Law School (and Law Profession) Little Instruction Book
The following is a highly opinionated synopsis about law school and entering the legal profession. It’s meant to read something like Life’s Little Instruction Book and reflects the current state of industry and my objective thoughts based on my subjective experience. I’m writing this in 2013, after having graduated law school in 2007 and working for myself since that time.
Types of Law
Criminal law is civil. Civil law is criminal.
Family law is especially disgusting. Criminal law is almost mathematical, but most of the available clientele doesn’t have money. Public defender work is almost rigged, it’s so formulaic.
Being in court usually means lots of sitting and waiting and delays. If you like to read a lot, it may be for you. On the other hand, I never see others with books while waiting their turn.
The other kind of law involves sitting at a computer all day. The lucky ones get to talk to non-lawyers during their work day.
Law School Years
Next to nothing you are taught in law school will apply on the job. The exception to this rule is if you spend your career arguing in the half hour increments they allow in the Supreme Court. Unless you are John Roberts, that’s not you.
Most of your professors will use a quasi sort of form of the Socratic method of teaching. While it can make for interesting class discussions, the firs time you will hear what you need to learn for your law school exams is after law school … when you take a bar review course.
In the first year of law school, if your parent was a lawyer, you knew what to listen for in law school and how to take the exams. Most of the rest of us got a nice shock later.
Law school tests are just large fact patterns. You need to memorize the rules which typically have 3 or 4 requirements to meet a legal standard. The tests are all about applying these rules.Talk about the 3 or 4 requirements as to whether they or met or not, and repeat with the next fact. If you haven’t memorized each rule, you’re in trouble no matter how eloquent your answer.
You do not need to read the cases unless it helps you remember the rule associated with that case . . . which you will probably not get by reading the case.
You need to find the rules on your own. Most professors rarely tell you the rules during lecture. Find an outline from a student who had the teacher last year and got an A. Now, most cases you read in law school are outlined in Wikipedia for you already.
After law school, at least if you’re in NY or NJ, you will take the BarBri review course. They have a virtual monopoly, charge an arm and a leg, have their tentacles deeply embedded in the law schools, and there really is no other way to properly prepare for the bar exam. The lectures, however, are excellent.
If I could do it over again, I would have taken the bar review course before entering law school. It is the most clear explanation of the rules that the professors, with few exceptions, would not lay out for your during your three years in school.
Keep Your Eye on the Goal: To Get a Decent Job
Many classes in law school are very intellectually stimulating and interesting.
If you are in law school to get an education, you need not read this section.
Unless you go to Yale or Harvard Law School, your focus should be on getting the right work experience. Even being at the top of your class and taking part in every law school activity no longer assures you of a job.
No one told me until my third year that many law firms only hire you if you intern with them after your second year. Intern for a firm that hires and expands.
Tons of people have law degrees, but a small percentage of them can fill out a case information statement. I never saw one in law school, but work experience allowed me to work at decent jobs after I graduated.
The best time to get that work experience is while going to law school and especially during summer and winter break.
Even in my specialty (Patents) it is no longer a given that you can find work. This for a specialty limited to those who have both a science and law degree and whom have passed an extra bar exam. Judging from the steady trickle of unsolicited resumes and former interns without jobs, it’s brutal out there.
Getting a Job Out of Law School
If you take a different path other than undergrad –> law school and are over about 27 when you graduate, a big law firm will almost certainly not give you a job.
The exception to the above seems to be if you have something really out there that makes you interesting. I heard a former blackjack dealer had no problem getting job offers.
You must find a niche. You must focus on it and pursue it. The earlier you find your niche, the better.
My niche – I could fix a computer, code a database, and type really fast. This got me my first job in patents. I was a secretary – but I learned the profession because I typed everything for a highly experienced patent attorney. This turned out to be more worth it than my colleagues who landed much higher paying summer internships where they took them to Broadway musicals and baseball games.
Read some profiles and look at the pictures of lawyers at large firms. If you don’t fit into the houtie-taughty cookie-cutter mold, don’t bother trying. You’re better off with the alternative route.
If you’re not a blackjack dealer, have some skill that helps differentiate yourself from the other cookie-cutter crowd – unemployed law school graduates.
Slaving Yourself Out to a Large Firm – The Unfortunate 10%
You must be in the top 10% of your class and go to a decent law school or top 50% of your class and go to Yale law school. If you go to a middle or bottom range law school (meaning, previous graduates haven’t landed good jobs), don’t bother.
Still, you must also make the right connections during law school, and really want it to get a ‘good’ job.
If you are hired by a major firm, chances are you now slave labor for seven years until you make partner. Most people drop out before making partner. Partners are now slaves to the senior partners, their work, and have to manage the lower class slaves beneath them.
While the top 10% of income earning lawyers do earn a lot of money, given the amount of hours they work, it’s not that good of a deal and there isn’t much time to enjoy that money. I believe the story about the father who called home and his son didn’t know who it was. That’s sad and missing the point of life.
