Today I received an email from one of my higher-scoring students in my San Francisco class and she has a very valid question on delaying her application to law school. She has just received a job offer from a company in her industry that she'd love to work for, but taking the job means less time to study and possibly not being ready to take the November LSAT.
In Episode 154 on the Thinking LSAT Podcast we welcomed Ann Levine to talk all about law school admissions, and I wanted to just record a quick video to point out 2 key things that we discussed on the show.
Law schools will use your own ego against you when selling you a ridiculously overpriced piece of paper. Trust me: I’ve got an ego bigger than anybody’s, and it’s the main reason why I paid $150,000 unnecessarily for my own worthless J.D. Here, I’ll embarrass myself by sharing my own ego-driven blunder.
This post is part three of a three-part series of guest posts by Larry Law Law, an adviser and tutor to law students who want to get top grades in law school. Note: In Part 1, Larry Law Law argues that knowing rom-com tropes may save your life as a law student. That is, in rom-coms, someone usually falls in love with The Crush, a sexy stranger who turns out to be a psychopath, cheat, or Raiders fan. Similarly, many law students love the idea of certain “sexy” jobs while knowing little about them.
In Part 2, Larry Law Law covers the consequences of getting a legal job version of The Crush (depression, alcoholism, unhappiness), and what “true love” might mean in the context of law jobs.
In this final, Part 3 of this 3 part series, Larry Law Law returns to rom-coms tropes for a potential solution!
* * *
While I mentioned that I find rom-coms stupid, the Hottie-in-Disguise trope in rom-coms is by far my favorite.
What is the Hottie-in-Disguise trope? Basically, a gorgeous actor/actress puts glasses on magically and -- voila! -- you are supposed to suspend disbelief and find them ugly.
(Though they have no glasses, this is Kristoff’s role in Frozen, and Paul Rudd’s in Clueless.)
The main character sees this supposedly plain Hottie-In-Disguise every day, treats her like an Anti-Crush. The main character feels utterly comfortably with and really likes the Hottie-In-Disguise but doesn’t notice her at all.
Later, the glasses come off, revealing an outright Hottie.
Then, the pants fly off, and happily ever after.
In the movies, the Hottie-In-Disguise always gets discovered, and the glasses always come off.
In reality, Hotties-In-Disguise tend to remain disguised or their love unrequited.
Likewise, some of the best jobs are there, disguised, right under our noses, wearing glasses.
And the biggest losses are sometimes those opportunities we never knew about.
But what kind of opportunities are these?
They are especially those jobs where the titles and outward function of these places may boring:
You want me to be a lawyer at the Department of Agriculture? Department of Interior? National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration? You want me to work in trusts and estates or tax?
Don’t just go by what seems sexy. These places don’t involve the same outward trappings.
Their websites won’t involve collages of super attractive, multi-ethnic associates in Italian suits.
There is no set of Vault or ATL rankings for “best government or off-beat law jobs.”
But if you ask lawyers who do these jobs -- especially those (like me!) who left supposedly “sexy” jobs for these apparently boring jobs -- they have a different view.
There are lawyers who practice in areas that seem boring to law students but contain many or most of the Nathan and Pink elements to sustain a satisfying – even exciting, sometimes – long-term career.
By “satisfying” I don’t mean “happy” in the “wheeeeeeeeeee-Disneyland!!!, chocolate-hot-tub sense.
I mean “happy” in this sense: “my work is interesting, I make enough money, but my life is not overly stressful, and I want to stay here.”
In my experience and in observing my friends, there are a bunch of different careers where lawyers appear to be fulfilled:
- government lawyers who work on policy or regulatory stuff
- criminal lawyers (whether for the government or not)
- law firm lawyers who do more obscure work,
- “private” public interest lawyers,
- lawyers in smaller cities, and
Most of these jobs -- with one or two exceptions -- are less-tainted by the brush of prestige.
Which is why many students don’t notice them.
So, I beg of you: notice them. Give them a look.
Especially if think you know you want to do corporate or litigation or human rights, read the descriptions below and try to imagine yourself doing something else.
See if something resonates with you that isn’t a job you had thought of before.
- Government lawyers who do policy or regulatory work
I left New York recently, and live in D.C. now. I can’t trip without running into a government lawyer. D.C. is filled with geeks, geeking out on policy.
More than other cities -- especially New York -- people in D.C. pursue purpose-driven jobs more than money (although they get those when the kids and mortgage arrive).
These lawyers are regulatory, legislative, or policy lawyers who work analyzing policy and trying to translate policy into laws, regulations and rules. (Harvard Law has a great guide on this work. It also talks about criminal law, which I think is quite different, but it’s a useful guide.) Environmental lawyers, international affairs lawyers, securities lawyers, banking lawyers, etc., etc.
