February 8, 2016

Law School 101

I often get asked by people contemplating law school whether I think they should go.  I definitely can't answer that question, as it's a highly personal decision, but I can offer my 2 cents.  Keep in mind that I graduated from law school almost six years ago (what the what?!), so my info may be a little dated, but for what it's worth, read on.

Let me start off by going over some reasons NOT to go to law school:
  1. "I want to make bank" 
  2. "I love to argue"
  3. Ego boost/power trip
  4. "I don't know what else to do with my life"
I'll break down these reasons, but for now,  some background as to why I went to law school.  I "knew" I wanted to be a lawyer from a very young age.  I remember having this crayon kit that came in a blue briefcase and instead of coloring, I carried around that briefcase pretending I was going to court (what a weird kid, I know).  So all throughout my school years, I was dead set on pre-law and focused all my energy on school so that I could get there; I had tunnel vision.

In undergrad, I started out as a Poli Sci major but eventually switched to English.  I signed up for the pre-law society, worked part-time at law firms, and took an LSAT course.  But anytime I'd talk to a lawyer, they'd warn me and flat out say, "don't do it".  What I told myself? "I'll be different."  

While I had originally planned on enrolling in law school right after graduation, I wasn't happy with my LSAT score so I decided to take a year off to take it again.  And just to be extra sure, I thought it would be a good idea to really consider my decision and perhaps expand my horizons a bit.  So I got a job at a temp agency working in various industries.  I got placed in a real estate firm, a movie production company, and then eventually .... a law firm.  That basically solidified the decision for me.  I ultimately reasoned that if I didn't do it now, I likely never would and would always wonder, "what if."  Without heeding the warnings, I enrolled in law school that Fall.

Something I should probably note here, which will cover point 1 above for reasons NOT to go to law school.  When I was applying to law school, the average salary for a law school grad who landed a big-firm job was about $160,000.  As a starting salary for a young 20-something, who wouldn't want to sign up?  However, the economic climate drastically changed while I was in law school and this is no longer the norm.  Yes, those big-firm jobs still exist, but they are highly competitive, scarce, and you have to be at the top of your class to even be considered for an interview.  So just some food for thought.  If you're seriously considering law school, you should probably research the percentage of the school's graduates who have jobs lined up, and what kind of jobs.  I heard some schools are being sued because their stats are misleading; they'd have high employment statistics, but they'd include jobs like being a Starbucks barista.  Nothing wrong with that job, but you don't go to law school so you can brew coffee.

Point 2.  You think you love to argue, eh?  Well, think again.  Being a lawyer isn't about arguing the way you're probably thinking of it.  It's about creating pursuasive arguments.  You have your facts, and you have the law.  Then you apply the law to your facts to try and persuade the Judge (or whoever your neutral is) to rule in your favor.  There is also a lot of "arguing" that comes with the territory, which eventually gets exhausting: you argue with the Judge; you argue with opposing counsel; and you sometimes argue with your client.  Does that still sound like fun to you?

If you want to go to law school for the ego boost, you better think again, and real fast.  I will say that by the time you graduate, your ego may be a little inflated.  Not only did you manage to get into law school, but you survived all three years and didn't drop out.  Impressive right?  But then you have to brave the bar exam and if you pass on your first time, you're probably really feelin yourself now!  Then you get your first law firm job and you're on a high.  You get your very own office, secretary and business cards with those three magic word: attorney at law.  But then reality sets in and you come off that high pretty darn fast as the first-year-associate-work starts getting assigned to you.  No, you're not in court everyday making winning arguments, as the glamorized version of the job is in your head.  You're in the office working late hours discovering the joys of legal discovery.  You learn that you know nothing and are nobody; you start at the bottom all over again.

Finally, point four.  Admittedly, law school ends up being a default choice for lots of college grads because they don't know what else to do with their life.  The thing about law school is that there really is no such thing as a "pre-law" major with prerequisites.  You can be an Art major and still go to law school, because it's more about your LSAT score/GPA/extracurriculars.  But law school is too big of a decision with very real impacts to be your "default" choice.  Unless you get a full scholarship, it is a significant financial commitment.  It's also a huge time commitment.  During those three years, you will miss out on birthdays, holidays, etc. because you're too busy studying.  Life goes on for the outside world but for you, it will definitely feel like it is on hold for three years, and it sucks.

Now if after reading this you still want to pursue your legal degree (after all, I'm sure you think you'll be different), then here's a little info for you.  Like I mentioned, you'll need to take the LSAT and you'll need to do well if you want to get into a reputable school.  The test has nothing to do with law school but it's not going anywhere, so study up.

Now you're in law school, great.  My tip to you: go sign up ASAP to be a BARBRI rep.  There's not a whole lot involved but you get your bar review course for FREE, which will save you thousands of dollars.  You're welcome.

As far as your first year classes go, you don't choose.  You're placed in a "section" with the same classmates the entire year, taking the same courses: (1) Civil Procedure; (2) Contracts; (3) Torts; (4) Property; (5) Criminal Law; (6) Legal Writing & Research; (7) Moot Court; and (8) A Statutory Course.

After your first year, you can pretty much decide what courses you want to take.  I personally decided to sign up for all the topics that would be covered on the Bar Exam.  Then you need to consider what extracurricular, if any, you want to sign up for to add that "umph" to your resume.  Your choices are pretty much Journal or Moot Court.  I opted for Journal because I enjoy the writing aspect.  I think this is also the year you take the ethics exam.

By the time it's your last year, you've pretty much got the law school thing down.  ENJOY this year.  This is the last year before you have to "officially" become an adult with a career.  I know people complain about school but honestly, school is so much more fun!

Now it's Bar Exam time.  Depending on the state you're sitting for, the exam is either two or three days.  California is a three-day exam with two three-hour sessions each day.  Yup, that's a total of eighteen glorious testing hours.  I had read that California is going to switch to two-days, but it looks like it's still three.  Oh and FYI, it's one of the hardest Bar exams, if not the hardest, in the nation.  But if you pass, and you will if you just study smart and put in the time, it's one heck of a high!  I had pretty much everything go wrong during my exam (like computer failure on day 1 and running out of time on day 2), but I still passed.  But I owe that one to the Man upstairs.

Okay, so this post has gotten really long and it actually sounds more like a "reasons not to go to law school" rant rather than Law School 101.  BUT, with all that being said, I don't regret my decision.  I made great friends in law school, got a great education and had a lot of fun.  And while I ultimately decided to leave the law firm life to switch careers, I do believe that my degree has opened doors for me.  But again, this is a very personal decision and while I can probably still ramble on, I hope this post at least gives you some food for thought.  If you have any specific questions, please feel free to comment or e-mail me.  Oh and, good luck.


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