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Process of becoming a lawyer

 
 
Reply Wed 25 Feb, 2004 10:28 am
I am 23 and I am having a hard time with Law School, specifically the LSAT's. I have taken them and did not do well enough to get into a school I would like. I am not trying to go to Harvard, Yale, or similar schools, but I have a hard time with these tests.
I was trying to get it all done with when I was a Senior in College with a review course and mild studying. Now that I have graduated, I have been putting it off because I do not want to get another bad grade. I have ordered a bunch of tests to help study for the one in June and I have been in a paralegal certificate program to keep me learning about the Law.
I guess what I am looking for is some advice on how to study, view law school, becoming a lawyer, and thinking about the whole thing.
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Type: Discussion • Score: 2 • Views: 13,731 • Replies: 42
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jespah
 
  1  
Reply Wed 25 Feb, 2004 10:47 am
That's a lot to ask. First, you need to get through the LSATs.

And consider this: being in a top top top-flight school isn't necessarily all it's cracked up to be. After all, if you go to Harvard, you're one among several geniuses, so it's harder to shine. Do you really want to be #500 out of a class of 500 Harvard students? Or would it be better to be #1 out of a class of 1,000 Fordham students?

Consider, also, your college grades. If you don't have at least a B, B plus average, you can kiss top-flight Ivy League Law School good-bye. It's not that it's impossible to get in, but it's very difficult. Very good LSATs help in this area but they aren't determinative. Unless you've also got something else - e. g. you won some sort of national debate or the like - again, you're one of thousands of people applying to these schools. You can't go through Law School until you actually get in. So you need to explore safe schools. There's no shame (and no loss of future credibility) if you start off in a less than top-flight school, get awesome grades and then transfer after your first year. People do this; it's not unheard of.

And, inevitably, the two things you need from Law School are (a) help passing the Bar and (b) help getting a job. Of course all Law Schools claim they will help you with the Bar, but pass rates differ. I recall in New York (back when I graduated Law School, 1986), New York Law School had a Bar pass rate comparable to that of Columbia. Yeah, you read that right. As for jobs, of course an Ivy League education is a huge help, but you should really check out placement success rates. No one is going to give you a job (or at least keep you in a job for long) if all you do is wave a Harvard diploma under their nose. You have to be able to do the work required of you.

Finally, these top-flight schools are also incredibly expensive. Can you afford these schools, or get loans and the like for them?
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joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Wed 25 Feb, 2004 12:20 pm
Re: Process of becoming a lawyer
OceanKayaking240 wrote:
I guess what I am looking for is some advice on how to study, view law school, becoming a lawyer, and thinking about the whole thing.

1. Studying: You've probably already found the LSAT prep books -- Barron's, Princeton Review, Kaplan, etc. If you're the self-motivated kind of person, then these should be fine. If you need a kick in the butt to study, prep courses like Princeton Review and Kaplan are pretty good (but expensive).

2. Viewing law school: I was told that I should read Turow's "1 L" or Llewellyn's "The Bramble Bush" before I went to law school. I didn't. I don't think I missed much. I saw "Paper Chase" (both the movie and the tv series): it gave a distorted, if marginally realistic view of law school. The best way to learn about life as a law school student is to talk to a current or former law school student, especially from the school that you'd like to attend.

Jespah is pretty much on target about law schools: if you don't have the grades/test scores, don't bother applying to the Harvard/Yale type schools. Furthermore, the quality of the education that you get will probably be the same, whether you go to Harvard or to a second-tier school like Fordham or Cardozo (check out U.S. News and World Reports law school rankings -- but view them with a healthy degree of skepticism).


My advice: figure out where you want to practice, and then find out what schools the lawyers who practice in that area graduated from (you can find this information in Martindale-Hubbell). For instance, in Chicago, a lot of lawyers went to DePaul, Loyola (Chicago), John Marshall, and Notre Dame. None of these is a top-20 school, but a J.D. from any of them can probably get you a job in this city.

Law schools do little to prepare you for the bar exam (unless you go to one of those unaccredited California schools, which are little more than three-year bar review courses). In large part, that's because every state bar is different, whereas law school instruction is largely uniform throughout the country (Louisiana is always an exception: you'll find out why when you get to law school). You can, therefore, go to law school in one state and take the bar in another. At this point, you don't need to worry about the bar exam: that's what bar review courses are for.

