Topic: Law School
Have you read about the firm offering new associates a $10,000 annual salary? Yes, I agree. It’s scary. It is also a clear example of how some firms can feed off of attorney desperation.
After recent lawsuits and news-reports, I hope that many of you measured the costs and benefits of attending law school. And, hopefully, your decision making calculus resulted in a question similar to this: Who cares if I am hoarding debt if I know that I am pursuing a career that I find engaging and fulfilling?
I feel insecure when I read articles like the one above. I don’t know what to expect when I graduate.
However, I can offer myself some comfort:
- If I’m doing something that interests me, I’m in a much better position than a person working in a field that bores him or her.
- A law degree doesn’t mean that I’m stuck in law. I can have a back-up plan. Sure, debt can be a controlling factor, but a J.D. can set you apart from other candidates only holding a bachelors degree. You can still pursue a career outside of law.
- Portland has community: people want to help each other. If I help others, others may help me in return.
- Most importantly, if I try my best, good things may come my way.
During your first month of law school, most of you will hear some variation of “law school is like training for a long distance race”: you have to start slow, find your rhythm, overcome hurdles, and, eventually (hopefully), make it to the finish line. Upon reflection, I think this analogy is spot-on (at least, in terms of surviving 1L).
When starting law school, all of us were required to take a two-week course called Legal Elements. This class introduced us to the dreaded “Socratic Method” and trained us on how to brief a case. One of the first cases I read was Garratt v. Dailey. I remember how challenging it was to decipher the procedural posture from the facts, find the issues, and understand the reasoning. In those two weeks, I remember spending hours on homework, looking up definitions of new words, and trying to comprehend every sentence to prepare myself for the possibility of being called on in class. I thought it was tough. Now, I can’t help but smile when I think back to those first two weeks. Eventually, things that seem so arduous and demanding will become second nature. I promise that you will find your rhythm.
Sure, law school isn’t easy. I still fear being called on in class when I don’t know the answer to a question. I still feel anxious near finals when I realize that my grade depends on one three-hour exam. But, law school is definitely not as terrifying as people make it seem. It’s all about developing an appropriate school-life balance and having a (healthy) stress relief option. Running was my way of dealing with stress. My weekly mileage averaged somewhere between thirty and fifty miles. And, after coming home from a run and taking a shower, I felt refreshed, energized and ready to hit the books (perhaps it was my shampoo…just kidding). That said, I did have a month period during my first semester where I stopped running and ate much more Nutella (Have you heard about the class action settlement with Nutella?) than necessary. And, you know what? That month was unkind. Find something that you enjoy and allocate time in your schedule for it.
There were two major hurdles for me during 1L. The first was having a computer meltdown only a few weeks before finals. Thank goodness for dropbox! The best thing you can do for yourself is to back up your files. Trust me. My second major hurdle related to first semester grades. I won’t lie. Grades mean a lot and, unfortunately, in law school, only the top 10% can be in the top 10%. If you are among the 90%, you will feel as though your options are limited and you will undeniably question why you decided to attend law school. Thankfully, this questioning period doesn’t last long because school doesn’t wait for you. You then have two options: 1. Give up or 2. Bite the bullet and continue trying your best. You should already know what option I chose. (As I have emphasized in previous posts, the community at Lewis & Clark is one-of-a-kind. Don’t fret. Speaking with upper division students, alumni, staff and faculty will almost certainly make your choice an easy one).
Sure, I struggled at points. But, I worked hard. More importantly, I tried my best. And, today, I made it to the finish line.
This is a little different from my usual blog posts, but this topic’s been on my mind of late.
It’s no secret that there has been a good deal of negative publicity about law school. You can find any number of articles about the high cost of tuition, the vast oversupply of lawyers, misleading employment statistics, and on and on and on. Law schools have become a favorite media target, especially over the last year. I’ve had some interesting conversations about this recently, and have been attempting to articulate why I’m not entirely convinced the argument is a sound one.
