Ok, you’re a prospective law school student. Let me save you a world of heartbreak. Don’t do it. Don’t do this to your family, friends, and most importantly, yourself.
There are a lot of things I wish I knew before I went to law schoo. I think the first thing I wish I knew, was that I would still not be working in the law over 5 years later. Could this happen to you? Yep! Why do you ask? Because being a lawyer really has nothing to do with ability.
The First Thing You Need, To Be A Successful Lawyer: Skill at passing standardized tests.
As you probably know, you need to pass the Law School Admissions Test, or LSAT, with a pretty decent score (think 165 or above) to be considered for a decent school. I did not get that, for a variety of reasons. I did score well enough to get into law school though, and thought that would be good enough. It wasn’t.
The Second Thing You Need, To Be A Successful Lawyer: A Name School.
This goes hand in hand with the LSAT, if you get a high enough score, you get into a better law school, or a crap law school with a good scholarship. If you don’t know by now, law schools are divided into “Tiers” Tier 1 schools, like Harvard, Yale and Michigan, put out the top graduates. These are the people who get exclusive access to work in the Supreme Court, and can pretty much get any new-attorney position they want. Tier 2 schools, like a DePaul, Santa Clara, or Cincinnati, can also probably get you in the door of a good firm, but it’s a little harder, and you still don’t want to be the guy on that list with good grades. Tier 3 and lower schools (because they did away, techinically, with tier 4 listings, since it hurt the law school’s which were labeled as such), are pretty much black holes for your money right now. You need to stay local to the area the law school is in, and be in the top 25% of your class there to have a chance at a decent job.
The Third Thing You Need, To Be A Successful Lawyer: Networking.
This is because most students don’t just go to their first law job. If they’re lucky, they get a good internship and get invited back. If not, you really have to know someone.
That’s pretty much it. You don’t need much else. But each of those three things is a lot harder than it looks. It is awesome to be the guy who finished last in his class at Harvard law, because you still have Harvard Law on the resume. It’s harder to be the guy from Detroit Mercy who finished last and looking for a job.
Like I said before though, being a good or even great lawyer has nothing to do with ability. It’s about those three things. As a 1L, with only four weeks of legal writing under my belt, I helped my mother write an appeal for an administrative law hearing for her job that defeated an attorney of 35 years. I say again, a 1L memo beat a memo for a guy 35 years in practice. Was it luck? Was it skill? Nope, the world is actualy filled with crap lawyers. I’m not saying I’m anything great, but I’m the tier 3 (now a tier 4) school grad, who due to some classmate shenanagans finished in the bottom quarter of his class, and is now undefeated in over 130 cases. I will say that the things I know how to do, I know how to do well. I learned them, and I don’t venture beyond those areas until I’m certain I can perform to the level I set for myself.
My 1L summer, I had a great clerkship abroad, which meant absolutely nothing here in the US to any employer. But my skills were recognized immediately. And while the Harvard and Stanford students sat around filing documents all day, I was with the judges and justices at this court, doing thier research, explaining concepts about American law to them. In their eyes, my future was golden and filled with endless promise. In American eyes, I went to a crap law school, didn’t know anyone, and had barely passinng grades.
Oh, another thing no one will ever tell you about law school, you can’t fail. Once you’re in, you’re there until you graduate. You really have to work hard to fail. If you show up to the minimum number of classes and just pay attention, you can pass law school. Why? The curve. For every A+ a professor gives, they also have to give a C-. Depending on the law school, the curve can be a B+, B, or B-, but no matter what, if you finish in the middle, you get a B. It’s great to get A’s, but most lawyers working today got B’s and C’s.
And that should really bother you. You expect a Harvard law school graduate to be something so much better than your average law school student. But they’re not. They study the same cases, have the same law to work with, have to write it in the exact same IRAC/ARAC format, and most of the professors haven’t practiced as much as they’ve written. They also come from Harvard, Yale, and other Top Tier schools, because everyone is led to believe that because these are the top names, they’re just better. They’re not. Let’s go with the names you know, who aren’t on the Supreme Court or some other Federal position.
Johnny Cochran – Loyola Law School; Leslie Abramson (Phil Spector trial) – UCLA; David Boies (carly Simon v Starbucks)- New York University; Martin Garbus – NYU; Alan Dershowitz – Harvard; Gloria Allred – Loyola, what do they all have in common? They have big name clients and lose as often as they win. Yet look at those schools, that’s how they get clients.
Let’s try another name, Gerry Spence. He was the Silkwood case attorney. Undefeated as an attorney. Is so revered as an attorney that his Trial Lawyer’s College is considered a prestigous resume booster… University of Wyoming, barely a tier 3 school.
So, you can be good at being an attorney, and if you’re lucky, the above three things can be overcome. But if you’re not Gerry Spence, you will need a lot of help getting there. If you are a tier 3 or 4 law school student, and you’re not even in the top 25% of your class, you really should consider dropping out. Because at $40,500 per year (not including books, and other things) you’ll rack up a lot of debt quickly, and won’t have a lot of chances to repay it later.
In the mean time, thank UCLA Grad Robert Shapiro for things like Legalzoom, putting lawyers out of work for almost a decade, and providing generic help for complex problems, and an antiquated system of education for lawyers for why your future as a lawyer seems bleak. Enjoy your career future 1L, and remember, it’s never too late to get that MBA instead.