16
   

"I want to be a lawyer!" -- Frequently Asked Questions

 
 
Reply Sat 11 Dec, 2004 11:17 am
On a somewhat regular basis, we get members who visit this forum asking about the process of becoming a lawyer. So I thought the people here who have gone through the process (jespah, debra_law, anyone else?) can accumulate our collected wisdom in a single thread and answer some of the most frequently asked questions posed by those who want to become lawyers.

I'll start by posting some of those questions. I urge anyone else (either those with legal/law school experience or those thinking about going into the profession) to post their questions. In later posts, we can provide our answers.

GETTING INTO LAW SCHOOL
What courses/major should I take in college?
Is there any disadvantage if I'm not a pre-law major?
What's the best way to study for the LSAT?
Do I need any math skills?
Which law school should I go to?
If I want to practice in a certain state, do I need to go to a law school in that state?
Can I still get into law school if I have a mediocre GPA/LSAT score?
What's the difference between a top-rated law school and one that's not so highly rated?
I'm in high school right now. Is there anything I should be doing to prepare myself for law school?

LAW SCHOOL
What's law school really like?
I've heard law students are really competitive. Is that true?
I've heard that law professors are real jerks. Is that true?

PRACTICING LAW
Is the practice of law like what I see on tv?
How much do lawyers earn?
How many hours a week do lawyers work?
I want to make a lot of money. What area of law should I go into?
Are there any areas of law that are "hot" right now?
I want to be a lawyer but I don't think I'd want to get involved in trial work. Is that possible?
Will I be able to get a job once I graduate from law school? Is there a "glut" of lawyers right now?
 
Phoenix32890
 
  1  
Reply Sat 11 Dec, 2004 01:17 pm
I am not a lawyer, but I will put my two cents in. Whenever a member asks about training for any profession, I always link him/her to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook. That publication gives an excellent overview of the the education, training, salaries, description of work, and prospects in the field. And it's right from the horse's mouth! Very Happy


http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos053.htm
0 Replies
 
joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Sat 11 Dec, 2004 04:08 pm
Excellent link, Phoenix, it answers a lot of these frequently asked questions and would make a good starting point for anyone looking into getting into the legal profession. Thanks!

I thought of a couple more questions for those thinking about law school:

I took some time off/went to work after graduating from college: will that affect my chances of getting into law school?

How old is too old to start law school?
0 Replies
 
Phoenix32890
 
  1  
Reply Sun 12 Dec, 2004 06:02 am
Here I go again:

This site looks pretty decent, and answers both of your questions. Someone paid $50- for the answer:


http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview?id=404331
0 Replies
 
jespah
 
  1  
Reply Sun 12 Dec, 2004 04:52 pm
Here's another question (good idea for a topic, joe!): Is it better to go to an Ivy League school?
0 Replies
 
Craven de Kere
 
  1  
Reply Sun 12 Dec, 2004 06:44 pm
Here's another question:

Are there too many lawyers for the market and which way will it be trending in a few years?
0 Replies
 
joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Sun 12 Dec, 2004 06:51 pm
Keep 'em coming, folks!

Another one (prompted by Phoenix's links):

Are there part-time law school programs available? If I enroll in one, will that hurt my chances of getting a good job?
0 Replies
 
joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Sun 12 Dec, 2004 06:59 pm
What do law school rankings mean? Which ones are the most reliable?

I've heard that I should go to the best law school I can get into, even if I have to go into debt with student loans. Is that true?

I've been out of college for a while. Should I go back to my undergrad professors for letters of recommendation, or should I get them from people who may know me better?

What's the "Socratic method?"
gustavratzenhofer
 
  1  
Reply Sun 12 Dec, 2004 07:09 pm
I think this country has reached critical mass on lawyers and we should encourage people to pursue a career in a more humanitarian field.

Is there such a thing as a lawyer exterminator?

That might be a noble profession.

Sorry, Joe.
0 Replies
 
joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Mon 13 Dec, 2004 10:35 am
OK, time to start providing some answers. And let me state up front that I'm not offering these as authoritative answers. For the most part, they're just my opinions. I encourage everyone else to provide their own answers.

GETTING INTO LAW SCHOOL

What courses/major should I take in college?

There is no such thing as a nationally recognized "pre-law major," so there is no set list of courses that undergrads should be taking in order to prepare for law school. In general, then, take courses that emphasize writing and reasoning skills. You can find these kinds of courses in practically any department.

Is there any disadvantage if I'm not a pre-law major?
No. In fact, most law schools try to create a diverse student body, which includes getting students from diverse disciplines. I think many law schools would consider it a plus if an applicant had a "non-traditional" (i.e. not history, political science, philosophy, English, or "pre-law") college major.