3. Becoming a lawyer: The best way to learn what being a lawyer is like is to become a lawyer: that's what I did. Short of that, you should talk to someone who is currently practicing the kind of law that you think you might like to do.
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patiodog
 
  1  
Reply Wed 25 Feb, 2004 12:35 pm
Quote:
Do you really want to be #500 out of a class of 500 Harvard students? Or would it be better to be #1 out of a class of 1,000 Fordham students?


Er, how about option c?

My mom went to Boalt (UC Berkeley), my dad went to one of those 3-year bar review schools joe's talking about, my gf is currently going to one somewhere in between. My parents' choice of schools had negligible impacts on their careers, I think -- but neither was aiming for a lot or prestige or money. Would just like to add that, if you end up with options, that you take the prevailing political and professional atmospheres at the schools into consideration, as well. There's no point in spending the money on a top-flight private school if you're interested in family law, for instance -- and if you're very politically liberal, you might want to choose somewhere like Wisconsin over a more prestigious school like Duke (to pull names out of a hat -- a conservative idealogue probably wouldn't want to go to Boalt, either). Obviously, joe's "where you want to practice" advice takes precedence over these considerations, though.

*** There is a lot of information available about different schools and your rough statistical likelihood of getting in based solely on GPA and LSAT scores. These can give you a very rough idea of how you stack up and what sort of scores you need to shoot for, if you haven't seen them already. ***
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jespah
 
  1  
Reply Wed 25 Feb, 2004 01:09 pm
Oh, absolutely. The point I'm making about #500 versus #1 is that a lot of people discount the less prestigious schools and think it's Ivy League or nothing, when the fact is that Law Review is Law Review, pretty much wherever you go. It often pays to go to a school where you can really excel. And, of course, where you want to practice is key. I went to Law School in Delaware but ended up in New York. It's not that I didn't like Delaware or that I didn't like New York area schools, but at the time I wasn't sure of where I wanted to practice (that's a voice I should've listened to more closely - in reality that voice was telling me that I really didn't want to practice at all).

So for any job, it's all about the contacts. Unless you have a close relative who can guarantee you a job out of school, you'll have to slog with the rest of us, and that means it pays to have something in common with the people who are likely to hire you. It also means being able to go to networking events, and an Alumni Association meeting or class reunion is a great networking event. If you wanted to practice in Boston, for example, it would be a good idea to attend Harvard, sure, but it would also be good to attend BU or BC or even - gasp! - New England School of Law.
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Wildflower63
 
  1  
Reply Wed 25 Feb, 2004 05:01 pm
I am in agreement with the other posts made. It really doesn't matter where you got your law degree. It matters whether or not you get it and/or pass the bar.

I went to a university, in nursing, with an incredible pass rate, for first time passing the NCLEX, the license exam. What they left out was the fact that they fail out about two thirds of the class to have that status. I know a lot of nurses practicing, who are good nurses, that did not pass the same university I went to forcing them to change schools.

I went through hell passing that program. Many other students, who could have been great nurses, failed out. Only the extremely determined switched schools. The rest felt like complete failures and inadequate for the profession because of a singular school that was enough to kill you trying to live through it all, like I did. I have no idea how I made it vs. those who failed out. I'm no smarter or better than they were. It is something you can't even make guesses on and no one ever said it was fair. It isn't.

I agree, it doesn't matter what school you go to, as long it is an accreted program of law that allows you to take the bar. That high pass rate means they get rid of anyone who may not make their program less than wonderful. I graduated with only a small fraction of people I started with.

Any selective program, whether it be law or nursing, has a different approach. I would advise visiting different accredited law schools and see what program you feel comfortable with.

Throw prestige out the window. You want the degree. You need to be able to pass the bar exam. Every university is going to differ with the type of program they offer. Some may be right for you, while others are clearly not going to be.

I have a dear friend right now suffering though a tough law program. He is thin and physically fit, but now on blood pressure medication because of the high stress level of the exact same university standards that I went to for nursing. It's one of those that have that grand high pass rate of the bar, just as the did with the NCLEX for nursing. They are sadistic!

