The actual job of being a lawyer is NOTHING AT ALL like what you see on TV. It is possibly less like the real thing than any other profession depicted on television.
We're still not that accurate on TV, but I do think Good Wife is, in a lot of ways, more realistic than prior law shows have been, in large part because they're not as frequently in court and not every case goes to verdict, unlike seemingly every case on the DEK/Bochco shows. I'll also argue for Law and Order Original Recipe, which, with its single case focus, can be misleading, but certainly demonstrates the moral compromise that sometimes happen in the name of the law.Of course, the central problem is that much of what lawyers do is neither exciting nor cinematic--writing a brief or reviewing thousands of documents doesn't exactly make for exciting film or TV.
How have I never seen that 1994 NYTimes piece before?So I'll ask this group, with so many lawyers. If you had it to do over again, knowing what you know now, would you still go to law school? I absolutely would.
Yes, but I would've done something else for a few years first, probably politics, though 1994 was not a good year to be a Democrat involved in politics. (In all likelihood, I'd have worked for Marjorie Margolies Mezvinsky's campaign. Oops.)
At the risk of taking Tucker Max seriously, I think he underestimates the value that a legal education has in fields other than private law practice. I also think a lot that is wrong with legal practice is also fixable, but that's another matter. But it's important to note that his target audience is people on the fence. I never seriously considered doing anything else, which means that his advice that not knowing what else to do isn't a good enough reason to go to law school doesn't actually address the question posed by not knowing what else to do. I wouldn't recommend going if any two of the following three factors apply, though: (a) not going to a top 50 school, (b) having to take on some degree of significant debt (obviously this varies person to person), or (c) not being completely sure. But as with any advice, the point isn't to urge people to change their minds, it's to tell them that what they already know is ok. Max's article is surface misleading. Its real purpose isn't to provide a list of reasons not to go to law school (and he recognizes not every category applies to everyone), it's an argument that if you don't want to go to law school, that's ok. Liking lawyer shows or enjoying arguing -- even if these were necessary reasons to go to law school, I'd expect that for anyone smart enough to get in, they wouldn't be sufficient. And they don't have to be.
I would; I loved law school and I loved practicing law. I also love not practicing law, though.
Oh, me too Adam. I imagined my job would involve a lot of yelling indignantly at the judge and eating Chinese food straight out of the cartons in my office late at night with a sexy divorce lawyer.Incidentally, my first office directly faced the LA Law building (which I think is now the Paul Hastings building?). I was pretty sure that meant that I'd arrived.
I loved law school and would happily do that again. I would make radically different choices about where and how I practiced law. I was never constitutional capable of working at a large law firm, despite many years of trying. I'm now having a blast, however, being more-or-less general counsel for two clients with a couple of small projects on the side.
Yes, without a doubt. When I was 8, I decided I wanted to be a lawyer and I really never waivered. What I would do if I could go back is change my college major to something a little more useful in real life. Criminology was fun and interesting, but I should have done something more business or finance-related.
No education is ever wasted, and if someone is lucky enough to (a) go to a top 50 law school and (b) not incur significant debt in doing so, then it's a great option. For me, though, I think that if you want to be a lawyer, law school is a wonderful path. If you don't know what you want to do in life, and have little knowledge about what the practice of law is actually like, law school shouldn't be the answer. Find work as a paralegal or in the field you hope to work in first; then make an educated decision. A lot of people, myself included, skip that step.
I made the best friends of my life in law school, and am so happy that school brought me to NYC. If not for those two things, my answer would honestly be no.
In my experience, the least effective way to convince a person who shouldn't go to law school not to go to law school is to tell him or her not to go to law school. The one thing that every 21-year-old who ever applied to law school has in common with every other one of in that category is that he thinks he knows better than everybody else.
There's a difference between education being wasted and certain types of education not being the best committment of scarce resources, in terms of time and money. For a lot of people in law school, it's the latter. I'm sure the flip side is also true, there are people who should go to law school but are scared away by the debt issue or its popular depiction. If I got my idea of the law from Lockhart Gardner or Jack McCoy, i'd run away, because these shows teach that subverting ethics for cleverness is rewarded. It's a good thing the actual law doesn't work that way. The same is also true of House, M.D., I suppose.
Just curious - why did the people who feel good about their decision originally want to go to law school? What did you like about law school and what do you like about being a lawyer?
Isaac, there are a bunch of heuristics that lead people into making bad decisions, such as the assumption that even if you're not in a T14 school, you'll be talented enough to make law review and avoid the career pitfalls that others face. I assume that 80% of law students, pre-matriculation, expect they'll be in the top 20% of their class.<span> </span>
Law school itself is a *lot* of fun, I think. The question is what you do afterwards.