What's the best way to study for the LSAT?
Whatever way works best for you. If you're self-motivated, there are commercial study aids available from Kaplan's, Princeton Review, Barron's, etc. These include sample LSATs. If you think you would do better in a more structured environment, LSAT prep courses are available (albeit at a hefty price).

Do I need any math skills?
I've been able to get by with the math that I learned (or didn't learn) in high school. Unless you plan on going into patent law or some other specialized field of technology law, there isn't much need to have higher math skills.

Which law school should I go to?
I've heard that I should go to the best law school I can get into, even if I have to go into debt with student loans. Is that true?

My advice is always: go to the best law school that will admit you. Look at student loans like an investment rather than an expense -- an investment that will pay off with a higher salary once you graduate and get a job.

Is it better to go to an Ivy League school?
What's the difference between a top-rated law school and one that's not so highly rated?

I may be expelled from the secret brotherhood for saying this, but the difference in the education that you would get in a top-tier law school and the one you would get in a second- or third-tier school is minimal. You might get a more stimulating intellectual experience at Harvard or Yale, but you'll probably learn just as much about torts and contracts at Boston College or the Univ. of Connecticut.

The real difference between law schools isn't what happens in the classrooms, it's what happens in the interview rooms. Better law schools attract better law firm recruiters. The big law firms that typically interview at a dozen law schools every year will be focusing on top-tier schools and offering those students the high-paying jobs. Students at lower-ranked schools can still get jobs, but they often have to make contact with the firms directly (rather than waiting for the interviewers to come to campus). With the top-ranked law schools, then, you purchase access to jobs. And, given the competition and rewards, that access is often worth the price.

What do law school rankings mean? Which ones are the most reliable?
Paradoxically, law school rankings mean everything and they mean nothing. They mean everything because, as I pointed out above, students and law firms treat them as if they mean something. But they mean nothing because, ultimately, they offer very little reliable information.

The USNews rankings are perhaps the most famous, but there are others out there (you can find many of them with this search). In general, the USNews rankings are typical in that they take various data into account that look both objective and relevant (such as average entering class LSAT) and put them into a formula that yields a numerical rating. Those ratings are then compared with others to come up with the rankings.

The problem comes with the methodologies used to determine the ratings. How much weight, for instance, should be given to the size of the law library? How does one measure a school's reputation? And how can one control for schools that manipulate admissions systems to boost their ratings? These kinds of problems are highlighted here and here in detail: these merely echo the numerous criticisms that are out there. But despite the criticisms, the rankings games continue. And as long as students and law firms place a great deal of weight on these rankings, they will continue to be important.

If I want to practice in a certain state, do I need to go to a law school in that state?
No. The only thing you need to do is go to an ABA-accredited law school. The only possible exception is if you plan to practice law in Louisiana: in that case, you might want to consider going to a law school in Louisiana (you'll learn why Louisiana is weird when you get to law school).

Can I still get into law school if I have a mediocre GPA/LSAT score?
There are well over 100 accredited law schools in the US. You can probably get into one of them.

I'm in high school right now. Is there anything I should be doing to prepare myself for law school?
Take classes that emphasize writing and reasoning skills.

I took some time off/went to work after graduating from college: will that affect my chances of getting into law school?
Probably not. Law schools won't typically consider that as a disadvantage.

How old is too old to start law school?
79.

Are there part-time law school programs available? If I enroll in one, will that hurt my chances of getting a good job?
There are many part-time law school programs available, many of them in large urban areas. Usually these are offered by lower-ranked law schools, which might affect your access to higher paying jobs (see my remarks above). On the other hand, many highly successful lawyers came out of these non-traditional programs (former Chief Justice Warren Burger, for instance, attended night classes at William Mitchell Law School).

I've been out of college for a while. Should I go back to my undergrad professors for letters of recommendation, or should I get them from people who may know me better?
Letters of recommendation are designed to be written by professors, which is a problem for those who have been out of college for a while. My advice is: if you think that one or two professors still remember you, it's worth getting a recommendation from them. But if you've spent a good deal of time elsewhere than in academia (e.g. actually earning a living in the real world), then you should also get a letter or two from there: from employers, supervisors, etc. Above all, the recommender should be someone who knows you and who can fairly evaluate you as a future law student and lawyer.
0 Replies
 
joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Mon 13 Dec, 2004 02:01 pm
More answers:

LAW SCHOOL

What's law school really like?

It's a lot like college. Some people really like college, others really hate it. The same with law school. For instance, I loved law school, but while my experience wasn't unique, I wouldn't say that it was typical either.