Please, follow the advice given. Get the degree and pass the bar. No one really is impressed enough to pay you more money because of a prestige school. Take it in small steps, one test at a time, otherwise you will end up on blood pressure medication.

My best to you! As long as you try, that is all anyone can ask of any of us. If you fail, you aren't a failure. It's easy to criticize others who try and fail, especially for those who have never tried much to fail at. Keep that in mind. The program you took may not have been the right one for your needs is all.
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OceanKayaking240
 
  1  
Reply Thu 26 Feb, 2004 07:59 am
Thank you for the posts everyone. I just wanted to clarify one thing though. When I was referring to the Ivy League schools, I was trying to convey sarcasm. I am not trying to get into those schools because if I were trying to I would have given up a long time a go.

My problem revolves around standardized tests. When it comes to class I am fine and excel. I have been getting discouraged though lately because of the LSAT. I know I can do the work if I could just get into law school but that is the problem - getting in. I had a 3.1 GPA as an undergraduate, not great, but good for Law School and I am currently at a 3.67 in my Paralegal program.
I am going to stick with it and I will go to a school with a good program that accepts me.

Just as a follow-up question - Could some of you lawyers out there give me your expereinces with law school and what your experience has been working in your area of the law?
Thank you - I appreciate all the advice so far it has helped.
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joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Thu 26 Feb, 2004 12:43 pm
OceanKayaking240 wrote:
Just as a follow-up question - Could some of you lawyers out there give me your expereinces with law school and what your experience has been working in your area of the law?
Thank you - I appreciate all the advice so far it has helped.

I had a great time in law school. I enjoyed the mental challenges of the class work, I was involved in some very fulfilling extra-curricular activities, and I made a lot of terrific friends. I also didn't join any study groups or spend all of my time in the law library or hang around with other law students talking about the law. I don't know if my experience is typical, but I don't think it's unusual. I know a lot of lawyers who look back fondly on their time in law school.

Practicing law is a job: like all jobs, it has its good points and its bad points. At its best, the work is exciting, challenging, and rewarding. At its worst, it's dull, routine, and frustrating. Likewise, colleagues can be intelligent, hard-working, and capable, or they can be stupid, lazy, and incompetent. I've worked with both kinds. I've also worked in big firms and small firms: I prefer the small firms.

A lot of what you get out of the practice depends on your personality and interests. If you are a "type A" risk taker/thrill seeker, then you'd be happier in litigation than in corporate transactions. If you value social service to financial rewards, then you shouldn't look for a job at a Wall Street law firm that only does securities work. If you don't like dealing with clients, then stay away from family law. Just ask yourself: what would be my dream job? The answer should give you some insights on the direction in which you want to steer your career.
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Wildflower63
 
  1  
Reply Fri 27 Feb, 2004 01:40 pm
My friend in law school had the same problem, the LSAT. I saw the sample questions. They were insane! He took a prep class that lasted a few weeks to up his score. There are books with practice tests you can brush up with also. I'm sure you already know this, but don't spend too much time on any question.

Good luck to you with the LSAT! That test is awful...
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ossobuco
 
  1  
Reply Fri 27 Feb, 2004 08:35 pm
Is there a website with sample LSAT questions?

I took a sample test a bunch of years ago and didn't think it was hard. I gather it has changed.

This might comment might sound insulting, that I might think the test still is not so hard. I don't mean that to be insulting to any test taker at all. I am just wondering if present education has more people unprepared.
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jespah
 
  1  
Reply Sat 28 Feb, 2004 09:18 am
The LSAT is kind of an odd duck among so-called aptitude tests. However, one way you can prepare is with learning how to do logic problems. A lot of it, too, is reading comprehension.

I found Law School to be, oddly enough, mainly easier than college (then again, I majored in Philosophy, the original extremely hard undergrad program). I've also taught paralegals - paralegal school is not the same as Law School and one's ability to do the work in one is not a one-to-one correspondence to one's ability to do the work in the other.