I definitely would not, especially since I was working full time beforehand, and I doubt I will ever recover the cost of not working full time for three years plus the cost of tuition (plus the couple of years of horribly self-defeating depression and lack of confidence.) That said, I loved law school itself and I very much enjoy what I'm doing now. And I made a number of poor and pointlessly limiting decisions while getting a JD that I, more than than anything about the industry or practice of law, really constrained my options and set me back tremendously. Though if I could counsel undergrad or high school me, I'd do a lot of things differently. Heck, if I could counsel me from 12 hours ago, I'd do some things differently, so some of it is just being very neurotic and analytical, but also somewhat having the value of hindsight. Hindsight is 20/20.
I don't know why my answer disappeared, but I said "of course I would. I love my job." And I didn't mean that facetiously. Being a lawyer is not for everybody, but it's not for nobody, either.
I cannot emphasis the debt thing enough. I'm a happy lawyer. I've never worked at a law firm. I do interesting, newsworthy work - I give advice that affect real people in real time. But you know what? I'm CHOKED by the debt. Assuming no financial support from a parent or spouse, attending law school will require you to make a sacrifice somewhere - either having the life sucked out of you at a firm or living pretty tight as a public servant. I chose to go back to law school and I loved law school. But knowing what I know now...I might have gone to a public law school or waited until I had saved more money.Law school isn't going away. If you're in your 20s and want to go to law school, just work and save your money. And then, when you have at least a year of tuition and living expenses saved, then start to think about applying.
I generally do not recommend that anyone go to law school if they have no desire to ever practice law. Law school is now toe expensive a proposition (without even taking into account the oppotunity cost) to use it as an advanced liberal arts degree, a place to ride out a recession, or as a merit badge. the vast majority of applicants should assume that they will need to practice law after they graduate for at least a little while, whether to pay off their debt or to build up some marketable skills that can transfer into otehr professions. And for those going to law school to become academics, it's too unsure a route to do it if you cannot handle practicing for a little while before going into academia - it's damn hard these days to do nothing after law school but a clerkship and/or a fellowship and then go straight into academia. And many schools want you to have either practice experience or a PhD anyway.Of course, there are exceptions - if you've got a trust fund, or your employer is paying for you to get your JD, then go for it. But as Adam notes, everyone thinks they'll be the kid in their class who gets the life-changing job, and almost no one is.
I loved, LOVED law school. It felt like home. (And I'm still here, so there you have it.) Law school was the place where I found my people - dorky and social, smart and snarky, driven and a little bit crazy. Law school was a place where my head hurt at the end of the day from all the deep thoughts I was thinkin', and and where I worked my ass off and still couldn't get out of the middle of the curve. (Yes, for me that was a positive - I'd been looking for a challenging education for a long time and didn't really find it in high school or college.) It was the last time in my life when all my friends were always around to hang out with, and the last time when I had the time (and energy) to sit around really talking about stuff in real depth. I was heavily involved in extracurricular activities that were fun and interesting and exciting, I lived in a city that I came to love so much that I moved here permanently, and I got to know some of the best people I've ever known, who are still a substantial part of my life today (and would be even without this blog). I can't emphasize enough about how the people were so much what made law school great - these smart, funny, engaged people who were from a much, much broader swath of the world than my state-school college friends were, who taught me and showed me so much. It was heady, and thrilling, and a taste of a world of rarified intelligence that I never imagined I'd ever get to experience. I grew up in law school, I found my future in law school, and most of the best friends I'll ever have are people I met in law school.This is experience is by no means universal - but law school isn't miserable for everyone, and being a lawyer isn't miserable for everyone. I loved both.
I don't regret it at all - I loved law school and I genuinely enjoy the substance of the legal work that I do and the clients I represent. And while there are definitely negatives about working for a large law firm and I've had moments (or days or weeks) where I have been frustrated and unhappy about it, I don't feel like I've had the life sucked out of me.I spent three years working in recruiting/human resources for a shopping center developer before I went to law school (and I was sure I would end up in employment or real estate law, which is about 180 degrees from what I actually do). And while I'm a few years older than some of my peers, I think it was probably the best thing for my law school experience and legal career.I don't think I'd ever tell anyone not to go to law school - I'd just want them to be prepared about the impact that your choice of law school has on your future career. Law school ranking and location can play a huge part in the career opportunities available to a person, which play into considerations about the staggering loan debt.