As for the law school experience itself, there are some things that are fairly uniform. Law school is a three-year program. Graduates end up with a JD (juris doctor) degree at the end of the three years (some schools still award LLDs -- there's no practical difference). Students take a core curriculum in the first year, typically consisting of the following subjects: torts, contracts, property, constitutional law, criminal law, civil procedure. Many schools also require some form of a legal writing class, and some require a practicum/clinical course and/or a senior seminar. Otherwise, students are largely free to pick and choose among courses in their second and third years. Courses are based on the "case method," which focuses on study of appellate court decisions. Traditionally, professors teach according to the "Socratic method." Law school classes have been conducted along these lines since C.C. Langdell at Harvard first started back in the 1870s.

What's the "Socratic method?"
An instructional technique whereby a professor asks a student an increasingly difficult series of questions until the student demonstrates, by his/her answers, that the professor is much smarter than the student.

I've heard law students are really competitive. Is that true?
Some are and some aren't. I didn't really experience any kind of competition when I was in law school, but that's only my experience. I've heard stories of students sabotaging other students' work or hoarding books in library carels or doing other nefarious deeds, but I imagine that one would only encounter that sort of thing among the law review types. I never hung around with them.

What's "law review?"
Every law school has at least one student-edited publication, frequently called the "law review" or "law journal" (or some variation thereon). Typically, membership is determined by grades, and so it is considered to be a great honor to be a member of the law review. It's also a lot of extra work.

I've heard that law professors are real jerks. Is that true?
You've been watching too many reruns of "The Paper Chase." Not all law professors are jerks -- it's probably similar to the percentage of college professors who are jerks.

What's "The Paper Chase?"
It was a book, then a movie, then a tv series all about a first-year law student at Harvard. If the movie doesn't scare you off of going to law school, then nothing will.
0 Replies
 
joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Mon 13 Dec, 2004 02:39 pm
Re: "I want to be a lawyer!" -- Frequently Asked Q
And even more totally subjective answers:

PRACTICING LAW

Is the practice of law like what I see on tv?

No. I've never seen a tv law series that even came close to the day-to-day experience of a typical lawyer. In general, law involves a lot of research and writing -- two activities that don't generate a lot of dramatic tension or translate well on the screen.

How much do lawyers earn?
Take a look at the first link that Phoenix posted. You can also look here to find information about firms in your state.

There's a wide range of lawyer salaries, depending upon the firm, the type of work, the amount of experience, and the location. A lawyer in a Wall Street firm practicing securities law will typically make far more money than an assistant prosecutor in Glens Falls. Of course, the Wall Street lawyer might also be working 60-70 hours a week: there's often a trade-off between money and leisure. If you want more of the former, be prepared to sacrifice more of the latter.

How many hours a week do lawyers work?
Again, it depends. Many of the high-paying jobs for which law school grads compete require minimum annual billable hours from associates in the 1800-2200 range. If an associate billed every single hour that he/she worked, billing 2000 hours in a year works out to fifty 40-hour work weeks with two weeks vacation.

What's a "billable hour?"
Most lawyers work on a billable hour system. A "billable hour" is an hour that can be charged to a client. So if I work one hour on a file for the XYZ Company, that would be one billable hour. The opposite of a billable hour is, of course, a non-billable hour. That's an hour that an attorney works but that isn't billed to a client.

Ideally, every hour that a lawyer works should be a billable hour. In practice, however, there's always work that needs to be done that can't be billed to a specific client. Of course, some creative lawyers will manage to "double bill" -- billing two clients for the same hour worked. That practice, however, is unethical. Not uncommon, just unethical.

What's the difference between an "associate" and a "partner?"
In many firms, there are two classes of lawyers: associates and partners. New lawyers start out as associates, which are, in effect, employees of the law firm. After a certain amount of time (7-10 years is typical), an associate is asked to become a partner. Partners are owners of the firm who get to share in the firm's profits. So while an associate gets a salary, a partner will get a slice of the firm's net profits (sometimes called a "draw"). Also, as a part-owner of the firm, partners enjoy a great deal of job security. Becoming a partner, therefore, is something like becoming tenured in an academic position.

I want to make a lot of money. What area of law should I go into?
There are rich and poor lawyers practicing in every area of the law. If you're excellent at what you do, you'll make money in whatever field you practice.

Are there any areas of law that are "hot" right now?
Everyone wants to get into entertainment law. Not that it is expanding, but because you get to meet famous people. One of my law professors told me that if I wanted to be assured of steady work, go into bankruptcy law.

I want to be a lawyer but I don't think I'd want to get involved in trial work. Is that possible?
Sure. Trial lawyers are sort of the front line soldiers in the legal world, but, as with an army, there is at least one soldier in the rear areas for every soldier on the front. Many very successful lawyers never even set foot in a courtroom.