Eek, sorry I missed the "not" in the first post, e. g. you're not trying to get into Harvard, etc. Shows how much reading comprehension I have these days. :-D

Anyway, back to Law School. I found the first year to be a lot of work and then I began to manage it better and it got not necessarily easier but at least it was doable. I'm an organized person and I used to do my best to read ahead. That way, you're not stuck with having to study when you can't, e. g. if you're sick or there's a personal thing you have to attend to (death in the family, that kind of thing), etc. I didn't enjoy being called on during my first year, but after the first semester or so I felt it was no big deal. Other people were terrified of that. Eh, it was, like I said, no big deal. It didn't make or break me when it came to grades and I doubt it mattered much to anyone else, unless they were so grossly unprepared.

And in Law School, attendance is required. You get only a few absences, and then you're flunked. It's nothing personal - it's a bar requirement that you attend class. So it's not like college where you can blow off class if you want to. Law School means you need to be there. And I recall Tax was an unbelievably dull class, yet we still had to be there, and at least look attentive. Not fun, not fun at all.

Back to the LSAT briefly. There are some similarities between the LSAT and the GRE and GMAT. If you can't find an LSAT prep course in your area (Bar/Bri and Kaplan are the big guns in this area), try a GRE or GMAT class, and supplement it with LSAT prep books. You do best, of course, if you take an LSAT class, but since I don't know where you live, if your choices are limited, you can kind of cover things that way.
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joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Sat 28 Feb, 2004 09:39 am
ossobuco wrote:
Is there a website with sample LSAT questions?

The LSAC website has an LSAT "question of the day." I doubt that there is much more out there on the web: the LSAT questions are copyrighted and are strictly controlled by the LSAC. There are, however, books with complete LSATs.

ossobuco wrote:
I took a sample test a bunch of years ago and didn't think it was hard. I gather it has changed.

Depends on how many years are in a "bunch." The test changed rather dramatically in the mid 1980s (one section was dropped completely); a few years before then, the LSAT started including a writing sample. The scoring systems have changed two or three times, but that hasn't reflected a change in the test's content. I don't think there have been any major changes since the mid-80s.

ossobuco wrote:
This might comment might sound insulting, that I might think the test still is not so hard. I don't mean that to be insulting to any test taker at all. I am just wondering if present education has more people unprepared.

Some people are better at taking standardized tests than others. And there is nothing in a standard college curriculum that would prepare someone for the LSAT (apart from very basic reading and reasoning skills): test prep courses, on the other hand, are very good at preparing people for the test.
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joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Sat 28 Feb, 2004 09:50 am
jespah wrote:
I didn't enjoy being called on during my first year, but after the first semester or so I felt it was no big deal. Other people were terrified of that. Eh, it was, like I said, no big deal. It didn't make or break me when it came to grades and I doubt it mattered much to anyone else, unless they were so grossly unprepared.

We had a saying at my law school: in your first year, when you're called on you answer; in your second year, when you're called on you pass; in your third year, when you're called on you're not there.

jespah wrote:
And in Law School, attendance is required. You get only a few absences, and then you're flunked. It's nothing personal - it's a bar requirement that you attend class. So it's not like college where you can blow off class if you want to.

I admire the ingenuity of any professor or school administrator who told you this in order to make you attend class, but it can't possibly be true. Since a J.D. from an accredited law school can take any state's bar exam, it would be necessary for every state bar to have an attendance requirement, and I can personally attest to the fact that Illinois doesn't have such a requirement.

I never had a single class in law school that had an attendance requirement -- not even seminars with a dozen students -- and I certainly blew off more than my fair share of classes. Most of the time, the profs don't care if you show up, and they certainly don't notice if you're absent (except maybe if you're a "gunner"). You may have had an attendance requirement at your school, jespah, but I doubt that it was a bar requirement.
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jespah
 
  1  
Reply Sat 28 Feb, 2004 10:21 am
Another reason I shouldn't've gone to Delaware.
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wannabelawyer
 
  1  
Reply Sat 2 Oct, 2004 07:03 pm
hi all
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Debra Law
 
  1  
Reply Tue 5 Oct, 2004 04:13 am
Law School--Law practice
Don't be afraid of the LSAT. Buy a study-guide from a bookstore and sign up for the test. The only thing that's stopping you from excelling is your own fear of failure.

I enjoyed law school. It's work, but enjoyable if you like to learn. It requires a ton of reading, writing, and organizing. In addition to my text books, I used study aids and Gilbert outlines. I would also outline my course material myself and share outlines with other students. Usually, by the end of the semester, I had reviewed everything so often that I was definitely prepared for the final exams.