If you had a life before law school or you studied something you love, chances are there is a government agency dedicated to that thing you enjoyed studying.
Or, along the Daniel Pink lines, there is likely to be purpose up the wazoo here in part because you choose to work at an agency where you believe in the policies pursued. The agency is the client, and your purpose is to make the agency’s work possible.
Government law jobs usually provide a lot of autonomy and at least the challenging end of mastery. They are often understaffed and junior attorneys get lots of responsibility, quickly. For instance, one friend in the Legal Adviser’s office at the Department of State was negotiating embassy land deals directly with foreign governments his first year out of law school. (He is now the top lawyer at NATO). This may seem exceptional, but many junior government lawyers are doing very high level work on their own.
And, to reemphasize, these jobs can be in almost any area of work you imagine -- but you have to look for these jobs. And some of the jobs are not simply there for the taking after graduation.
I found some funky geeky jobs on USAJOBS.gov. Want to work for NASA and help astronauts? Or for the Army in Japan, doing international law? Or the Department of Labor (stop friends from working too hard)? The Farm Credit Administration, helping farmers get financing? The Drug Enforcement Administration, to impress Rachel Leigh Cook?
Don’t be afraid to geek out. Let the inner nerd step forth!
- People who practice criminal law whether in government or private practice
Almost all lawyers who practice criminal law -- whether in government or at private firms -- love their work. Some of these jobs are do not lack prestige -- many law students I know want to be prosecutors. (And, as I mention elsewhere, if your ultimate career goal is to be a successful Biglaw litigator, start out or become a federal prosecutor. The litigation department at my old firm was run, and overrun, by them.)
Whether prosecutor or public defender, your work is filled with purpose (taking down the bad guy/defending the innocent or protecting the weak from powerful, overreaching prosecutors), autonomy (you have a supervisor or team, but when it counts, it’s just you up there in court), and mastery (while it can be scary to do a trial or negotiate by yourself, people can do it -- a close law school friend defended in a murder trial by herself just two years out of law school). If you can take the stress -- sending a person to jail, or trying to stop that -- this is a great job.
- More obscure Biglaw practices
There are more obscure practices in Biglaw or at small firms that I have seen lead to more satisfaction than the straight-up corporate or litigation work.
White Collar Criminal Internal Investigations. This is work performed by Biglaw litigation departments that is not litigation. Basically, a Big Company does something bad. The Department of Justice or state prosecutor investigates. A harsh penalty can end Big Company, so Big Company hires a Biglaw firm (usually one filled with former prosecutors) to investigate and find the wrongdoing, and report to a special committee of the Board of Directors of Big Company, or to Department of Justice itself. This is odd work: companies work hard to uncover their own wrongdoing. Heads roll. On two investigations I worked, the CEO was forced to step down. All this to persuade the government to impose a less massive fine.
This work touches on all the Pink factors. It has purpose. Unlike other Biglaw work, your job is to root out corporate wrongdoing and and report on it. There is real autonomy and mastery on these kinds of cases. Associates have room to take responsibilities they would not normally -- making decisions and interviewing witnesses. Also, associates can become masters of the facts, and thus indispensable to partners. For instance, as a junior associate, I ran a sub-investigation of company’s operations in a big Latin American country (the investigation was multi-country).
I did a lot of this work in general. I wish I had noticed how much I liked it at the time -- I did like it. I didn’t hate it so much as have the idea that I wanted to do actual litigation work, and when I got it, I quit in about a year (I was working for the screaming partner I mentioned). If I had stuck with investigations, I might still be doing it. It does not give you much personal autonomy (long hours, jet around the world with zero notice), but the job was fulfilling and interesting. And more and more, at Biglaw firms and in-house, this is becoming a full time job.
Regulatory practices. Some industries -- pharma, banking of any kind, securities and investment advising, and communications -- are highly regulated. (So are certain sectors affected by everyone -- ERISA and tax). Entire government agencies (see above) do this regulating.
Enter the regulatory attorney at a private law firm. Often former government lawyers (but not always), these are often the happiest lawyers in Biglaw. They get to geek out and get paid Biglaw bucks for it. They have autonomy because regulatory work is almost purely advisory (research and client advice, no fighting with opposing counsel in court or in negotiations). Mastery is possible for junior attorneys because this involves complex information (laws and regulations) that can be learned through study (you’re good at that, right?) rather than experience the firm will never give you (you don’t run deals and trials unless you have gray hair). So a junior attorney can really learn the pertinent regulations, and can add value immediately.