A huge flaw in the reasoning is that everyone assumes those of us whose choose law school are in it for the money. There is a certain image of lawyers in our culture as slick, well-dressed shysters who will con you out of your last dime so they can afford their fancy suits and expensive cars. If you’re lucky, they may also provide you with a bit of service for the privilege.
While of course I want to be financially successful, and yes, graduate school is extremely expensive, money certainly is not the be-all and end-all of my reason for coming here. I want to do well for myself and do some good in the world; I believe many of my classmates would say the same. Some of us come from the non-profit world and plan to stay, while others have plans to work in that arena. L&C has a very good reputation as a great place to do public interest, and many people here are very interested in that work. But even for those who are not leaning toward public interest work, I don’t believe anyone is under the illusion that practicing law is a surefire way to become rich. And that slick image is certainly not reflected in the lawyers I have met.
Secondly, no one here is unaware that the traditional legal market has taken a beating. Firms have closed, merged and downsized all over. Yet the story that gets told over and over implies that law students are matriculating obliviously, not seeing or caring about the decline, like lemmings following one another over the edge of a cliff. But just as the “mass lemming suicide” story is fake, my experience thus far tells me that this narrative is untrue as well. At the very least, it’s incomplete.
I am fortunate to attend law school with people I consider extraordinary. Many of them, especially those in the part-time/evening program, have already had interesting careers long before setting foot on this campus. All of them are intelligent, resourceful and driven: I don’t believe it is possible to handle law school without those qualities. Because of this drive and ambition, we talk about our futures all the time. None of us expects the universe to just reach out and hand us a job upon graduation. That’s why we work so hard. We take intern- and externships (most of which are unpaid). We volunteer with legal service organizations. We take clinics, moot courts and practical skills classes. We write (and rewrite and rewrite) papers. And we study like mad. My classmates and I want to be good at what we do. We are well aware that the market is full of competition and are not sitting idly by, expecting that our obvious merits will get us what we “deserve.”
I also think that our Career Services Office is amazing. At the moment, the staff all are L&C graduates. I love that: it’s great to talk to people who have had the same professors you’ve had, and who can empathize with you when you need a moment to kvetch, or give you tips about specific classes to take.
These folks work really, really hard to help us prepare for life after law school. No one in there is selling us a bill of goods: everyone acknowledges that the job market is tight, and while it is beginning to recover, they are honest with us about the fact that traditional jobs are fewer and farther between. So they help us develop networks of professionals in the community by bringing in attorneys in different fields to talk to us about what it is really like to practice that type of law, arranging for us to have local mentors, and offer classes on creative ways to job search, alternative careers and law practice management. I appreciate that they always remind us to keep our eyes on the goal of a successful career, even if that career is some years away.
I admit that my perspective may be unusual. I am not a traditional law student, and as I mentioned, most everyone I know here has had some real world experience before they arrived. But I do think there is more to the conversation than is generally being discussed.
Full disclosure: As I’ve mentioned here before, I worked for the Law School Admissions office during Summer 2011 as an Orientation Director. I often give tours on their behalf, and obviously, this blog is run by the Admissions Office. I mention these just for the sake of clarity; the choice of topic and opinions are my own.
Prior to law school, I never could have articulated a clear vision of what I expected from the ‘law school experience’. Of course, in my pre-L summer of anxiousness, I read a few books about what to expect. Most of those books only helped me to unite my disjointed visions of law school by adding fear into the mix.
Now, after surviving my first semester, I can say with certainty that no ‘fear-inducing’ book could ever prepare a pre-L for a ‘Lewis & Clark’ law school experience. This is because my first semester experience was a positive one. Lewis & Clark has exceptional faculty along with a friendly and collaborative academic atmosphere.
Although each of my professors had his or her own unique style of teaching, all of my professors shared a common desire: a desire to teach us well. All of my professors maintained an open door policy, were friendly, and did their best to engage our minds in ways more creative than just using the Socratic method.
