With LSAT in the air and law school application season in high gear, it ought to be time to test drive law school.
Disclosure: For the first 10 years that I worked in law school career services, I asked 1Ls “When did you decided to come to law school and how did you make the decision?” After that, I added “When, if at all, have you decided to become a lawyer?” By 2008, close to 20 percent said “not yet.” I often asked “How many lawyers did you talk to before deciding to come to law school?” An astonishing number said “One or none.”
It is one thing to be undecided about becoming a lawyer; it is quite another thing to be uninformed about the legal profession. Law school is not cheap, and three years is a long time to be vectored toward an activity about which you know little or nothing.
With everyone having a stake in the outcomes — satisfying law school experience and a satisfactory employment outcome — students, parents, and students’ other supporters ought to consider a law-career test drive.
Buying a car or embarking on a career?
Few would think of buying a car without a test drive. Why, then, could it be a bad idea to talk to more than one lawyer before applying to law school? With more research devoted to buying a car than to exploring an industry with multiple career paths, the randomness of the outcomes should surprise no one.
Would you test drive a car?
Would you buy a car if the driver’s seat were uncomfortable or if you couldn’t see out the back window (as I couldn’t see out the back window of a 1977 Camero when I was selling them). You would have a check-list with miles-per-gallon, type of fuel, number of passengers, type and size of tires, trunk capacity, type of sound system, and length and scope of the warranty. Does this brand have a good quality reputation? Does this model have quirks that may make it difficult and expensive to fix? Does it fit your personality AND your budget? Will it fit into your garage? You might want to take a good look at the car’s color, too.
No Outsourcing of Career Test Drives
Sophisticated industry and career exploration should go hand-in-hand with taking the LSAT, and it cannot be outsourced to commercial guides, information-seeking parents, or law school gossip websites.
Students who arm themselves with GPAs and LSAT scores and no additional research, often end up as miserable 3Ls or depressed third year lawyers. The reckless combination of no self-assessment, no concrete ideas about what lawyers do all day, and no commitment to actually practicing law is a recipe for distress, disaster, and depression.
Instead of discovering whether someone might actually want to be a lawyer, students and their parents devote a lot of energy to parsing two-and-three-year old employment statistics as if they held any predictive value for an employment market four years in the future. Interesting data? Perhaps. Predictive of the future of legal employment? With what crystal ball? Predictive for an individual’s future? In what universe might this be possible?
Optimism is not enough
Whether test scores are off the charts or comfortably in the middle, a student’s optimism and the high esteem in which her family holds her are not enough to assure success in law school and later in life. Truth to tell, outside of top 10% academic performance, there is no agreement about what “law school success” really means. Good grades alone guarantee nothing.
Top 10% can be a peculiar and unpredictable status. Although it has often been equated with a “right” to employment (which is often code for “job in a large law firm”), there is no direct correlation between high grades and ultimate success as defined by making it through the interview process, working eight years as an associate, and, finally, making partner.
Lawyers Thrive in Different Environments
Individuals may be ill-suited or completely uninterested in law firm work.Their goals may be wildly different from what they might achieve in law firms, and they may thrive in other settings: public service including Legal Aid, prosecution, public defense, JAG or other government service, small and solo practice, corporate or non-traditional career paths.
Is there a general predictor of post-JD success or achievement? There is no breath, blood or genetic test that can predict any kind of post-JD-real-world accomplishment. Nonetheless, prospective law students armed with information about what law-trained people do in a variety of settings may make the first concrete steps onto their individual career paths.