Purpose is the open question here. You can’t help if banking law is boring to you. But most don’t even consider it. Take a look and find out if this is your bag! If so, you’ve got a great career ahead of you. And maybe, you are the type of person that just likes mastering complexity, whatever the topic is. Good for you. While everyone else is chasing sexy careers, you’re here . . . alone, with relatively little competition for work.
Trusts and Estates. I know nothing about this work. I can only tell you that it seemed like the one of few (perhaps the only) lifestyle-friendly practices in Biglaw. At my old firm, partners and associates were not around much. Associates drank heavily, but in a fun “whooooooo, party!” kind of way, not a “I must drown the infinite sorrow of my law-darkened soul” kind of way. They took weekends off, for chrissake! So even though I haven’t the foggiest what they did, you should explore this.
- Private public interest law firms.
Some law firms that do good for money. Harvard Law has a guide on these firms. I once interviewed one -- the only law firm in the United States authorized to represent Cuba. Basically, these firms used to be the private law firms to unions and labor. Since unions basically died in the country, these law firms shifted to doing more public interest impact litigation.
Some firms are super-prestigious and most are small: Altshuler Berzon (all appellate clerks, many Supreme Court clerks), Bredhoff & Kaiser, Strumwaser & Woocher, Rabinowitz, Boudin, and Gupta Wessel. The big difference with Biglaw litigation is purpose. People are true believers at these firms.
There may still be issues with autonomy and mastery (I worked at a small law firm and am skeptical that they give you more responsibility as an associate), but you will not lack for purpose at one of these places.
And while it’s not Biglaw money, but you can pay your loans and eat brand-name cereal in boxes rather than generic stuff in clear bags if you want.
- Smaller city law firms
Many law students set out to work at big law firms in New York, Washington, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Silicon Valley, and Houston. Of the many friends I had who went to these big cities to practice Biglaw, very few have lasted. Some made partner, most do not.
But more friends I have who moved to law firms in smaller cities stayed and made partner in greater proportions than those in big cities. Places like Raleigh, Charlotte, Nashville, Portland. Liveable, or even great cities (who doesn’t want to live in Nashville or Portland?).
Quality of life in these cities tends to be much better. Billing pressures are lower, weekends are more safe. This does not mean a stress-free life, but it does mean you can sustain these lives for longer periods of time. Life is doable, there.
- Legal academics
I have written elsewhere about the uselessness of law professor advice to law students, but: you cannot deny that being a law professor is great.
Decent pay, lots of purpose (you do research you want to do), autonomy (you have to teach class but mostly you report to no one), and mastery (well, you have no supervisor telling you your law review articles are stupid, anyway, just peers who will rip on your work).
Still, this is a tough gig to get, and you have to usually clerk and practice law for a couple of years OR do a PhD in another field, too, on top of getting top grades and to kick the crap out of law school. This is a good job to aspire to, but you need to have other plans in place.
* * *
Since you, dear reader, are here at Fox LSAT’s blog, let me take a wild guess:
You want to be a lawyer.
Or at least, you think you do.
And maybe you have a Dream Job in mind.
I’ve got 4 immediate action steps you can follow through on TODAY:
- Watch Nathan’s video.
- Read Paul Graham’s essay,How to Do What You Love.
- Read Drive by Daniel Pink.
- Check out USAJOBS and type in “attorney” to see what kinds of interesting jobs come up (last week, I noticed legal jobs with NASA, the Army, the Farm Credit Administration).
And only somewhat less immediately (start TODAY but you won’t finish), do two more big things:
Do serious due diligence on your Dream Job. In corporate law, a company does due diligence on a company it is about to buy to make sure it is worth the price it is about it pay.
Practically speaking, due diligence for you means finding out if the job you think you want really is all the things you believe it will be.
To find this out don’t just read. Talk to real people who have done exactly the job you want. They know better than anyone -- better than you -- if your Dream Job will live up to your ideals of it. This is not easy work. you have to ask awkward questions about the bad parts of the job. Often people don’t want to bad mouth their old employer or admit they made a mistake in taking a job. But keep looking until you find someone who will talk freely and frankly about these jobs. One tip: use LinkedIn to find people who quit the job you want (search for “previous employer”). Find out why they left.
Do internal research. Search your feelings, as the Jedi say. We live in our own minds but we do not know ourselves as well as we think. Even if we spend a lot of time navel-gazing, we don’t know ourselves as well as we think.
If you have a legal job you think you want, think hard about why you want that job.
If money and prestige are big factors for that, seriously think about trying to find another job you’d be willing to do despite the money and prestige (or if you’d still do corporate or litigation work without the money or prestige).
Hardest of all is to look for evidence contradicting your beliefs.
