By Kevin O'Keefe

Tech startups, not law firms, are attracting many law grads

law grads in startups

With the rise of the startup culture, law grads are looking for in-house opportunities. Hands-on action and innovation, as opposed the grunt work many young lawyers are doing at law firms, is appealing to grads looking to find purpose and to see tangible results in the workplace.

This from Caroline Spiezio (@CarolineSpiezio), reporting for Corporate Counsel.

Look at Samantha Von Hoene, who three years ago turned down a clerking position at a law firm to intern in-house at a finance firm.

Von Hoene told Spiezio:

Most people said, ‘Oh Sam, you’re so crazy, the rest of us are going to the law firm first, and we want to go in-house but [on] the traditional route. It seemed like they’d already resigned themselves to this route. I was viewed as someone who was taking a different path.

Three years later, Von Hoene is head of legal affairs at Enjoy Technology, a startup that sends experts to deliver, install and explain how to use technology products from companies such as Sonos and AT&T. Being the only lawyer at an emerging growth company, she gets hands on business and legal experience.

When I got to Enjoy there were no guidelines. It was like that [idea of] ‘hey, we’re scrappy and we want to move quickly and here’s what we wanna do,’” she said. “I’ve spent the past two and a half years working with teams and internal clients. Over 50 percent of my day is in cross-functional and operational meetings.

Smart law schools are looking to get grads in startups. Spiezio reports UC Hastings has launched a Startup Legal Garage to match students with startup companies for the experience and the network of contacts.

I’m seeing students from Michigan State’s Law School jump on opportunities in startups for clerking while in school and upon graduation. Like UC Hastings, Michigan State is educating and empowering its students on this front with its LegalRnD program.

Michigan State 3L, Andrew Sanders, responding to my tweet sharing Spiezio’s story, says that he loved clerking for Elevate, a technology and legal services provider to law firms and corporate legal teams.

Many law students view start ups and “non-traditional” law jobs as risky. Von Hoene doesn’t regret taking the risk and hopes law grads will join her in organizations where they can immediately make a difference and prove themselves.

A hope of mine is that people in the industry start making pathways where others who are younger in their career have opportunities to prove themselves. This is a really exciting, new way of thinking. While young lawyers may not bring 10 years of experience, just fresh out of law school, they’re hungry. They want to identify problems and figure out solutions, which is far more valuable.

Legal services are being reengineered. The number of lawyers needed to do traditional legal work is on the decline, law grads are not getting the jobs they thought they would. Fortunate for law grads are the opportunities that startups, legal and non-legal, provide them.

Key is opening your eyes, having faculty and a law school seeing the opportunities and the willingness to take a chance and be different – to bet on yourself.

Kevin O'Keefe
About the Author

Trial lawyer turned legal tech entrepreneur, I am the founder and CEO of LexBlog, a legal blog community of over 30,000 blog publishers, worldwide. LexBlog’s publishing platform is used on a subscription basis by over 18,000 legal professionals, including the largest law firm in each India, China and the United States.

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