Will I be able to get a job once I graduate from law school? Is there a "glut" of lawyers right now?
Are there too many lawyers for the market and which way will it be trending in a few years?

I have always followed this axiom: there is no town so small that, if it can support one lawyer, it cannot support two. Lawyers, in other words, create work for other lawyers, so as long as there are lawyers there will always be jobs for more lawyers.

The jobs market, in general, tends to follow the economy (some are counter-cyclical, like bankruptcy). So if you started law school today and wanted to know what the job market will be when you graduate, you'd need to predict what the economy will be like three years from now. I can't do that, and I doubt that you can either. There will always be jobs available for smart lawyers willing to put in the effort. Just be one of those lawyers and you should do fine.
0 Replies
 
jespah
 
  1  
Reply Tue 14 Dec, 2004 07:31 pm
Joe, I love these, will think on them for a few days.
0 Replies
 
jespah
 
  1  
Reply Sat 18 Dec, 2004 10:18 am
I've added my answers in blue. Where I haven't added anything, I agree completely with Joe.

joefromchicago wrote:
OK, time to start providing some answers. ...
GETTING INTO LAW SCHOOL

What courses/major should I take in college?

There is no such thing as a nationally recognized "pre-law major," so there is no set list of courses that undergrads should be taking in order to prepare for law school. In general, then, take courses that emphasize writing and reasoning skills. You can find these kinds of courses in practically any department.

Also, try to take different classes, courses that you enjoy, courses that you can excel in. Lots of law students have history, english and political science backgrounds. Take science, art, philosophy, languages, etc. and you'll stand out from the pack when it comes time for the admissions committee to look at your candidacy.

Is there any disadvantage if I'm not a pre-law major?
No. In fact, most law schools try to create a diverse student body, which includes getting students from diverse disciplines. I think many law schools would consider it a plus if an applicant had a "non-traditional" (i.e. not history, political science, philosophy, English, or "pre-law") college major.

See above, be different and you might increase your chances for getting in.

What's the best way to study for the LSAT?
Whatever way works best for you. If you're self-motivated, there are commercial study aids available from Kaplan's, Princeton Review, Barron's, etc. These include sample LSATs. If you think you would do better in a more structured environment, LSAT prep courses are available (albeit at a hefty price).

I used to teach LSAT prep for Bar/Bri. The two main skills you need are quick reading comprehension (e. g. understand the question without having to read it over and over again) and logical deductive reasoning. I personally don't think a lot of people are helped by LSAT lectures; I think books help you more. But if having to go to scheduled lectures helps you to be disciplined more and to focus more on the test, then by all means go to lectures. By this time, you have already taken many standardized tests. You're the only one who can really say what works best for you.

Do I need any math skills?
I've been able to get by with the math that I learned (or didn't learn) in high school. Unless you plan on going into patent law or some other specialized field of technology law, there isn't much need to have higher math skills.

You only need math if it's required for you to get your undergrad degree. Otherwise, I agree completely with Joe.

Which law school should I go to?
I've heard that I should go to the best law school I can get into, even if I have to go into debt with student loans. Is that true?

My advice is always: go to the best law school that will admit you. Look at student loans like an investment rather than an expense -- an investment that will pay off with a higher salary once you graduate and get a job.

An alternative is to go to a less prestigious law school if you can excel, particularly if you can get on Law Review. An A from Podunk U. will look better, usually, than a C from Slightly-Better-Than-Podunk U. But Ivy League schools are different, see below.

Is it better to go to an Ivy League school?
What's the difference between a top-rated law school and one that's not so highly rated?

I may be expelled from the secret brotherhood for saying this, but the difference in the education that you would get in a top-tier law school and the one you would get in a second- or third-tier school is minimal. You might get a more stimulating intellectual experience at Harvard or Yale, but you'll probably learn just as much about torts and contracts at Boston College or the Univ. of Connecticut.

The real difference between law schools isn't what happens in the classrooms, it's what happens in the interview rooms. Better law schools attract better law firm recruiters. The big law firms that typically interview at a dozen law schools every year will be focusing on top-tier schools and offering those students the high-paying jobs. Students at lower-ranked schools can still get jobs, but they often have to make contact with the firms directly (rather than waiting for the interviewers to come to campus). With the top-ranked law schools, then, you purchase access to jobs. And, given the competition and rewards, that access is often worth the price.

The worst student at Harvard Law School is still, inevitably, going to get better offers than the best student at Touro Law School (on Long Island, accredited for less than 2 decades), even if the Touro student is smarter and has far better grades. Sorry, but life ain't fair.

What do law school rankings mean? Which ones are the most reliable?
Paradoxically, law school rankings mean everything and they mean nothing. They mean everything because, as I pointed out above, students and law firms treat them as if they mean something. But they mean nothing because, ultimately, they offer very little reliable information.

