Academia

Advice to Entering Law Students—Revisited

As law students begin classes over the next few weeks, here are some points I hope they will keep in mind that can help make better use of their time in law school - and beyond (reposted from my 2018 post on this subject).

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

Law students around the country will be starting classes in the next few weeks. Last year, I wrote a post offering advice to entering students. I tried to focus on points that I rarely, if ever, see made in other pieces of this type. I think all three remain just as relevant today. Here they are (more detail in the original 2018 post):

1. Think carefully about what kind of law you want to practice.

Law is a profession with relatively high income and social status. Yet studies repeatedly show that many lawyers are deeply unhappy, a higher percentage than in most other professions. One reason for this is that many of them hate the work they do. It doesn't necessarily have to be that way. There are lots of different types of legal careers out there, and it's likely that one of them will be a good fit for you…. But to take advantage of this diversity, you need to start considering what type of legal career best fits your needs and interests….

Regardless, don't just "go with the flow" in terms of choosing what kind of legal career you want to try. The jobs that many of your classmates want may be terrible for you (and vice versa). Keep in mind, also, that you likely have a wider range of options now than you will in five or ten years, when it may be much harder to switch to a very different field from the one you have been working in since graduation.

2. Get to know as many of your classmates and professors as you reasonably can.

Law is a "people" business. Connections are extremely important. No matter how brilliant a legal thinker you may be, it's hard to get ahead as a lawyer purely by working alone at your desk. Many of your law school classmates could turn out to be useful connections down the road….

This is one front on which I didn't do very well when I was in law school, myself. Nonetheless, I am still going to suggest you do as I say, not as I actually did. You will be better off if you learn from my mistake than if you repeat it.

3. Think about whether what you plan to do is right and just.

Law presents more serious moral dilemmas than many other professions. What lawyers do can often cost innocent people their liberty, their property, or even their lives. It can also save all three. Lawyers have played key roles in almost every major advance for liberty and justice in American history, including the establishment of the Constitution, the antislavery movement, the civil rights movement and many others. But they have also been among the major perpetrators of nearly every great injustice in our history, as well….

Law school is the right time to start working to ensure that the career you pursue is at least morally defensible. You don't necessarily have a moral obligation to devote your career to doing good. But you should at least avoid exacerbating evil. And it's easier to do that if you think carefully about the issues involved now (when you still have a wide range of options), than if you wait until you are already enmeshed in a job that involves perpetrating injustice…..

 

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  1. I was really surprised that not one of my professors in law school suggested clerking (as a possible path to then teaching). Nor the the law school counseling center. No one explained to me that this is the only practical path to teaching . . . and I don’t think it’s a path that law students would intuitively know. Especially for those of us who did have parents or siblings that taught in other fields and where we saw those people do the undergrad-to-grad school/Ph.D.-to-teaching path. That was frustrating, since the chance to clerk really comes only right after law school.

    I was also surprised that the counseling center never sat down with me and said, in essence, “What sort of legal career are you looking to have? Are you a people-person? Do you think you’ll like the stress and challenge and hours of a litigator? Do you think law should be a winner-loser game, or should law try to find win-win scenarios when possible? Do you want a steady work schedule or are you okay with working late-nights and some weekends?

    I think law school is like med school . . . there are a million different types of jobs and can accommodate a wide range of personalities. (As the OP noted) Based on my admittedly small sample size of one (ie, me), I think the prep inside law school for the evaluating possible careers could be done far better.

  2. The biggest problem I see is that it is well-nigh impossible to know what kind of law you want to practice until you have actually practiced for a while. You may think you know, but then the reality of actually doing it smacks you in the face.

    The other problem is that your loans and financial situation tend to force you into certain paths (if you are lucky enough to have those paths available at all), regardless of what you would like to do in a more ideal world.

  3. Or seriously think if you want to practice law at all. I don’t want to “sink your battleship” but the vast majority of lawyers are never going to see the inside of a courtroom let alone participate in any case of interest. And if you do it will only be after spending 60+ hours a week sitting in a windowless office for a decade reviewing countless documents and filings.

  4. I hate to say it, but…get out before you end up ~$100K in debt. That’s the trap.

  5. On Point Three: “Think about whether what you plan to do is right and just”

    I teach all my law students: “You Can Do Well By Doing Good”

    I gave up a very premising and lucrative career as a patent attorney [E.E. degree from MIT and Columbia Law Review] to become a public interest lawyer, and never regretted it.

    While many of my law school classmates went on to earn millions a year doing pro malo rather than pro bono, I enjoyed what I was doing and was able to accomplish: save millions of lives, start at least three major new legal movements, successfully sue the government and major corporations, etc.

    PUBLIC INTEREST LAW PROFESSOR JOHN BANZHAF

    1. I am also very proud of myself and regularly participate in virtue signaling.

      1. I’ll take his on-topic advice over your off-topic, sarcastic attack any day. Your trolling brings down the level of discourse and you should be ashamed.

  6. Lawyers may have a great influence over people’s lives, so I think that a person who’s pursuing a law degree must be honest in the first place. But, unfortunately, that’s not the case for most students studying law. Most of people in my law school are totally morally corrupt. Some of them use law essay writing services and hand in the essays they receive from these websites as their own. Liars don’t belong in a law school and I believe that honesty is a crucial trait for lawyer who want to win cases.

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