Sometimes we don’t kick tires because we don’t want to fall out of love with what we love.
But if your Dream Job is more than just a wispy dream -- if it is something you should and can do as a career -- it can survive a good tire-kicking.
Image credit: estyzesty via freeimages
This post is part two of a three-part series of guest posts by Larry Law Law, an adviser and tutor to law students who want to get top grades in law school. Note: In Part 1 of this 3 part series, Larry Law Law argues that understanding rom-coms may save your life as a law student. Specifically, rom-coms almost always involve someone who falls in love with The Crush (a sexy stranger who turns out to be a psychopath, cheat, or Raiders fan), and many law students are unfortunately in love with jobs that are the legal career versions of The Crush.
In this post, part 2 of 3 in this series, Larry Law Law explores the consequences of working a law job that is the career version of The Crush, and how to find “true love” in a career.
Last time, in Part 1 of this 3 part series, I said that you -- yes, YOU, the would-be law student -- might have what I call a Dream Job Crush.
This is: You might have fallen head-over-heels in love with an apparently sexy job that, in reality, you know nothing about.
This time, I’m here to talk to you about two things: (1) why your Dream Job Crush may be a problem and (2) how to find “true love” in your work (according to Daniel Pink).
* * *
So what if you start a legal Dream Job and end up not liking it?
Well, the gap between the idea and reality of a Dream Job is a huge fall to earth.
And there are real, serious, not-f***ng-around consequences to this fall.
Many lawyers are unhappy.
Not all of them are unhappy because they over-idealized a job.
But many are.
I would argue that law is one of the most widely misunderstood professions that people generally think they know well (because they’ve seen a million lawyers on TV or in the movies).
And based on mistaken ideas about law, people go to law school, arrive at a job -- even a Dream Job -- and find that reality is very, very different and, in many cases, not fun.
You really have to grapple with these statistics about attorney job happiness (or un-happiness, as it were):
- Lawyers have the highest rate of depression and suicide rates of any profession. They are nearly 4 times as likely to be depressed as the general population.
- Between 15-24% of lawyers suffer from alcoholism.
- By one survey of California lawyers, 7 out of 10 would not become lawyers again given the chance.
(In the mean time, why so many law students become disappointed and depressed lawyers is well covered by my old therapist, Will Meyerhofer (a former Biglaw attorney himself who does a lot of cognitive therapy for law students and lawyers).
But I think the huge gap between dreaming expectations and harsh reality explain these statistics for many young lawyers.
You might read these numbers and think, they must be talking about someone else.
But please, consider: those unhappy lawyers are not someone else.
They could be you. These numbers could be about you.
So what do you do? How do you find work that you truly love?
* * *
Love, Work and Daniel Pink
A couple years ago, Daniel Pink published Drive, on what motivates people at work (a super fast illustrated summary here).
In short, he offers another triad, one that can complement Nathan’s. To be motivated, employees need autonomy, mastery and purpose.
- Autonomy is being given the power to work on things when you want to or how you want to.
- Mastery – as he defines it -- is being given sufficiently challenging work - not too easy such that we are bored, but not so hard that we are overwhelmed.
- Purpose is connecting your work to a cause that is larger than just yourself.
Viewed with this new way of viewing motivation -- let’s call this love -- we can see the problem with certain “sexy” law jobs. They lack one or more of these “Pink” factors:
Transactional/corporate law. Not much autonomy: I mean, partners have no control over their lives. Their billionaire or banker clients bark “jump,” and partners not only ask “how high,” but run to strap on a jetpack and do this. For associates, it’s worse. You jump to the tune of clients and partners.
Mastery can be tough. With fast-moving complicated transactions, it is hard to give associates work that is not too difficult under the time pressure or too boring (“Go put these docs in manila file folders in the due diligence room”).
As for purpose, you have to find meaning through clients. Maybe if your work facilitates their important work (say, Tesla or SpaceX), great. But if your work only makes your clients more money, you might get bored or sad working for clients on Wall Street, Big Oil, and company that abandoned their old motto “Don’t Be Evil.”
Litigation. Biglaw litigation generally means having the same clients as in Biglaw transactional/corporate work. But purpose can be worse: in litigation, usually, something bad happened, and you defend a client that, say, poisoned 3,000 people, or committed fraud by rigging 500,000 cars to evade emissions. Maybe, as I did, you do pro bono to feel better about your job -- but the rest of the time, you still have to help the poisoner or fraudsters.
Not much autonomy, because you become a slave to the case deadlines, unreasonable partner-created deadlines, and the work created by your opponent you must respond to.
You may get mastery here – in litigation you can get as much responsibility as you can handle, but they won’t train you (there is no safety net or feedback if you screw up. Someone else fixes your mess and you get a bad review later). Or you get unlucky and get crappy work at the beginning and are not given anything interesting for years.
