Bowdoin students who care about politics, justice, and governance come from all majors, and succeed in several categories of jobs.
If you are considering law school
Research the law school application process. If you want to take some time before law school, you might want to spend a year or two working alongside lawyers as a paralegal or legal assistant. Read what alumni have to say about the nature of working as a paralegal or legal assistant to decide whether it is for you.
Do you love politics?
Many Bowdoin graduates find work with members of Congress as legislative assistants, schedulers, or campaign workers. Others staff campaigns or the offices of state or local officials. Another way to be involved in politics is to work for an advocacy group researching or campaigning on an issue you care about, or to seek work in the government affairs department of a company or industry group seeking to influence legislation.
Want to implement or evaluate public policy decisions regardless of which political party is in power?
You might seek work within a federal or state agency — the Department of Defense, the Department of Transportation, the Environmental Protection Agency. Or you may seek a research assistant position within a think tank or nongovernmental organization.
Sherry Mason advises students interested in Government, Law & Policy.
Make an appointment with Sherry by calling Career Planning at (207) 725-3717 or submitting our online appointment request form.
Applying to Law School
Many students decide to go to law school after Bowdoin. Most choose to take some time off before applying to law schools, but each year around a dozen seniors apply and are admitted directly to law school. Both current students and alums can get advice and feedback from the pre-law advisor in the Career Planning Office. We offer a comprehensive pre-law handbook, which you can pick up in our office or download here.
Here’s a brief overview of what you need to know, and when you need to know it:
First & Second Year Students
Concentrate on getting good grades. A high GPA will help you get into law school. You can major in whatever you like — here at Bowdoin, all major choices involve the kind of critical thinking, reading, writing, and analysis that will serve you well in law school. Bowdoin students from every major have succeeded in law school applications. Your choice of extracurricular activities will have little impact on how you are evaluated for law school admission, so allocate your time to those things you care about most, and make sure to leave enough time to give priority to your classes.
It’s time to think a little bit about the LSAT. The LSAT is a standardized test offered four times a year: February, June, Sept/Oct, and December. Besides your GPA, your LSAT score is the biggest factor most law schools will consider when they evaluate your application. Register with LSAC.org if you haven’t already, and block out some time to take a practice test. Knowing what the test is like will give you a benchmark for thinking about how you want to study and prepare yourself for it. We recommend taking the LSAT in the early summer (June) or fall (late Sept or October). You should prepare carefully and thoroughly, so you only have to take the LSAT once, and so you get as high a score as possible. Each point can make a difference, and the test rewards practice. Especially if you are studying abroad in the spring, come in to Career Planning and we’ll help figure out a good LSAT strategy for you. To get a sense of your preparation options, block an hour of time and carefully read the comments on this thread. It will give you some very useful ideas about how you might choose to prepare for the test. Law schools vary in how they review and consider multiple LSAT scores. Most will consider only the highest score, while others will review all scores and use an average score when they consider your application.
Another thing to keep in mind junior year is which professors you might ask to write your recommendation letters in the fall. Law schools want to hear from people who can testify to your academic talent and your performance in the classroom. It does not matter which academic department a professor is in or how distinguished her publication record; rather, you should choose faculty who know you well and in whose classes you have shown discipline and promise. A benefit of being at a small school like Bowdoin is that you have the chance to know and talk with professors during and outside of classes; don’t be shy about building these relationships.
WATCH: Law School 101 for Seniors
If you intend to attend law school directly after Bowdoin, you’ve either taken the June LSAT, or you’ve been studying all summer and are getting ready for the fall LSAT. If you have not already done so, register for the Credential Assembly Service, which will compile all of your materials and will be the means by which you submit your applications to law schools.
Because most law schools have a rolling admissions process, there’s an advantage to submitting your applications early — we recommend applying before Thanksgiving.
If you intend to take time off after Bowdoin
If you think you’ll apply to law school later in life, consider asking for letters of recommendation now, while your professors are most connected to you and your work. You may also wish to think about studying for and taking the LSAT now, while you are in the rhythm of studying for and taking exams, and have fellow students working toward the same goal. Your LSAT score will be good for 5 years, although most schools prefer scores that have been earned within the 3 years of your application.
Paralegal Work: Is it for you?
Each year, many Bowdoin grads apply for and land jobs helping attorneys. These jobs may be called “legal assistant,” “project analyst” or “paralegal,” and they exist within big and small law firms, district attorneys’ offices, and federal government agencies (particularly the Department of Justice).
Would you be a good paralegal? Would you enjoy the work? I reached out to some recent alums doing paralegal work and asked them to answer some questions to help you figure it out.
1) What do you do at work every day? Could you give an example of a typical project or assignment, your favorite assignment so far, and your least favorite responsibility?
Work actually varies a lot from day to day. Recently it’s been anything from calling people to find out random logistical details, to compiling at 20+ page bibliography, to talking to national experts in agricultural economics.
– S, Dept of Justice, DC area.