The USNews rankings are perhaps the most famous, but there are others out there (you can find many of them with this search). In general, the USNews rankings are typical in that they take various data into account that look both objective and relevant (such as average entering class LSAT) and put them into a formula that yields a numerical rating. Those ratings are then compared with others to come up with the rankings.

The problem comes with the methodologies used to determine the ratings. How much weight, for instance, should be given to the size of the law library? How does one measure a school's reputation? And how can one control for schools that manipulate admissions systems to boost their ratings? These kinds of problems are highlighted here and here in detail: these merely echo the numerous criticisms that are out there. But despite the criticisms, the rankings games continue. And as long as students and law firms place a great deal of weight on these rankings, they will continue to be important.

The things you really care about are the percent of students who are employed right after graduating and the percent of students who pass the bar on the first shot.

If I want to practice in a certain state, do I need to go to a law school in that state?
No. The only thing you need to do is go to an ABA-accredited law school. The only possible exception is if you plan to practice law in Louisiana: in that case, you might want to consider going to a law school in Louisiana (you'll learn why Louisiana is weird when you get to law school).

No, but in terms of building a network it generally helps to go to school in the general area where you want to practice (except if you're going to an Ivy League, see above). This is because interviewers will inevitably be drawn to local products, and will be puzzled if you attended school in Nevada and suddenly want to practice in Kansas, particularly if your resume doesn't show any obvious ties to Kansas (e. g. an undergrad degree there or older work experience there). Law is generally a rather conservative profession and it's a far less mobile one than most. So if you want to practice in Kansas, go to Law School in Kansas. And if you can't get in anywhere in Kansas, go to Missouri or Colorado or Nebraska (these are all neighboring states). With that many choices, unless your grades are really atrocious, you should be able to get in somewhere.

An alternative strategy is to follow a specialty rather than geography. E. g. go to Delaware Law School (my alma mater) for Corporate, or Vermont Law School for Environmental Law. But I caution that if you do this, you'd better love the specialty as you are, essentially, trying to stack your deck in favor of that one specific area of practice.


Can I still get into law school if I have a mediocre GPA/LSAT score?
There are well over 100 accredited law schools in the US. You can probably get into one of them.

Yes, but it's harder. You will have to lower your expectations. When weighing schools, you'll need to weigh bar pass rates and job placement rates more carefully than others.

I'm in high school right now. Is there anything I should be doing to prepare myself for law school?
Take classes that emphasize writing and reasoning skills.

And experience life! You might find that you don't want to go to Law School after all. Or that the area you thought you'd like suddenly doesn't look so hot. It's hard to know, at age 18, what will make you happy for the following 50 - 60 years.

I took some time off/went to work after graduating from college: will that affect my chances of getting into law school?
Probably not. Law schools won't typically consider that as a disadvantage.

And a lot will think it's great! There are a lot of cookie cutter applicants. Don't be one of them.

How old is too old to start law school?
79.

Are there part-time law school programs available? If I enroll in one, will that hurt my chances of getting a good job?
There are many part-time law school programs available, many of them in large urban areas. Usually these are offered by lower-ranked law schools, which might affect your access to higher paying jobs (see my remarks above). On the other hand, many highly successful lawyers came out of these non-traditional programs (former Chief Justice Warren Burger, for instance, attended night classes at William Mitchell Law School).

My alma mater offers night classes and summer school. One thing you might want to do is take summer school if night classes are not offered. That way, you can just load up for one year and then take a year off to work. Ask your admissions officer and your college guidance counselor for suggestions. Most schools will try to find a way for you to attend school and pay for it, without sacrificing your grades.

I've been out of college for a while. Should I go back to my undergrad professors for letters of recommendation, or should I get them from people who may know me better?
Letters of recommendation are designed to be written by professors, which is a problem for those who have been out of college for a while. My advice is: if you think that one or two professors still remember you, it's worth getting a recommendation from them. But if you've spent a good deal of time elsewhere than in academia (e.g. actually earning a living in the real world), then you should also get a letter or two from there: from employers, supervisors, etc. Above all, the recommender should be someone who knows you and who can fairly evaluate you as a future law student and lawyer.
0 Replies
 
jespah
 
  1  
Reply Sat 18 Dec, 2004 10:24 am
I'm still in blue.

joefromchicago wrote:
More answers:

LAW SCHOOL

What's law school really like?

It's a lot like college. Some people really like college, others really hate it. The same with law school. For instance, I loved law school, but while my experience wasn't unique, I wouldn't say that it was typical either.