Human Rights or Civil Rights – Purpose is why you want to work in public interest: your organization is saving the world! You may feel different after your 10th human rights briefs results in no change (the people of Venezuela are no better off for all my advocacy). For me, “I’m saving the world!” became “Others pat me on the back for saving the world, but really I’m not.”
There may be autonomy in how you work, but not in what you work on. You may have issues you care about, but once you join an organization, you work on the issues the founder cares about. (And public interest firms are usually dictatorships -- democracy is a great thing to advocate for other countries, but not an organizing principle for human groups).
Mastery may be tough if your office -- like all of the human rights places I worked -- is allergic to being organized. (And, going back to Nathan’s triad for a sec, money can be a problem.)
So there is that.
All this begs the question, what law jobs -- very specifically -- might actually involve “true” love?
Next time, in Part 3 of 3, I discuss Hottie-In-Disguise Jobs and True Love.
Image credit: estyzesty via freeimages
This post is part one of a three-part series of guest posts by Larry Law Law, an adviser and tutor to law students who want to get top grades in law school. Larry has worked and interviewed for a wide variety of attorney jobs since graduating from NYU Law School in 2003. After watching my video on whether to go to law school, Larry asked to write more on helping you find the right legal job for you. Welcome, Larry! I hate rom-coms.
(They usually suck as romances and comedies.)
Even still, rom-com tropes can save your life.
Rom-com tropes can help you avoid what may be a terrible job for you, and help you discover one that may be perfect.
But, stepping back a second, why am I talking about romance at all?
Blame Nathan. His video on whether to go to law school (and how to choose a career) made me think. In short, the idea is that you should choose a job (1) that you love (what I’ll call “love”), (2) that pays you (“money”), (3) that you’re good at (“mastery”).
That’s it, the career trifecta. Triad. Threesome. You get it.
So, if you find a job at the Venn diagram intersection of love, money and mastery, it’s a green light: do that.
But what if you don’t find that trifecta?
Nathan covers that, too. Not all of us magically find that perfect job. Sometimes our options involve areas in the Venn diagram where just two circles overlap.
● The “love + money” job: You love it and get paid, but you’re not good yet. There is hope, here because probably, you can get good at the job.
● The “love + mastery” job: You love it and are good at it, but there’s no money. A bit less hope of pursuing this as a career. Maybe if you have money already you can do this job. Or you do this kind of work part-time, as the pro bono part of your practice.
● The “money + mastery” job: You get paid and are good your job, but you don’t love it. Not much hope, here: Nathan, rightly I think, says it is very, very hard to make yourself love something that you don’t.
No easy answers here, but this framework helps clarify your thinking. (You still have to rumble with all this, as Brene Brown would put it.)
So that’s all I want to do -- add more frameworks to make easier your hard job of thinking about your future career.
Many rom-coms involve love triangles, two people vying for the heart of our hero/heroine. One is the wrong choice and one is the right choice. And this is done in stupid, exaggerated fashion.
But these two ideas – one a pitfall, the other an opportunity -- can help you think through the “love” part of Nathan’s legal job equation: The Crush and the Hottie-in-Disguise.
● With The Crush, rom-coms teach us that you beware the job you are so desperate to have: The object of your affection can be your downfall.
● With the Hottie-in-Disguise, rom-coms teach us that love sneaks up on you, and to be open to looking for jobs that may seem boring at first but might be perfect for you.
* * *
Before turning to rom coms and legal jobs, you might be asking, who the hell am I? Why listen to me?
I am Larry Law Law. I teach 0Ls and 1Ls how to Kick the Crap Out Of Law School (that is the real name of my course on teaching students to excel in law school). I blog on law school and legal careers, for myself and at Above the Law and elsewhere.
More relevant to you, I spent 13 years in various legal jobs, falling in and out of career love. I was a district court law clerk, international human rights adviser, court of appeals law clerk, Biglaw litigation associate, and boutique associate. Now I’m a government lawyer (you’ll have to guess where).
During these 13 years, I also I interviewed (unsuccessfully) to be a law professor, plaintiff-side lawyer, World Bank attorney, in-house lawyer for an energy company, in-house lawyer to a tech company, an enforcement lawyer at FINRA (the securities self-regulatory organization), and a legal writer for Practical Law Company.
I’ve been around. And my law school friends run the gamut from insane success (political-level appointees, partners in Biglaw) to barely employed doing document review.
So please, hear me now: I was curious enough to try lots of jobs, and I’ve seen a lot of careers progress. I don’t know everything, but I’ve seen a lot.