The day-to-day tasks of a paralegal, like most entry-level jobs, are not particularly glamorous. I won’t gloss over the fact that sometimes you will do extremely tedious tasks for hours at a time. This could be making a binder of all the correspondence related to a case, putting documents in chronological order, preparing documents to be handed over to government agencies or other related parties, or pretty much any administrative task you can think of. However, it’s the overall organizational scheme that matters. As a paralegal, you are in charge of making sure that everything is in order, every document is where it needs to be, and anything the attorney might need is available. You are the go-to person anytime an attorney needs something — you coordinate with different departments to make sure everything is done, ready, and perfect. You often know more about what information/documents the case has than half the attorneys, and they rely on you for that and to be able to find what they need using the resources and problem-solving skills you have. – M, Large Law Firm, NYC
I am the sole legal assistant / paralegal for a litigation lawyer in Boston. My daily work varies depending on what types of cases we are working on. I attend and help prepare for depositions, court hearings, and trials; conduct legal and factual research; summarize and analyze deposition transcripts; and type and format all motions and other correspondence to court. I love observing trials, hearings and depositions. It has been fascinating to see how the litigation process works. I do spend a good deal of my time going through boxes upon boxes of documents, which can be less than stimulating. – E., solo practitioner, Boston area
2) How has working as a paralegal changed your interest in or understanding of the legal profession?
Unfortunately, being a paralegal has actually made me realize how much of an attorney’s life is devoted to paperwork. It’s far from the sexy side of law you see on Law & Order. Most people in the legal profession specialize in a very specific part of law and spend their days researching that and writing reports and memos about how that applies to an ongoing issue. – S, Dept of Justice, DC area
Being a paralegal gives you an inside look at the life of a lawyer — in my case, the life of a lawyer at a large, corporate, urban law firm. You see how a case progresses from start to finish, what the lawyers do every day, what they stress about, and how they approach a case. For one of my cases, I sit in on weekly team meetings where they map out where the different aspects of the case stand, their strategy, and what they expect the obstacles to be. It’s very interesting to to see exactly how they act and react as the case moves forward. I expected lawyers at large corporate firms to be balls of stress who never slept, lived on caffeine, and were perennially in a bad mood. I’ve been pleasantly surprised that most attorneys I’ve worked with have been extremely nice, likeable, and grateful. That isn’t to say that they don’t work long hours or get stressed out (they definitely do, to both), but they’ve never taken out on me, their subordinate. So I have learned that being a corporate lawyer doesn’t ruin your life. There are, of course, a few people who would be unpleasant in any job. Learning how to deal with difficult people is something you’ll have to learn how to do in any profession, and this one is no exception. However, I’ve enjoyed the vast majority of the attorneys I work with. I entered my job leaning towards law school, but unsure. My job has convinced me that I do want to go to law school, and that I do not want to be a corporate attorney at a large firm. To me, the biggest perks of being a corporate lawyer seem to be money and prestige, but the work the attorneys do doesn’t interest me very much. Having talked with current law students and lawyers, I know there are a million things you can do with a law degree — I’d like to check out public interest law, politics, and the rest of the spectrum. – M., Large law firm, NYC area
I wanted to work as a paralegal to make sure that law school was a good fit. My job surpassed my expectations in nearly all respects. I certainly have a much clearer understanding today of what being a lawyer is actually like.
– E., solo practitioner, Boston area
3) What are the components of your work environment that bring you the most satisfaction? What are the biggest sources of dissatisfaction?
The most satisfaction probably comes from producing something that goes on to be a piece of work that helps support an attorney working on a bigger project. You certainly won’t do anything that changes the world, but I’ve had enough chances to be a little creative that some of my work has added something a little different. Dissatisfaction definitely comes in the random assignments I’ve worked on that have gone on to mean absolutely nothing. There is always a certain amount of work that nobody will ever look at or care about. – S, Dept. of Justice, DC area
The greatest source of satisfaction from my job is when I play an integral part in project or obstacle for a case. Knowing I’ve helped move the case forward by making my attorneys’ lives easier, and knowing how grateful they are, is very satisfying — especially when it involves relying on your problem-solving, logic, and multitasking skills. It definitely doesn’t draw on the same brain cells as analyzing foreign policy or writing a term paper on ancient Rome, but it forces you to develop more real-world skills that will help you in any office setting. Being a paralegal might sometimes be boring, but it definitely turns you into a professional. The most frustrating part of my job is when attorneys ask me for things or ask me to do things without understanding how long it will take, that I need more information from them, or that what they’re asking just isn’t possible. It becomes a delicate situation to try to explain any or all of these things to them, since they can be under a deadline and don’t always understand what goes on behind the scenes when you’re completing assignments for them. However, you’re forced learn how to articulate yourself tactfully and diplomatically, another necessary skill for any job. – M, Large law firm, NYC area.
I like working in an intellectual field where research and arguments can have real-world effects on people’s lives. It is extremely satisfying to come across a key piece of information during research. Conversely, it can be unsatisfying to spend hours (or days) going through documents only to learn that they contain nothing of real value. – E., solo practitioner, Boston area.
4) What skills or personality traits are important for someone to be successful as a paralegal? Who should NOT pursue this kind of work?