As for the law school experience itself, there are some things that are fairly uniform. Law school is a three-year program. Graduates end up with a JD (juris doctor) degree at the end of the three years (some schools still award LLDs -- there's no practical difference). Students take a core curriculum in the first year, typically consisting of the following subjects: torts, contracts, property, constitutional law, criminal law, civil procedure. Many schools also require some form of a legal writing class, and some require a practicum/clinical course and/or a senior seminar. Otherwise, students are largely free to pick and choose among courses in their second and third years. Courses are based on the "case method," which focuses on study of appellate court decisions. Traditionally, professors teach according to the "Socratic method." Law school classes have been conducted along these lines since C.C. Langdell at Harvard first started back in the 1870s.

I had constitutional in my second year; I also had to take business organizations, tax, conflicts of law and although wills & estates was not required, it was strongly encouraged. Gear most of your classes towards the bar exam. If you don't pass the bar, you don't become a lawyer (in nearly every state, but there are exceptions), so this is important.

What's the "Socratic method?"
An instructional technique whereby a professor asks a student an increasingly difficult series of questions until the student demonstrates, by his/her answers, that the professor is much smarter than the student.

I've heard law students are really competitive. Is that true?
Some are and some aren't. I didn't really experience any kind of competition when I was in law school, but that's only my experience. I've heard stories of students sabotaging other students' work or hoarding books in library carels or doing other nefarious deeds, but I imagine that one would only encounter that sort of thing among the law review types. I never hung around with them.

Students in my school cut books in the library to prevent people from getting the answers to a research challenge. My first roommate spent a lot of time cajoling me to try to copy my class notes. And at the NY bar exam, the gal in the bathroom stall next to mine was checking notes (her notes were on the floor of the stall and she was clearly turning pages). So yes, people are competitive. And they cheat. But not everyone, of course, and the gal at the bar most likely did not pass the bar exam.

What's "law review?"
Every law school has at least one student-edited publication, frequently called the "law review" or "law journal" (or some variation thereon). Typically, membership is determined by grades, and so it is considered to be a great honor to be a member of the law review. It's also a lot of extra work.

It also tends to help you get a job later.

I've heard that law professors are real jerks. Is that true?
You've been watching too many reruns of "The Paper Chase." Not all law professors are jerks -- it's probably similar to the percentage of college professors who are jerks.

What's "The Paper Chase?"
It was a book, then a movie, then a tv series all about a first-year law student at Harvard. If the movie doesn't scare you off of going to law school, then nothing will.
0 Replies
 
jespah
 
  1  
Reply Sat 18 Dec, 2004 10:34 am
Re: "I want to be a lawyer!" -- Frequently Asked Q
My answers are in blue.

joefromchicago wrote:
And even more totally subjective answers:

PRACTICING LAW

Is the practice of law like what I see on tv?

No. I've never seen a tv law series that even came close to the day-to-day experience of a typical lawyer. In general, law involves a lot of research and writing -- two activities that don't generate a lot of dramatic tension or translate well on the screen.

Not every lawyer goes to court but we all write and read a lot. And, not everyone with a JD or even everyone who's passed a bar exam actually practices law.

How much do lawyers earn?
Take a look at the first link that Phoenix posted. You can also look here to find information about firms in your state.

There's a wide range of lawyer salaries, depending upon the firm, the type of work, the amount of experience, and the location. A lawyer in a Wall Street firm practicing securities law will typically make far more money than an assistant prosecutor in Glens Falls. Of course, the Wall Street lawyer might also be working 60-70 hours a week: there's often a trade-off between money and leisure. If you want more of the former, be prepared to sacrifice more of the latter.

My first job out of Law School (1986, Long Island) was for $21,000/year.

How many hours a week do lawyers work?
Again, it depends. Many of the high-paying jobs for which law school grads compete require minimum annual billable hours from associates in the 1800-2200 range. If an associate billed every single hour that he/she worked, billing 2000 hours in a year works out to fifty 40-hour work weeks with two weeks vacation.

Legal Auditors (I've worked as one) scrutinize annual billing hours. Attorneys who average over 2000 - 2200 hours per year most likely don't have lives outside of the office (don't forget, once you've been in the firm for a few years, you have to start spending time drumming up business if you want to make partner -- and that time's not billable).

What's a "billable hour?"
Most lawyers work on a billable hour system. A "billable hour" is an hour that can be charged to a client. So if I work one hour on a file for the XYZ Company, that would be one billable hour. The opposite of a billable hour is, of course, a non-billable hour. That's an hour that an attorney works but that isn't billed to a client.

Ideally, every hour that a lawyer works should be a billable hour. In practice, however, there's always work that needs to be done that can't be billed to a specific client. Of course, some creative lawyers will manage to "double bill" -- billing two clients for the same hour worked. That practice, however, is unethical. Not uncommon, just unethical.

