As election cycles ebb and flow, there are always opportunities for lawyers and law students who are ready to get into the political arena. Although the jobs are demanding, the impact you can have on your community through a career in politics is incomparable.
Law students interested in politics often aim to seek elected office later in their career. But what are your short-term options in the political realm, and how do you get hired?
It’s not politics as usual
When you’ve completed your legal studies, you’ll undoubtedly have improved your reading, writing, listening, and thinking skills. And that would make you especially marketable for political careers.
Some of the jobs include:
- Legislative aide
- Policy analyst
- Communications coordinator
- Campaign manager or staffer
- Political consultant
- Media strategist
Jared Rifis is a legislative aide for former Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and has worked on Capital Hill since law school. His resume shows that a political career was always his end game as he worked for the Senate as an intern four times before being hired as a full-time staffer.
Working as a Congressional staffer means getting experience in many different policy topics. In just three years, Rifis has worked on immigration, gun regulation, labor issues, child protection laws, and tech and telecommunication matters.
“If I had drawn out my path when I was in law school, it wouldn’t have had me end up where I am today,” said Rifis. “I’m glad I kept my options open because this unexpected path has led me to a job I love.”
The Congressional animal Rifis attended Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C., and took advantage of the opportunities offered on Capital Hill so that he could get the Congressional knowledge he needed to be valuable in the hiring process.
“Congress is its own animal, and law school doesn’t really get you prepared to work for Congress,” stated Rifis. “You may be an expert on a certain topic, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’d be good at working on the topic in creating policy. You use information very differently in policy work than you do in law school. The experience that officials in Congress are looking for is experience in Congress.”
According to Rifis, political careers require a unique skill set that can be learned only through immersing yourself as a volunteer or intern whenever the opportunity arises. “Showing interest and passion in campaigns and policy work is very important,” explained Rifis. He also recommended that if you can’t make it to the nation’s capital to get the experience you need, you shouldn’t forget that policy work is everywhere.
Consider volunteering to work on campaigns or interning with the local government or a local elected official. Rifis stated that experience in policy work makes you much more marketable in the hiring process.
Use your J.D. advantageously
How can you leverage your J.D. to get a job in politics? Rifis recommended seeking out legal jobs in local, state, or federal government offices.
“One way to get your foot in the door is to pursue a legal-based job,” suggested Rifis. “Once people in that office know who you are, you can use that experience to work yourself into a more political position.”
Also, be sure to soak up all the information you can while in law school. “The skills I learned in law school were very helpful,” stated Rifis. “My reading, writing, and analytical skills have made a big difference in my career. But when it came to interviews, I was never asked how I did in specific classes.”
Good candidates for political jobs, according to Rifis, are passionate about policy and seek out opportunities to learn about the process and the available jobs before they apply for full-time positions.
Open minds open doors
Rifis’ career plan shifted as he gained experience in law school. “If you would have asked me 10 years ago, I would have said I’d be a partner in a firm,” he stated. “Five years ago, I would’ve said I’d be doing some sort of substantive policy work. But I came to my current career by keeping my options open and taking the opportunities that came to me.
“The more things I tried, the more things I found I enjoyed,” he added. “That ultimately led me to working on the Hill as a legislative assistant.”
The takeaway from Rifis’ career is to persevere and tailor your resume to your long-term goal of working in politics. Start early, he advised, show passion for policy, and be strategic in your career search.
LYNAE TUCKER is the student editor of Student Lawyer and a second-year student at University of South Dakota School of Law in Vermillion.