So back to rom-coms.
* * *
The Crush normally appears at the beginning of a movie. The Crush is an apparently perfect, pants-meltingly hot stranger. The main character can’t resist The Crush.
Hans in Frozen is a recent, prominent example. (Older references? Christian Bale in American Psycho, the not-Steve-Martin-guy in Roxanne, and probably everyone in the totally confusing and stupid Love, Actually.)
Of course, in the end, The Crush always turns out to be a selfish cad (Hans), psychopathic killer (Christian Bale), sex addict (David Duchovny, actually, apparently), gold digger (Hans again), a Raiders fan . . . you get the idea.
If you knew this in advance, you might have kept The Crush out of your life.
But you didn’t know The Crush was selfish/murderous/horny/greedy/smelly (I am a Raiders fan).
Maybe there were some warning signs.
But you didn’t see them because The Crush was so damned sexy, blood pooled semi-permanently elsewhere in your body, depriving your brain of oxygen.
Your wits left you the moment you needed them the most.
We get, in the romantic context, the idea of The Crush. It has happened to most of us. We idealized someone. We fell in love with the idea of someone, and got hurt by the reality of that someone.
So this happens with jobs as well.
We do this with jobs as well. I did it, and I watch law students do this, too.
When I ask students I work with what they want to do after law school, it is almost always one of three things:
Corporate/transactional law with various levels of specificity - “I wanna go to Wall Street” to “I want to do private equity law and then become the private equity investor myself!”
Litigation, also with various levels of specificity: “I want to be a trial lawyer” to “I want to be an appellate litigator who never dirties his hands with actual trials” (good luck with that).
Public interest law, usually involving international human rights (“I want to be/be with Amal Clooney”) or domestic civil rights.
But I often ask students, do you know what a corporate lawyer/litigator/public interest lawyer actually does day to day? Have you ever spoken to such a lawyer? Know what they actually do day to day?
The answer is usually no.
No I haven’t talked to a corporate lawyer. (But I read all about this amazing firm in Vault or Above the Law.)
No, I don’t know what a litigator actually does. (But I’ve seen “trial work” on TV.)
No, I don’t know what a human rights lawyer does. (But I read that People write-up of Amal Clooney before the European Court of Human Rights.)
(FYI, I remember Amal from law school, and chatted with her at a group lunch years ago. She’s the real deal.).
I can almost hear the catch-phrases floating around in the heads of these students: Front-page deals. Landmark cases and social change, like Brown v. Board and Prop. 9. High-stakes, bet-the-company litigation. Fame and immortality. Travel to exotic. Power and influence. Total world domination. (The last couple are very SPECTRE, no?)
Sounds great, right?
And different though they are from each other, these three job categories (they aren’t even jobs) have in common that they impress non-lawyers, casual friends or family when we tell them What We Want To Be When We Grow Up.
And this is where danger lies.
As Paul Graham (patron saint of entrepreneurs) put it, “Prestige is like a powerful magnet that warps even your beliefs about what you enjoy. It causes you to work not on what you like, but what you'd like to like.”
This to me is the key.
These students don’t actually know what a corporate lawyer, litigator or public interest lawyer actually do.
So what are they doing?
They (as I did many times) fell in love with the idea of a job, not the the actual job (warts and all) itself.
Indeed, the lack of actual knowledge about these jobs enables students to love the idea of corporate law, litigation or public interest work.
It is very hard to see, sometimes, if you love with the idea of a job instead of loving the job itself.
But if you don’t actually know anything about the job, how can you truthfully say you love the job?
You must be in love with the idea of the job only.
(Just as it is hard to see when you are in love with the idea of a person instead of that person with all of his or her flaws.)
Face it: You may be in love with the idea of a job.
You have a Dream Job Crush.
This is okay. Most of us do this. And maybe it can still work out.
But first, don’t fool yourself (and you are, as Richard Feymann tells us, the easiest person to fool).
And you will fool yourself, telling others that you did tons of research on Above the Law, Vault, etc., and telling me they don’t pull punches, tell the truth, blah blah blah.
Here is a single clarifying question that you should be able to answer if you really know a job:
What are three things you hate about your Dream Job, or three reasons why you might grow to hate your Dream Job?
Sorry, every job has problems. A job is work, not an unending orgasm in a tub of chocolate.
Find out what the problems with your Dream Job are, and figure out if you can live with them.
And, to be fair, this is not easy work. And I’ll give you some tips on this below.
It’s nice to feel like you are in love.
But blind love is a huge problem.
I tell you this as someone who was a little bit destroyed by my blind love of Biglaw.