I've seen lots of double-billing scenarios, too many to mention here. If work can be used for more than one client, for example, it should be billed mainly to one client, with minimal billing going to the inevitable changes that have to be made so that the work can be fit to the second client. Ethical billing does not discourage efficiencies although it can seem that way to a tired, overworked lawyer desperate for a night off.

What's the difference between an "associate" and a "partner?"
In many firms, there are two classes of lawyers: associates and partners. New lawyers start out as associates, which are, in effect, employees of the law firm. After a certain amount of time (7-10 years is typical), an associate is asked to become a partner. Partners are owners of the firm who get to share in the firm's profits. So while an associate gets a salary, a partner will get a slice of the firm's net profits (sometimes called a "draw"). Also, as a part-owner of the firm, partners enjoy a great deal of job security. Becoming a partner, therefore, is something like becoming tenured in an academic position.

Partners also do a lot of rain-making (e. g. drumming up new business). They go to golf tournaments, luncheons, bar association meetings, other association meetings (the Elks Lodge, that sort of thing), etc., all in the name of drumming up new business.

I want to make a lot of money. What area of law should I go into?
There are rich and poor lawyers practicing in every area of the law. If you're excellent at what you do, you'll make money in whatever field you practice.

Are there any areas of law that are "hot" right now?
Everyone wants to get into entertainment law. Not that it is expanding, but because you get to meet famous people. One of my law professors told me that if I wanted to be assured of steady work, go into bankruptcy law.

The areas that seem to be the dullest are always the places where you'll find work: bankruptcy, wills & estates and real estate are three such areas. This is because, no matter what the economy is doing, people will always go bankrupt, will always die (and will always fight over the estate) and will always buy and sell buildings and land.

I want to be a lawyer but I don't think I'd want to get involved in trial work. Is that possible?
Sure. Trial lawyers are sort of the front line soldiers in the legal world, but, as with an army, there is at least one soldier in the rear areas for every soldier on the front. Many very successful lawyers never even set foot in a courtroom.

Will I be able to get a job once I graduate from law school? Is there a "glut" of lawyers right now?
Are there too many lawyers for the market and which way will it be trending in a few years?

I have always followed this axiom: there is no town so small that, if it can support one lawyer, it cannot support two. Lawyers, in other words, create work for other lawyers, so as long as there are lawyers there will always be jobs for more lawyers.

The jobs market, in general, tends to follow the economy (some are counter-cyclical, like bankruptcy). So if you started law school today and wanted to know what the job market will be when you graduate, you'd need to predict what the economy will be like three years from now. I can't do that, and I doubt that you can either. There will always be jobs available for smart lawyers willing to put in the effort. Just be one of those lawyers and you should do fine.
0 Replies
 
jespah
 
  1  
Reply Sat 18 Dec, 2004 10:41 am
One last thing.

The best pieces of advice I can offer are -

Getting into Law School - check bar pass and job placement rates before you go. Except for a few states, if you don't pass the bar, you aren't a lawyer, so you need to make sure that that happens. As for the placement, after the first job, you will generally be fine if you want to (or have to) move onto another situation, whether with a law firm or a DA's office or whatever. But the first job can be extremely hard to get unless you're someone's niece, etc. So pay attention to these two things.

Law School - Law School is essentially a hopped-up vocational school. While college preps you for a lot of possibilities, the be-all and end-all of Law School's existence is for you to take and pass the bar. Few people go to Law School for edification if they don't also intend to practice at least a little.

Practicing Law - Just because you're out of Law School or even that you've passed the bar does not mean that you must practice in any sort of traditional fashion. A lot of lawyers burn out and a lot become dissatisfied with the profession. I am one of those lawyers. There's no shame in changing jobs or even leaving this career altogether and going into something else. Law School is excellent preparation for a lot of areas. Yes, it's something of a glorified trade school in many ways, but a law degree is respected by a lot of non-legal employers.

If you like it, great, go for it and I wish you well. But if you don't, it wasn't a waste of time at all. I don't regret Law School and I don't imagine another way I could have prepared myself to do what I do. And I haven't practiced law since '90.
0 Replies
 
Debra Law
 
  1  
Reply Sat 18 Dec, 2004 10:43 am
Not Glamorous
An important question is this: Do you really want to be a lawyer?

Practicing law is NOT a glamorous job. It's long hours of research, reading, writing, and drafting legal documents. It's long hours of thinking, analyzing, strategizing, making notes, interviewing witnesses, gathering and reviewing documents and other items of evidentiary value, and otherwise preparing cases for trial. It's long hours of preparing discovery or responding to discovery. It's long hours of working through the procedural, evidentiary, and substantive complexities of cases that take on lives of their own and some of those cases tend to live on and on and on . . . It's long hours of dealing with stressed out clients (many of whom cannot afford litigation) because litigation is STRESSFUL.

