Topic: Life After Law School
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.