I'll differ here on one point--it still seems to me that legal academia (while it's slowly changing) is looking almost exclusively for folks who are straight out of law school and/or folks who have 20+ years of experience to teach in their specialized area as adjuncts. It is VERY difficult (despite a few great programs, including, most notably, the one at UofC) for someone to make the jump from practice to teaching.I'll also note that I love the actual practice of law--the problem is that in the current day and age, at least at a firm, you often spend a lot less time practicing law than you do focusing on other issues, but that's a rant for another day, and perhaps not under my actual identity.
About half the people currently being hired into legal academia are JD/PhDs or even just PhDs, which is a complicated trend. But while I'd agree with you that the longer you practice, the harder it is to get into academia, it's still pretty unusual to get hired into academia (other thn by going the JD/PhD route) with absolutely no practice experience at all. Very common path is law school - clerkship or two - two years of practice (sometimes in something like a Skadden Fellowship) - academic fellowship - academic job market.
This is the crux of it, I think. I've was very very lucky and graduated with no debt (which allowed me to help my husband graduate with no debt). As a result, we can both afford to do what we want to as lawyers, so I'd absolutely do it again. But if I had had to stay in biglaw instead of moving over to DOJ, I would very much regret having gone to law school.
As I said above, I've wanted to be a lawyer since I was 8, so law school was the only path I ever saw for myself. I wasn't a huge fan of law school itself, but it was a means to an end. And I've made some of the best friends of my life thanks to it.Re: being a lawyer -- I was a public defender for 5 years before just recently moving over to a state agency as a staff attorney. As a PD, I loved being in court, fighting for people's rights, and feeling like I was doing a little bit of good in the world. However, at the same time, I became very disillusioned, burnt out, and felt like I wasn't doing enough to help people. Now at my state agency, I'm never in court (which I do miss), but I feel I'm constantly learning, people respect my opinion, and I actually like the administrative side of things which has surprised me.
The debt thing is the biggest thing for me. The majority of my friends didn't like law school and/or hate practicing law, but are saddled with debt. I love the law and my job, but I am so burdened by my debt. My piece of advice to people who say they want to go to law school is to be sure you want to be a lawyer. If you are hesitant, the debt isn't worth it. I don't regret law school or becoming a lawyer, but I know that I will never be debt free and that is really sad.
I would. Like Adam, I would have worked a couple of years beforehand -- ideally on the Hill (i.e., in Congress).
Yes, even with the caveat that I'd still have to be in the (lost) Class of 2011. Part of me wishes I had figured out I wanted to be a lawyer sooner, but then I realize I'd probably be one of those associates at Dewey scrambling to find a landing spot, and I feel a lot less bad about getting screwed out of a summer associate year. In the long-term, I landed in a non-profit where I'm doing real work as a first-year, have a bomb-ass title, and leave the office by 6pm every day. I'd say that was worth the agony of the 2009 fall recruitment season and the many, many tears I shed over not having a job.In addition, I loved law school. Loved. Being a lawyer is about being an incredibly detailed nerd. There's nothing I like more than that.
I would do so, but I would have gone to a different school.
At this point, I think you go to law school if you get into the T-14, or if you go for free. Paying for anything other than that seems like a foolish roll of the dice.
Paying to attend a "T-14" school is also a hefty risk. At $200K+ you have better be awfully certain that you wouldn't be happy doing anything other than practicing law.
I'll grant one exception to that--for people who very much want to practice in a specific geographic locale other than the major markets (Boston, NY, California, DC, maybe Seattle), there's still some room for non-T14 folks.
<span>I have never been allowed to dance in the stacks after hours on a rainy night. I have never been swept off my feet by a con man with an affection for marching bands. I have never mentored a young female in the art of slaying vampires and demons. TV and movies lie to librarians too.</span>
Who is stopping you from dancing in the stacks after hours on a rainy night?
You've clearly never been on the top stack of the law library filming a video for the law school musical. They let us dance in the stacks after hours then. :)
isaac: Security locks the building at closing and I am not high enough up the food chain to have a key. Or the alarm codes. And I can speak from the experience of being accidentally locked in one night - if you're locked in, there is literally no way out other than calling campus police who call library security to come unlock the doors and let you out. You're entirely trapped in a building with lots of flammable material. Not willing to risk it, even for the chance to do this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ufltS3vpJoQSaray: My library is not amenable to fun things like employees filming fun videos, or at least not where we can be observed by the public or by allowing after-hours access.
Now I'm thinking of The Time Traveler's Wife, in which Henry the time-traveling librarian frequently is running around in the stacks naked due to his condition. (Amazingly, people are too polite to like...ask him about this?) And at one point got trapped in a cage.
I loved that he was a librarian/archivist in that book.