Patience is probably the biggest attribute a paralegal needs. A lot of the work can be tedious; you’re doing the work that nobody else in the organization wants to do. If you want to be doing hands on work, talking to “real people,” this is definitely not the place for you. – S, Dept. of Justice, DC area
To be a successful paralegal, the most important skills are attention to detail, organization, good communication, and problem-solving/logical thinking. A good attitude and a bit of perfectionism help, too. You definitely need to be willing to work overtime when called upon to do so (which isn’t every week). I realize that sounds like every job description of a paralegal you’ve ever read — that’s not an accident. They’re pretty accurate. I wouldn’t advise becoming a paralegal if you’re not particularly patient, organized, or if you get frustrated by things that seem unnecessarily complicated or useless to you (attorneys sometimes just want things the way they want them, even if that creates extra work for you). If you don’t like working on a team, this also isn’t the job for you. – M., Large law firm, NYC area
If you like research assignments, analysis, and forming and defending arguments in your academic courses, you may be well-suited to paralegal work. If the idea of spending hours reading, analyzing, and summarizing large groups of documents sounds dreadful to you, don’t be a paralegal. – E., solo practitioner, Boston area
Politics & Campaigning
If you want to work in politics, there are a number of things you can do to make it happen.
Join a Bowdoin organization and get involved in campaigning and advocacy work here on campus or here in Maine. Specific experience researching issues, getting out the vote, and managing the operational responsibilities associated with a campaign, an issue, a party, or a candidate will be very important on your resume. (Here how this worked for Chris Averill ’06 in this short video.
Use your summers and your winter breaks.
From your local city council to your Senator, there is a chance to connect with a politician in your home district. College student volunteers can help those officials with a variety of work — anything from answering phone calls or correspondence from voters to using Facebook or Twitter to publicize issues and messages to researching and drafting position statements. And, yes, getting coffee and making photocopies, too. (Here’s how to find the elected officials who represent you here in Maine).
Reach out to alumni in jobs that interest you.
This has a double impact: you will learn more about the nature of the work, the hiring cycle, and the kinds of people who succeed. And the alum will keep his or her eyes open on your behalf, and will be likely to forward job openings they hear about to you. Learn how to connect with alumni here.
DC political jobs often hire quickly, which means you should spend senior year networking with alums in the area and organizations that interest you. You can research and apply for jobs all year, but get ready to get very busy in April and May.
In DC, connections and personal contacts count for a lot. Sign up for a job list like one of these from Young Democrats (a daily email listing of job openings, generally for Democratic candidates or issues) or ConservativeJobs.com. Check out the Senate Employment Bulletin. Another good website is HillZoo.com. There are some great openings for national advocacy and public affairs positions on the DC Public Affairs blog. Don’t forget Craigslist, or the individual websites of the people or organizations you most want to work for.
Government & Public Service
Many Bowdoin students find work after college in government or public service careers — at a federal agency, working on Capitol Hill for a Senator or Representative, within a state or city government, or at a think tank or advocacy group whose mission is connected to governance. There are Bowdoin alumni who have had successful and distinguished careers in diplomacy, politics, and leadership. Many of these alumni are available to share insight and advice with current students through campus visits, or one-on-one. You can find and connect with alumni in a variety of fields through LinkedIn — or even on Facebook.
Almost all jobs within federal government agencies (e.g. the Department of Justice, the Environmental Protection Agency, or the Treasury Department) are required to be listed and posted on USAJOBS.gov.
There are some tricks and strategies that will make searching for and applying for these jobs and internships easier. Certain agencies (e.g. the State Department and the CIA) use a different hiring process. Remember that federal jobs can be anywhere — they are NOT all in Washington, D.C. From time to time the CPC has programs that will help you find and apply for government jobs — or come in and talk to Sherry Mason.
Maybe a nongovernmental organization or a think tank is a better fit for you? The Foreign Policy Association has a tool book that’s a good resource, and the Chronicle of Philanthropy Jobs site is a place to find advocacy positions in organizations committed to social justice, public policy, and the common good.
Don’t forget about cities, counties, and states as employers. Many city and state governments offer internships and post-graduate fellowships aimed at giving students and recent graduates experience and responsibility within government. Some examples of these programs are the California Senate Fellows, the New York City Urban Fellows program, Experience Philadelphia, and the City Hall Fellows.
Public Sector or Political Consulting
Political consultants advise candidate and initiative campaigns at the local, state, and national level. Political consultants offer guidance to campaign leaders on almost all of their activities, including mass media planning and production, competitor research, fundraising, voter polling, and core campaign strategy.
*There are also pollsters and public opinion consulting firms in every state
Public Sector Consulting
Government consultants work closely with public officials to improve the performance and processes of local and federal government. These consultants counsel leaders on a wide range of issues including economic development, disaster recovery and planning, strategy innovation, IT solutions, organization design, service improvement, and initiative execution.
Firms offering public sector consulting services include:
Booz Allen Hamilton
Bain & Company
Boston Consulting Group
IBM Public Sector Consulting
Huron Consulting Group
Public Consulting Group
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