For many law students, 1L year starts with visions of glory—working for a big firm, making big bucks, and living the dream life. Reality, however, does not always align with your dreams.

As you progress through law school and consider whether to pursue a big firm job, a rural town job, or hanging your own shingle, talk to as many different people as possible to help inform your decision.

Career services is a start

Career services departments have been under fire recently, but it is a good place to start. At a minimum, meeting with someone in career services should force you to consider what you want to do after law school and why. If you have absolutely no idea, counselors are good at asking questions that will shed light on what career paths might be up your alley, and what options are probably not your cup of tea.

You might not narrow it down to two options, but you should be able to figure out some paths that merit further investigation.

Talk to multiple attorneys in that practice area

Employment law attorneys at a big firm will have a different perspective than solo or small firm attorneys. How and where you practice an area of law can drastically alter your viewpoint. In addition, try and talk to attorneys who work on both sides—you might decide you want to do defense work rather than being a plaintiff’s attorney.

For example, when I was investigating employment law, most of the big firms in town only handled class action cases and employer defense. The majority of attorneys handling plaintiff’s work are solos. If I had not met with a handful of employment law attorneys, however, I never would have figured that out.

You may also meet attorneys working in your desired field that you simply do not like, which can be an enormous turn-off. Chances are, that attorney was an aberration. At the same time, if every attorney you meet in a practice area rubs you the wrong way, you might want to reconsider your interest.

Ask your professors about their career path

You might be surprised at how your professors got to where they are. Looking at their bio will not explain why they chose to work as public defender but then switched to doing business litigation at a big firm. Hearing their war stories might spark an interest in a previously unknown career path.

On top of that, professors tend to know a lot of people doing a variety of legal work—and they are very good at referring law students to helpful sources. For example, your tax law professor’s best law school buddy might be criminal defense attorney—which just happens to be your preferred area of practice.

Doing your homework will help in the long run

The more people you talk to, the easier it will be to make a decision about a practice area or a certain employer. You will probably change directions a few times, and might even decide a previously unknown area is now your top choice.

On top of that, meeting and networking with local attorneys is always a good thing—you never know when you will run into them again and how they might be able to help you.

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dailypic/2168453083)