etc. Don't give in!
If I were you, and I were thinking about the perfect law school application essay, it wouldn't be one that expresses a specific career goal. Rather, it would be one that demonstrates your intellectual openness and curiosity, whether that's a in some broad field (mine was education) or just in general. In my opinion, the students who get the most out of law school are the ones that go in ready to try everything, learn as much as they can, and find the new opportunity that fits best. If I were a law school dean, that's the type of applicant I know I'd want. Here's tips on writing your statement (from a fellow law school application consultant), and here's a handy timeline for some advanced planning.
So you may not be sure exactly where you'll end up in 3 years -- that's okay. Embrace it! That uncertainty may be your greatest asset. And if you need help emphasizing it with a great essay, I'm here to help! Cambridge Coaching has law school tutors in Boston, New York, and online-- our law school application consulting services can guide you through whatever questions you have.