Some days, honestly, I loved the job. It made me feel important. I loved how older attorneys were awed when I told them where I worked. I loved my colleagues (they are friends to this day), and some days I loved the work (they were generous with pro bono).
I loved Biglaw. It did not love me back. I had to leave -- I wasn’t suited to the work. I couldn’t take the constant travel, the long hours, immense pressures, and most of all the intense and crippling humiliation of being screamed at and belittled by the very partner I idolized (the same partner who once mocked my hyperventilating on the phone--itself a response to his screaming).
I had some great moments (a pro bono award, some other cool things), and a lot of terrible ones.
The terrible moments were enough to push me away.
Next time, in Part 2 of 3, I go into the consequences of taking the legal job version of The Crush, and a different way to think about what might be “true love” when it comes to a legal career.
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If you're thinking of applying to law school (which I'm guessing you are if you're reading this blog), most admissions experts say that your personal statement is one of the most important components of your application. I came up with 22 rules (albeit a bit humorous) for writing your law school personal statement. Join me over at The Girl's Guide to Law School where I share the rules with you:
- -- 22 Rules of Writing Your Law School Personal Statement (Rules 1 - 7)
- -- 22 Rules of Writing Your Law School Personal Statement (Rules 8 - 14)
- -- 22 Rules of Writing Your Law School Personal Statement (Rules 15 - 22)
What did you think? Were the rules helpful?
Need help preparing for the LSAT? Read why Fox LSAT stands out and how it will help you conquer the LSAT.
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I love hearing what my former LSAT students are doing in law school and beyond. Liz Jones was a student of mine who is now attending Stanford Law School. She's also on the executive board of the Shaking the Foundations: The West Coast Progressive Lawyering Conference.
Shaking the Foundations is a conference that brings together progressive legal minds from the West Coast and across the country to discuss present and future issues within the movement, explore the role of young lawyers, and encourage attendees to work toward social and environmental justice. In addition to the panels and workshops, Shaking the Foundations offers two networking opportunities for students.
The conference is featuring civil rights advocate Professor Michelle Alexander, a highly acclaimed civil rights lawyer, advocate, and legal scholar, and author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. She is giving the keynote presentation on Friday, October 17 at 7 p.m.
If you're interested in public interest law, you definitely should check out the Shaking the Foundations conference and plan to attend Michelle Alexander's keynote.
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Scores and Aptitude
Student: I am a recent computer science graduate from Temple University with a 3.5 GPA. Is it true that SAT reflects LSAT scores?
Also, I love reading politics, I enjoyed watching a few trials and applying principles to arguments. I cannot say I am a world-class debater, but I can say I have no fear of a good debate, and I enjoy it. I was the "annoying" guy who argued with everyone's claims in the elective courses I had to take.
Nathan: Yes, SAT scores do correlate with LSAT scores. Also, those who excelled in majors as rigorous as computer science tend to perform well above average on the exam.
These are all good signs. I worry about folks who (like me) enter law school with the, "I am not a litigator ... I don't like to be confrontational" attitude. If you don't want to argue, then DON'T go to law school. Simple as that.
Student: People keep asking me what kind of law I want to practice, and I really don't know. Are we supposed to know exactly what we want to do before entering law school?
I have a serious problem with justice. I want the innocent free and the guilty punished. If I could devote my life to that, great.
Are these good enough reasons? Law school is a grind, and I don't want to get there and flake out. But many people tell me that I am certainly one to keep pushing forward, and I have to agree. However, getting through doesn't mean it is for the right reason.
Nathan: You absolutely do not need to know what type of law you want to practice before you enter law school. Most people switch anyway.
The problem isn't getting to law school and flaking out. The problem is getting to law school, not really liking it, not finding an area of interest, continuing anyway, incurring $150,000 in debt, then deciding not to practice law. That's exactly what I did, and it was the worst financial decision of my life. I'm not looking for sympathy btw... everything has worked out quite well in Fox LSAT land.
I attribute no part of my success to law school. I shouldn't have started, and I should have dropped out after my 1L year when I wasn't excelling or enjoying it. I also should have dropped out during my 2L year when I was in therapy due to hating law school so much and beginning to find some success as an LSAT teacher.
DO WHAT YOU LOVE. It's cliche, but sometimes things are cliche for a reason.
Finances and Debt
Student: I'm currently trying to find entry-level employment in software engineering because I need to pay off some bills. Given the salaries for developers these days, I have been told pursuing law school would be an expensive endeavor and a loss of money. I am 28-years-old now, still poor, and have no family to really rely on. If I undertake this journey, the financial burden of this falls on me.
Does it make financial sense to go to law school? People keep telling me law salaries are low and jobs hard to find. It is concerning that some lawyers do not break $100,000. If I ended up happier it would be worth it, though.
