Not Quite as Seen on TV: What to Expect in a Legal Career

Cooke Scholar Ricky Steelman

We’re excited to share career insights from Cooke Scholar Alumni as part of our Cooke Conversations blog series. In this post, Ricky Steelman addresses popular misconceptions about a day in the life of an attorney, and additionally outlines steps that students interested in this career should consider. Ricky is special counsel at Buchalter, a business law firm with offices in California, Washington, and Arizona. He completed his bachelor’s degree at Pepperdine University before earning his J.D. at Pepperdine University School of Law.


What are you up to these days?

I am a litigation and appellate attorney in my tenth year of practice. I focus on healthcare and financial services clients, which includes representing physicians, hospitals and financial institutions throughout all phases of the litigation process (i.e., from the filing of a lawsuit through trial and appeal).


What do you find most challenging about your current position or industry?

Finding a balance between my professional life and my personal life. These days, legal clients demand immediate responses at all times, so it can be difficult to establish boundaries between my career and personal life.


What advice would you give students looking for their first professional work experience after graduation?

Utilize your school’s career services and alumni departments to find positions that match your strengths and interests. Internships in college give you great exposure to an industry before you invest in that industry after graduating from college. If you are in college, I would recommend seeking an internship or summer position at a law firm or courthouse for a semester (or longer) to see what the day-to-day aspects are like in the legal industry. Try to be as informed as possible about a professional industry. Life is too short to pursue something that you really do not like.


How would you describe a student who would excel in this career?

A successful litigator needs to be a good writer, researcher, reader, and listener. Many law students have preconceived notions from film and TV about what a day in the life is for an attorney. Probably 90 percent of my day is reading and writing. If that doesn’t sound appealing to you, then please seriously reconsider whether you want to be a lawyer, particularly a litigation attorney.


How has being part of the Cooke Scholar community inspired or supported your career?

It has given me added confidence to know that I am worthy of being in the legal profession and to pursue my personal and professional goals.


Finish this sentence:  I wish I’d known…

…that there are a lot of attorneys in the profession, and there are not a significant number of high-paying legal jobs. Please make sure you understand your strengths and how those realistically fit into the professional legal landscape before investing in this profession.