Walking the Path of the Law: How Yale Law School Graduates Navigate Career Choices

Deborah Cantrell, Elizabeth L. Paluck, Heather Lord & April Smith

If one talks to law students about the their career expectations, one is likely to hear a common story: when the student graduates, she plans to go into private practice, or possibly take a government job, or even less probably, take a public interest job. The students think their initial choices of legal jobs set them on a career trajectory that is fairly immutable. However, the students' beliefs may not be based on actual information about how lawyers choose their career paths. This empirical study of 2800 lawyers who graduated from law school between 1970 and 1999 analyzes whether lawyers have standard career trajectories. The study considers whether gender or time of graduation affects career choices. The study also examines whether there are dominant reasons that lawyers give for changing jobs. Finally, the study considers whether lawyers are satisfied with their jobs by using a unique measure that gauges the level of congruency between lawyers' hopes for the kind of job they have with their actual exper tant reminder that there is not a "right" career path, nor an immutable one, and that much of the practice of law is engaging and rewarding.

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