I avoided study groups like the plague. Study groups are disorganized and seem to attract the students who are:

1) incapable of independent thought;
2) looking for short cuts;
3) too lazy (or too busy) to do their own work; or
4) social butterflies.

If you're an average to below-average student, a study group might be helpful if you're having trouble--but study groups are no substitute for digging into the material and actually learning it for yourself. It's a full time job, but it's not that hard if you attend classes and keep up with the work.

Passing the Bar: I took the Bar/Bri Bar Exam Preparation Seminar (by mail) after law school graduation. I received the lecture tapes and materials everyday in the mail. I listened to the tapes in the comfort of my home. I read the materials. I took several practice tests. I took the state bar exam and passed. Yah!

Practicing Law: Being a lawyer--a good lawyer--is HARD WORK. Paperwork, paperwork, paperwork, researching, reading, continuing legal education, paperwork, paperwork, paperwork! Whew. But it's exciting in many ways if you like to be intellectually challenged. There's always a new twist to every legal issue that walks into your office or lands on your desk.
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cavfancier
 
  1  
Reply Tue 5 Oct, 2004 04:32 am
When my aunt (a judge) and my uncle (senior partner) studyed law, there were no LSATs. Their opinion is that the test really indicates nothing about one's ability to be a good lawyer, but these days, it is a necessary evil. I agree with all the advice given here. As a student just trying to get into law school, the LSAT will weigh heavily on your chances of acceptance. My wife recently wrote the LSATs, and I helped out with the study. I would highly recommend getting more than one guide, working through all the practice tests, and comparing the answers. Some of the questions in the different guides are identical, with dramatically different answers, which is part of the problem with the test. Sometimes there is no one correct answer, or worse, some of the questions are so badly written they are nearly incomprehensible. The important thing is to work on your timing. There will be questions you will get right away. Answer all of those first, skip the ones that make no sense and go back to them later. Time yourself on the practice tests.
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cavfancier
 
  1  
Reply Tue 5 Oct, 2004 04:36 am
Incidentally, the LSAC "Question of the day" feature is no longer availible. Damn lawyers and copyright. Laughing
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wannabelawyer
 
  1  
Reply Tue 5 Oct, 2004 05:06 pm
im new
ok hi everyone im 17 yr old and im almost done with high school i read all of your post and learned alot from you guys i just got a few questions to see if u can help me out with 1:will one need any high math skills
2:what should i do as a newbe to the collge world to get on the path of law
what classes will i need and any adive u guys have for a kid like me will help alot
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jespah
 
  1  
Reply Wed 6 Oct, 2004 04:32 am
You'll need math skills in order to get into and through college, which is a prerequisite to Law School. Any classes in college will get you on the "path of law" - there is no set Pre-Law curriculum like there is a set Pre-Med curriculum. In my Law School, the top student had a Geology degree, the #2 student had been an RN, and the #3 student had an Anthropology degree. My undergraduate degree is in Philosophy. Many people take History or Political Science in college before going to Law School, and others take Criminal Justice, but it really doesn't matter and, in fact, you may find that more Law Schools are interested in you if you take a different course of study from the norm, such as Chemistry.

A bit of advice - you'll need to be able to communicate well, both verbally and in a written format. The writing part means spelling, grammar, punctuation, capitalization and vocabulary. Even if all you want to do is spend your time in a courtroom, you'll still, at least sometimes, have to file motions and briefs which you will end up writing or editing. So, one of the best ways to learn to be a better writer is to practice reading and writing, so read books that are harder than those of your classmates, and subscribe to a well-written newspaper (like the New York Times, the Washington Post, The Christian Science Monitor, The Wall Street Journal or The Boston Globe, as opposed to The National Star, USA Today or The New York Post) and read it. As for writing practice, take writing classes (I'm talking about Advanced English composition, that sort of thing, rather than Fiction Writing).

Finally, practice public speaking. Even if you just want to do research all your life, you'll still have to occasionally get up in front of people or, at the very least, you'll have to be able to speak to strangers if you want to network for jobs. One way you can do this, if it doesn't come naturally, is to take a beginning acting class.
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