Last time I was in the legal market in Seattle (almost 20 years ago), a majority of the lawyers at the big firms came from good regional schools (mainly UW, but you could get a job at a big firm from the upper tier of your class at Seattle U). But I take issue with the characterization of California as a major market. California has major markets -- three or four, or five, depending upon whether you separate the peninsula from SF and OC from LA and whether you count San Diego as more major or more regional. There are also cities like Sacramento and San Jose and Riverside and Santa Rosa and Oxnard and Santa Barbara and Bakersfield and Stockton and San Bernardino and Santa Barbara, which are the economic centers of their various sub-regions; and there are cities like Walnut Creek and Oakland and Long Beach and San Jose, which are large secondary or tertiary economic hubs for their areas. All of those cities have large (not mega-firm large, but large) established law firms, sometimes very old firms with a long, distinguished history of solid legal work and civic involvement. They have their share of graduates from top firms, and their share of graduates from firms outside what I had never heard called the T14 until a few weeks ago right here, and, I'm sure, their share of people who got their law degrees in places I had never even thought about and who then went on to work and network their way to success. If you don't have a degree from one of these T14, and let's be honest, probably really only like six or seven out of the fourteen, you're probably not going to get a job at one of these giant firms in LA or SF who are now spending all of their time poaching each other's practice groups and then imploding as if the legal market were now just a tremendously stressful game of musical chairs. But that is not the same thing as saying that you cannot get a job in "the California market," even at a fairly large, fairly established firm at a place in California where people actually like to live, like, say, northern San Diego County or within an hour of Tahoe or wine country.
A librarian who doesn't have a key surely knows a librarian who does. And then you can have two librarians dancing in the stacks after hours. Or just, you know, dance in the stacks right before closing.
The only reason I listed Seattle is because it's gotten so tech heavy.As for California, frankly, I was being lazy, clearly, LA/Orange County, SF, and Silicon Valley are what I'd vieww in the same way as NY, DC, Boston. Someone who really wants to practice in Sacramento can easily do so with a degree from elsewhere in California.
Oh boy, I have a hard time with this one. I think there is a big slice of work ethic required to be a happy lawyer, i.e. it generally takes hard work to fashion a career in law that makes you happy, regardless of what makes you happy. The problem is that there is also a big slice of luck and there are a lot of things that can happen along the way that leave you 10 years in making less than half the salary you made when you started, with a stack of debt 90 million miles high ( hypothetically, I have heard, not that this has happened to, oh say, me).
But I would still do it again, maybe with more time off before doing something interesting -- the hill, or travelling, or something
Absolutely, yes. I love being a lawyer, loved my clerkships, liked a fair amount of my time in law firms, and love my current job. That said, my consistent advice for folks considering going to law school is: don't go unless you affirmatively want to. Most of the people I know who hated law school and/or practicing didn't really want to go, but went because they idn't have nether plan or someone pushed them to go.
<span>I'm not sure anybody, except maybe the director, has a key. There was an issue with employee (pretty high ranking employee) theft of special collections materials many, many years ago and since then nobody really gets keys. When the security guys lock up at night, they take those keys and sign them in at the campus police station. </span><span> </span><span>I have been known to do a discreet boogie on a kickstool when working in the Reference Stacks. When certain Prince tracks shuffle up on the iPod I am not made of stone.</span>
I never saw that Adam quote before; ironically, I got into Yale Law in 1991 with an essay about how everyone was telling me that lawyering was not like "LA Law," but I had never seen "LA Law," so didn't know what they were talking about.
Amy Hagen, Chicago '97, quoted in the article, is no longer an attorney.
I probably went for the wrong reasons, notwithstanding that I never saw LA Law, but I've landed on my feet okay with exactly the kind of job I want. I had some unhappy years in between, though.That said, I'll always wonder about the alternative universe where I ended up being a computer geek at an Internet startup, and whether I would've won the stock-option lottery.
With rare diversions into thoughts of going into science, I wanted to become a lawyer since at least freshman year of high school. By the end of high school, I was pretty much set. (Debate contributed to that. A lot.)I'm a law geek, so I've liked a lot of what I've done as a lawyer. I like figuring out the facts of a case and planning a strategy for discovery and the case, plus I liked taking depositions. So I enjoyed trial work. I also like research and writing, and I love oral argument. So I enjoy appellate work. My current job (government appellate attorney) is great, both in that I get to do a lot of arguments, and that my superiors are a pleasure to work for.
<span>And this set of comments is exhibit A is anyone ever asks me why I am friends with Watts.</span>
It's a little stunning how much the cost of law school has gone up. When I was applying to law school, the estimated cost (assuming no scholarships, etc.) for a top law school was around $100K. A little over a decade later, the estimated cost for the same schools was more like $250K. And inflation doesn't come close to explaining it.That difference in potential debt load is just astounding.