Even small and mid-size firms usually want 2000 billable hours a year. The real “prestigious” firms may want 3000 billable hours a year. That translates into 40 or 60 billable hours a week, or more like 65 or 95 working hours a week. There’s a huge incentive to lie and overbill. Some clients are well aware and accept it because they like the results.
If you work for someone else, 2/3 of your salary goes to them – well, 1/3 to the overhead and 1/3 to someone else’s second or third home. Don’t worry – he doesn’t have much time to enjoy those extra homes anyway.
The common theme between lawyers at large firms and unemployed lawyers seems to be misery.
If You Can’t Find A Job
More than half of law school graduates don’t have a job. Law school job statistics are published by the law schools. These statistics are a rigged bunch of lies written by lawyers using the skills that lawyers are best known for -saying something that is technically kind of sort of true but entirely misleading. They count working at McDonalds or the temporary job reviewing law school applications that they give, coincidentally, when gathering the job statistics as “employed out of law school.”
Most who do find a job in the legal profession out of law school will earn what a unionized blue collar laborer works . . . which is just fine because these are hard-working people, but they usually aren’t $200,000 in debt and 27 when they just start to earn an income. Plumbers can do quite well and it should be considered. It’s hands on, you get to work with people, and … I digress.
Temporarily labor is a big thing in this profession. You will sit in a dark basement reviewing boxes of documents and make $40 – $60/hr, which does add up with the long hours . . . but the law firm will bill the client $300 – $500/hr for your work.
You will lose your temporary job in about six weeks and have to find another.
Given your chances of this, having $200,000 in debt is a bad idea. A reasonable investor doesn’t buy a stock with a Price/Earnings ratio about about 20. If law school costs $40,000 a year or more before other expenses like eating, and your income will be $40,000 a year . . . you do the math.
Most lawyers can’t do math.
There is a good reason loan terms are much more generous for medical students. The actuaries have done the math.
Work for Yourself
The hardest thing about working for yourself is not the work – it is finding clients.
Find overflow work from other lawyers to help you out in the beginning. You can even make a profession out of this in some cases. Not only do you get free mentoring from someone more experienced than you, but it gives you some decent income while generating your own client base.
The earlier you work for yourself, the better. When you’re in your 20s and have no expenses, earning $25,000 in your first year is not so bad. Try doing that when you’re used to a $250,000/yr salary, have a mortgage to pay, and have less stamina.
There are usually people you can ask for help. Find mentors who know more than you. People like to share their expertise. E-mail lists geared towards your specialty are a great resource.
To the best of my intellectual pondering, every skill that I have every learned helped me in my law career. Web page design and search engine marketing turned out to be some of the most useful.
Know what you’re doing – get some work experience. The earlier the better.
Maybe it works in court, but when talking to a client, don’t act like a lawyer – I repeat: don’t act like a lawyer. I mean – don’t be the stereotype that everyone hates. Don’t be an arrogant prick. Don’t obfuscate words that are technically true but will lead people to believe something that is false. This is just a fancy way of lying. A lawyer who is honest has more business in the long run and sleeps at night.
Answer your phone. It’s amazing how many potential clients say, “Wow, I called 10 lawyers and you’re the first one I actually reached.” It’s really not that competitive out there when your competition insists on being chased down if you want to hire them.
Be self-assured when you answer the phone. You’re in sales and marketing now.
Types of Inquiries to Your Law Firm
You will receive the following types of phone calls: 1) Serious potential client, 2) Serious client with no money, 3) Guy who wants free information, 4) Telemarketer.
Charge an initial consultation fee. If you don’t you will waste far too much time on person type 2 and 3 and feel like a used dishrag. I know. I tried it. I credit initial consultation fees towards further work and if that’s still not good enough, the client is only going to be problematic later. I know. I’ve been there. Don’t waive your consult fee unless it’s a referral from a good client.
Telemarketers can be fun. Listening to crazy people who call you off the internet for legal advice can be fun. I’ve gotten calls from prisons, mental hospitals, and telemarketers with funny numbers that wanted to sell me the service of having a local phone number. None of this is fun when you’re way too busy.
People trying to sell you something almost always sound much more self-assured than you do. Potential clients sound, or should sound, less self-assured than you do.
Telemarketers want to know how you’re doing before they tell you who they are or why they’re calling.
A person who’s first question is, “How much do you charge for . . .” is probably calling 10 attorneys and wasting your time.
Unless it’s a telemarketer, treat all callers with respect and talk to them. This goes with answering your own phone.
None of the above rules apply 100%. A “How much do you charge for . . .” first call turned out to be one of my larger clients. Someone I was sure was just looking for free information turned out to be another. I’ve never gotten a telemarketer wrong.
Go home at 5pm. Consider it a perk of working for yourself.
No one you hire will be as invested in your work as you are.
your blog is so informative for me. Keep it up.