I was given a mentor opportunity for a college student that is thinking about law school. I try to be as brutally honest with people in my life, often to my detriment. But this was no occasion to shy away from the truth. The world doesn’t need any more disgruntled attorneys. So with the caveat that I started law school in 1994 when my allegedly cutting edge school was still making us do research with books instead of with computers, here are 6 things about law school I think every potential student should know.
- It’s hard, but not that hard. If you ever go to the Daley Center you will see a lot of idiots who are practicing lawyers. These guys made it through law school AND passed the bar. I know plenty of people that quit law school because it wasn’t for them, but very few that flunked out. If you treat it like a job you’ll be fine and will certainly pass.
- Law school can be a ton of fun. If you are so inclined there are a lot of mixers, house parties and other social events. By the time you are in your third year most people are so relaxed and just looking to get out and on with their life. But . . .
- In the first year, many students seem to get psyched out about how hard law school could be. Most first year classes are a mix of recent college grads and those who are looking for a new career after years doing something else. There is a creepy competition type factor among first year students about who is reading the most, outlining cases, answering questions, etc. For me it was a big turnoff and it was probably the most stressful part of school.
- Although this may have changed with the bad job market, if you go to a top school like Northwestern, Harvard, Stanford, etc., you are set. Even if you don’t do great in school, you will have lots of opportunities once you graduate. If you go to a school like DePaul, Chicago-Kent, Loyola, you can get an amazing job if you kick ass in school, but otherwise you’ll have to make some magic happen on your own to get that first job. Being in the top 20% at an average school isn’t much different than being in the top 50% at an average school. Big firms that pay big bucks look at you as average.
- The best thing I did in law school is travel abroad to Madrid to take some classes in the summer. I got six easy credits and had the time of my life. Would I be a better lawyer today had I stayed at home and taken classes here? Hell no. It was an amazing experience and it also allowed me to take only 8 credit hours my final semester. These opportunities exist in every country and the cost is the same as taking normal classes. My only regret is that I didn’t do it twice.
- My best school class was participating in the legal clinic which is a program that allows students, under the supervision of licensed attorneys, to work on actual cases. I didn’t do this until my 3rd year which was a mistake. I have some friends that were able to prosecute traffic cases while still in school. Others worked on big labor law issues. I became a licensed mediator and handled a bunch of cases at the Daley Center, Illinois Department of Human Rights and Center For Conflict Resolution. I still use those skills today.
Law school isn’t for everyone and shouldn’t be. If you’ve gone to law school and have anything to add please let me know.
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