Can I even afford to survive while at law school? If I have to suck it up and beg to live with mom to save rent, so be it. But I have no idea if law school gives you enough loans to cover the bills and actually eat.
Nathan: Since "some," on the LSAT, means "anywhere between 1 dude and 100% of all dudes," it is technically correct to say "some lawyers do not break 100k." But it is far more precise to say, "The vast majority of those who attend law school in the United States do not break 100k." There is a bimodal distribution of salaries for lawyers, with very few starting at $160,000/year and almost everyone else making $50,000.
As someone who already qualifies for an entry-level computer science job making $50,000 per year, you should think long and hard about the hordes of law school grads currently fighting for low-paying and even temporary work in the legal field. Recently, I've heard of law firms posting jobs as receptionists and immediately receiving multiple applications with J.D.s on them. Long story short: If you're considering law for the money, you are in it for the wrong reason.
This is actually the scary part, but not for the reason you think. When I was in law school, my loans comfortably covered my tuition and fees. Each semester, I would get a check from the school, giving me plenty of money for books, rent, food, beer, etcetera. I didn't live like a king, but I wasn't uncomfortable either. But remember: This is scary because you are borrowing this money from your future self. When I got out of law school, my loans immediately came due and the monthly payment was more than my rent in San Francisco. These loans are not easily discharged via bankruptcy, so you will pay this money back, with interest, for a very long time. Think carefully about how much debt you incur.
Student: While reading your "Quick and Dirty" book, I stumbled over many of the questions when reading for the first time. It could be my innate fear of failure making me panic - but is that itself a bad sign? I have heard (and cannot verify) that some people can take the LSAT cold and ace it because the answers appear so clear to them.
I have your books, and a book of practice LSAT tests. As of this writing I am only halfway done with your "Quick and Dirty" book. What should my next steps be?
Keeping in mind I cannot devote all of my hours to studying law, I must study Computer Science as well to keep my job once I get one. However, I don't waste much time with TV, Facebook, video games, the bar, etc. My only time-sink is my girlfriend. How many total hours are needed to really boost someone's score? And if you were to give me a timeline of a year (gotta pay them medical bills), what would it look like?
Nathan: As long as I'm giving you advice, maybe don't refer to your girlfriend as a "time-sink," unless you'd like to regain a whole lot of time in your schedule. ;) Don't believe what you hear. There are 1,000 people who claim to have been at Woodstock for every one who was actually there, and there are 1,000 people on the forums claiming to score a 179 for every one who actually did. (Pics, or it didn't happen.)
Finish "Introducing the LSAT," then do the test in "Cheating the LSAT" and review every single question (even the ones you got right) with my explanations in that book.
Choosing a School
Student: I was told that unless I get into a "top 20" law school I would not secure a decent enough job to make it financially worth it. I was looking at Temple because it is close (can't leave the long-time girlfriend, and gotta be able to survive cheaply), and because it is highly ranked in trial advocacy, which I believe in good for defense/prosecution, the two things I think I would be most interested in. Is this true? And can you help me get into law school with a scholarship?
Nathan: "Can't leave the long-time girlfriend" might not be the best way to put this. Consider "She's my everything" or "I'd die without her by my side."
Temple is a fine choice, but it's not such an elite school that you will be guaranteed a big fancy law firm job upon graduation. So, you need to think long and hard about how much debt you're willing to incur. If Temple offers you a scholarship, then that's great! But if not, then you should probably consider going to another good but not great law school that will offer you a scholarship.
This kind of one-size-fits-all advice fits everyone poorly. The false dichotomy between "top 20" and everything else is an especially ridiculous example. Who picked the number 20? I'm guessing it was somebody at the school currently ranked 19th. Some folks say "only the top 14," while others say "only Harvard, Stanford, or Yale." Others say "only Tier 1," and others say "only Tier 2 and above." Don't buy into this hierarchical bullshit. There are a spectrum of schools offering a spectrum of opportunities, and every school, at every level, is perfect for somebody.
Also, what about scholarships? If we're talking about return on investment, what's a better bet? Paying $150,000 to go to a school ranked 20th, or going on a full ride to a school ranked 40th? Don't listen to those who ignore the gray areas, because most of the realities are gray.
I can't guarantee anybody a scholarship, but I've helped hundreds of students get (literally) millions of dollars in scholarships. LSAT score is the primary determinant, and the LSAT is a very learnable test. With your computer science background, I think your chances are quite good.
By the way, when you get scholarship offers from more than one school, you can use the competing offers as leverage for renegotiation. Schools can, and do, match competing offers from other schools. And yes, before you ask, this is a totally acceptable, even expected, part of the game.
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