On my first day of Civil Procedure, I remember my professor walking up the stairs to ask me if I would be willing to serve as “The Judge” for the entirety of the semester. Without knowing what this “Judge” position required, I accepted willingly. I later learned that “Judge Ilias” would be called on more than 30 times throughout the course to make decisions on a semester-long hypothetical regarding a car accident! By having to constantly be alert during class, I was forced to be engaged mentally. Now, upon reflection, I couldn’t be more appreciative. I was given simulated first-hand experience on how to think like a judge. How fantastic is that?
This judge trend continued for me in Contracts too. I remember being selected by my professor to serve as a judge and listen to arguments regarding additional and/or different terms. I was required to ask questions to obtain more information from my classmates and to eventually make a decision. This simulation allowed me to develop a stronger understanding of the policy behind rolling contracts than if I had only read the casebook.
I will be honest. When I was forced to be a judge in both classes, I was scared to mess up and to make a fool of myself. However, my classmates provided me with the camaraderie and support that allowed me to overcome these fears. My classmates would encourage me, make jokes, laugh with me, and give me high-fives. It was great. I have made best friends here and I thrive in our cordial and collaborative environment.
I am thrilled that those pre-L ‘fear-inducing’ books were not accurate. More importantly, I am incredibly happy that I chose Lewis & Clark.
Did I mention that this semester was supposed to be the one where I took it easy?
As an evening student, I’m supposed to take between nine and twelve credits per term. I’d initially signed up for nine, figuring that would give me more time to really focus on the courses I’d signed up for.
But the semester began with an interesting twist. On the second day of classes, I ran into a podmate who told me about a seminar class called Street Law. It’s a three-credit seminar in which participants visit a high school civics or government class once or twice a week to teach students about the law. The content varies by semester, but in the fall, the class focus on the basics:. essentially, the students get a simplified crash course in what we covered during the first year of law school.
Intrigued, I visited the first class session to get a quick sense of what we’d be doing. By the time I left, I’d decided to switch my schedule around to include this class (which actually put me at 13 credits for the term). I’m really glad I did. As an undergrad, I had planned to become a high school teacher, but ultimately did not because I felt I was too young. It just seemed to me that I needed more life experience before trying to teach someone else. Obviously, over a decade later, that’s no longer a problem. 😀
I’ve taught four sessions so far, and have three left before the end of the year. Surprisingly, though they are seniors, most of my students are still fairly enthusiastic — sometimes a little too much so! We get off-topic really quickly, and it can be difficult to reel them back in. Still, as long as I remember to let them do most of the talking, I think the class is in good shape.
Another interesting course this semester is Children & the Law, with Professor Steverson. Another seminar, this class also involves one session of teaching — but instead of high school students, you teach a lesson on the law from a child’s perspective to your classmates. My classmate Anna and I recently gave our lesson (on general principles of child custody, as well as specifically addressing surrogacy and custody of preembryos/zygotes). Since we weren’t booed out of the room, I assume we did okay.
Both of these experiences have reminded me of just how much preparation goes into teaching, at all levels. My partner and I spent hours reading and researching the history of custody, read at least three times as much as we had our classmates read and had a couple of activities planned that we didn’t even get to do with the class. Better to overplan than under, but I sure wish we’d had another crack at it.
Of course, right now I’m too busy to even think about do-overs. In addition to teaching at the high school, and keeping up with the work for my classes, I’m trying to ramp up my volunteer work. Thus far, I’ve volunteered with Legal Aid Services of Oregon for their Night Clinic, walked in the Oregon Women Lawyers Foundation Fashion Show (so. much. fun!), and am once again going to be a witness for the Law School’s Mock Trial (interestingly, it’s the same case as last year, though I will be playing a different witness).
Of course, there’s a host of personal stuff to consider this semester as well: with three kids, any time that I’m not studying usually means doctor’s appointments, classes, school conferences. The other important plus I have to remember to make time for the other adult in my house as well. After not taking any classes over the summer, I re-discovered how much more manageable our life feels when we spend more time together. Thus, I’ve made a point of going out with my husband more this semester. I want to get to the end of law school at least as happily married as I began it!
Did I mention this semester was supposed to be easy? Well, I don’t know if I can call it that. But it’s definitely been interesting.