Take the Two-part Test Drive If you haven’t done these before taking the LSAT, here are two tasks to complete before the first day of school. They include Tips for Test Driving Legal Careers. (1) Talk to several lawyers about what they do; and (2) Know why you are attending law school.
Talk to lawyers
1. Have smart, focused conversations with at least 10 lawyers about what they do every day.
To help formulate questions, understand these two aspects of lawyers’ work
- The essence of lawyers’ work is simple. Most do just four things: read, write, talk on the phone, and go to meetings. Although the most easily dramatized legal career is “trial lawyer,” most lawyers go to court only to serve on jury duty.
- Lawyers must pay attention to detail. It is not enough to say “Oops, I’m sorry,” if you miss a statute of limitations and your client loses his rights to life, liberty or property. If you don’t care where the comma goes or whether a sentence is grammatical and clear in its meaning, consider another occupation, please.
CAVEAT: Do not ask “What is a typical day like?”
This is an impossible question to answer. Your goal is to get a lot of meaningful, useful, and specific information, not a lot of generalized fluff.
Tips for Test Driving Legal Careers: Useful questions about lawyers and their work
- Where does your work come from? Do you have any say in how much, how little or what kind of work you do?
- How much of your time is spent on client development in private practice? How does client development work? If you are in a public sector job, where do your clients come from? Walk-in? Court-appointed? Other referral?
- How do you balance work and family? Do you believe that work-life balance is a myth?
- If you are in a high-stress practice (which could be in any substantive area of law), how do you manage the emotional elements of providing client service? If you are in a practice where outcomes are often bad (public defender’s clients often go to jail), what is it about your work that keeps you committed and focused?
- What do you wish that you had studied in law school?
- If you have faced an ethically challenging situation, how did you handle it? What do you do if you are asked by a client to advocate for a position that you oppose?
- Describe the relationships between and among your colleagues, your clients, other actors in client matters (judges, other lawyers, bankers, prosecutors, police, court personnel, etc.) How do you manage conflicts among them?
- What are the challenges that you face when identifying and solving your clients’ problems? How do you use outside experts? When you use an outside expert, how much do you need to know about what the expert knows?
- What kind of technological infrastructure do you use in your practice?
- How has technology changed the way you practice? What changes do you predict for the next 10 years?
- How do you manage, record, and get paid for your time?
If you ask questions like these, the person you are interviewing will tell you a lot more than what you have asked. Take good notes.
2. Decide why you want to go to law school. Define your reasons, articulate them, and own them.
- If it is because “you are really good at arguing,” think again. The act of argument for its own sake is a dreadful characteristic in a lawyer who may put his enthusiasm for an argument ahead of his client’s interest.
- If it is because everyone in your family is a lawyer, think carefully about what you have observed throughout your life. Ask yourself whether you are doing this for yourself or for someone else. How much control over your future are you willing to cede to that person?
- If it is because there has been an expectation that you would go to graduate school to become a leadership professional (doctor, lawyer, business person), think about whether your preference might be for a second-line but equally-critically important profession (nurse, paralegal, administrator) or for something else entirely. If the choice has never been presented to you, consider it now.
- If it is because you want to do good and to help people, the sooner you are able to define the problem that you want to solve, identify the people you want to help, and to locate the organizations that are doing the work, the better off you will be. Find those people and organizations, connect with them, and begin to do the work as soon as possible. These connections and experience may lead directly to post JD employment.
- If it is because you want to make a lot of money, think carefully about your career goals. While there are many lawyers earning very comfortable incomes, there is no guarantee that you will earn six figures at graduation or, depending on your career choice — ever. Many students aspire to become Public Defenders and Legal Aid lawyers. Other than very senior managers, few have six-figure salaries, and none are at entry level. New graduate law firm salaries offer a window into early-career compensation.
- If you don’t know why you want to go to law school, commit to figuring it out as soon as possible. It might give purpose to three years of law school and for some interesting parts of the rest of your life.
Taking this two-part test drive may confirm your desire to go become a lawyer. It may, on the other hand, change your mind or help you focus on something else. You may start law school as an “undecided,” but this test drive will have kept you from being “uninformed.”
Finally, you are free to change your mind. The reasons that you articulate before your first Torts class may be swept away by something that you learn, a professor who inspires you, an event that changes your life or changes the world, new bits of technology, and new and interesting problems that arise every day.
Good luck! MORE QUESTIONS FROM A PRIVATE REPLY:
1. “If you had it to do over again, would you still go to law school?” 2. “Does your career make you happy and, if not, what about it doesn’t meet your expectations from when you went to law school?”
Tips for Test Driving Legal Careers #1
Tips for Test Driving Legal Careers #3