mackknopf: (Justice)
The practice of law has been called a license to learn.  It is one of the most pivotal experiences in my life and shaped my character.  I count it, along with my going to college at UC Berkeley, as one of the two great adventures of my life so far.  Dad said it was a way he knew for sure that I could make a living.  My Uncle Ray told me I would never regret going.  All of the above is true.  However, when going to law school, I wish someone had told me a few more things to prepare me.   The below is advice I am giving to a buddy with an engineering degree who wanted to know more about what it was like.

1.  To get into law school, take the LSAT prep course.  All the other people getting into good schools will do this. Then take the LSAT and get a good score.  You will also need decent references.  For choice of school, consider how much debt you want to go into (get government loans, not private), and how reputation matters to you.  Public is generally cheaper than private and is usually just as good or better (Univ. of Alabama versus Cumberland, for instance).

2.   Make sure you know why you want to go law school.  "Because Dad wanted me to" or "I can make money when I'm done!" was not sufficient to get me through.  I went because I'd been to a class beforehand and liked both the subject matter (contracts, not that I use it much) and the school.  I stayed because I could sense I was meant to be there.  I fit (even when I had little in common with the other students) because I wanted a career I would love, not just a job.  After all, they were going to teach me how to argue for a living! 

Wanting to help people came later in actual practice for me.  My attitude was that failure was unacceptable; I had nowhere else to go and no fallback plan.  It was win or nothing.

3.  You will become a monk for three years.  Well, you might have a significant other, but relationships tend to either break up under the stress or lead to marriage in law school.  It's definitely a very ascetic life, but has a certain purity and rigor that was good for me at the time.  "The law is a jealous mistress” continues to be true even today, but I have more free time. 

Pick one hobby.  That's all you're going to have time for.  Also, decide which friends you want to keep, because you're not going to have a whole lot of time to interact with them.  I had my regular role playing game, friends outside of law school, and one good friend in law school (Dan), who helped me make it and vice versa.

4.    Make a general plan for what you want to do after school, but be okay with making changes in it.  Realize that what you think you’ll want to practice might change after  you go through the actual classes.  If you can’t stand the idea of defending people who might be guilty (and often are), for instance, don’t do criminal defense.  Recognize that some fields of interest make more money than others (like personal injury lawsuits or insurance defense).  Family law is relatively speaking, a poor cousin to the land of civil law practice, but I find it satisfying.  Just have an open mind.

5.    Do you want to work for yourself or somebody else?  The first is very difficult.  If I wasn’t working with my father, an established name, I’d be struggling.  It wasn’t very easy the first year out of law school until I carved out a niche (criminal defense and family law).  Helping those who were hurt as a practice came later.  Working for someone else is more lucrative.  On the other hand, I do not work well under others, and I’ve grown to love the freedom I have being on my own (though not so much as not knowing where the next case will come from).  It all depends on your temperament.

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March 2012

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