Practicing law in REAL LIFE is nothing like what is shown on television where cases are resolved in a one-hour slot of time.
0 Replies
 
joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Wed 22 Dec, 2004 09:53 am
I can't find anything in jespah's posts that I disagree with, so I'll just add a few more comments.

jespah wrote:
I used to teach LSAT prep for Bar/Bri. The two main skills you need are quick reading comprehension (e. g. understand the question without having to read it over and over again) and logical deductive reasoning. I personally don't think a lot of people are helped by LSAT lectures; I think books help you more. But if having to go to scheduled lectures helps you to be disciplined more and to focus more on the test, then by all means go to lectures. By this time, you have already taken many standardized tests. You're the only one who can really say what works best for you.

I've taught LSAT prep courses too. I really think it depends on the individual. I've had students come to me and say that they had studied on their own and had been disappointed with their scores when they took the LSAT the first time, so they were taking an LSAT prep course in the hopes of doing better the second time around. The independent study materials that are out there are very good, but if you're not the kind of person who is self-motivated or self-disciplined enough to use those materials, then the prep courses offer a more structured learning environment that might be a better fit for you.

jespah wrote:
You only need math if it's required for you to get your undergrad degree. Otherwise, I agree completely with Joe.

I'd also add that if you plan on going into tax law or some other area of financial law, some higher math skills might come in handy.

jespah wrote:
The things you really care about are the percent of students who are employed right after graduating and the percent of students who pass the bar on the first shot.

Two excellent points that most prospective law students don't even consider. When investigating law schools, it may be a good idea to talk to someone in the placement office. Ask them for a list of all the law firms that interviewed on campus during the year, and how many students got summer associate/job offers. Fall semester is usually the busiest time of the year for placement offices, so you might want to talk to them after the interview season ends (around Dec. 1).

jespah wrote:
No, but in terms of building a network it generally helps to go to school in the general area where you want to practice (except if you're going to an Ivy League, see above). This is because interviewers will inevitably be drawn to local products, and will be puzzled if you attended school in Nevada and suddenly want to practice in Kansas, particularly if your resume doesn't show any obvious ties to Kansas (e. g. an undergrad degree there or older work experience there). Law is generally a rather conservative profession and it's a far less mobile one than most. So if you want to practice in Kansas, go to Law School in Kansas. And if you can't get in anywhere in Kansas, go to Missouri or Colorado or Nebraska (these are all neighboring states). With that many choices, unless your grades are really atrocious, you should be able to get in somewhere.

Quite right. There are many successful lawyers in Chicago who graduated from the local law schools: De Paul, Loyola, Kent, and John Marshall. These aren't top-tier law schools (as opposed to Northwestern and the Univ. of Chicago, which are both in the top 20), and it's not likely that many out-of-state law firms are looking to hire grads from these schools, but if you want to practice in Chicago these are excellent choices. The same is true elsewhere. If you want to practice in New York, then Cardozo or Brooklyn Law School might be good choices. If you want to practice in Los Angeles, however, there are better alternatives in southern California.

jespah wrote:
I had constitutional in my second year; I also had to take business organizations, tax, conflicts of law and although wills & estates was not required, it was strongly encouraged. Gear most of your classes towards the bar exam. If you don't pass the bar, you don't become a lawyer (in nearly every state, but there are exceptions), so this is important.

For me, classes like corporations (we called it "enterprise organizations") and commercial transactions (or "commercial paper" or "uniform commercial code") were not required, but they were strongly recommended for the reason that jespah mentioned: they're important for the bar exam.

jespah wrote:
Legal Auditors (I've worked as one) scrutinize annual billing hours. Attorneys who average over 2000 - 2200 hours per year most likely don't have lives outside of the office

Or they're fudging their hours. Honestly, I don't know how someone can actually bill 2200 hours in a year and still leave the office before midnight every night.

jespah wrote:
The areas that seem to be the dullest are always the places where you'll find work: bankruptcy, wills & estates and real estate are three such areas. This is because, no matter what the economy is doing, people will always go bankrupt, will always die (and will always fight over the estate) and will always buy and sell buildings and land.

Very true. Also, some lawyers can prosper by finding a very small niche and filling it completely. There are maybe five or six lawyers in Chicago who practice admiralty law; it's not an area that gets a lot of work, but those five or six guys get all the admiralty business in Chicago, so they are probably doing very well for themselves.
0 Replies
 
joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Wed 22 Dec, 2004 09:55 am
Re: Not Glamorous
Debra_Law wrote:
An important question is this: Do you really want to be a lawyer?

True, that's a very important question. Unfortunately, it's the one question that we can't answer.
0 Replies
 
 

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