LET'S TALK ABOUT LAW SCHOOL.
This post is going to be a bit lighter in tone than the one from yesterday but these are always more stream-of-consciousness thoughts than one particular topic. Today, I will discuss law school in an accessible way for those of you who are considering it can either go 1) fuck yeah or 2) oh god, no, god, no.
I'm also writing this juuuuuuuuuuuuuust in case you some of you out there want to write about law students or lawyers in your work and you want to know where they're coming from and why (in some cases) they act the way they do.
To get to law school, you must take the LSAT.
The LSAT ranks behind the MCAT when it comes to graduate school exams. It's followed by the GMAT and then GRE. I don't regret my decision to take the LSAT even though it was partly inspired by my absolute fear at taking the GRE for the math.
I maintain that Powerscore has the best study material for the LSAT. The only other book I used when I was preparing for the other two LSATS was the Kaplan one and that one wasn't very good.
I also recommend the Pommodoro technique, which has proven invaluable, not just in preparing for the LSAT, but elsewhere in my adult life. Whether it's sorting through a whole lot of tasks at work, or conducting NaNo sprints, Pommodoro is THE BEST for people who have ADD/ADHD like me.
BUT HOLD ON, SCREECHING HALT.
Why are you even taking the LSAT in the first place?
If your answer is "well, I want to be a lawyer because Miss Congeniality/Law and Order" you might want to rethink it. Two brief reasons: 1) going to ANY graduate school to impress some rando is a bad idea, especially if 'crippling debt' is going to be an immediate by-product of your decision 2) the type of lawyers that get to argue the cases in front of judges like the law and order folk are picked from the best of the best.
Other shitty reasons to go to law school:
- "I don't know what I want to do with my life, so I'm going to incur a lot of debt."
- "My grandpa was a lawyer, my dad's a lawyer, my mom's a lawyer, so I think I should be a lawyer question mark inflection."
- "I'm going to make the big bucks and I want to be a millionaire."
- "A law degree is going to open up a lot of doors for me."
I'll discuss these later in the post but the key takeaway is: this is a monumentally big decision that will change the course of your life. Do not make it lightly.
Do not take the LSAT lightly, either. Sure, you could be one of those people that score a very attractive 170/180 on your first try without studying and while hungover. Or, you could be someone like me and take three shots just to get an average score.
At this point, you're still in time to save your game, choose a different path, have fun, make another decision. You're only out $120. You'll only lose $100-$200 more depending on how many schools you decide to apply to.
Then comes the monumental decision, should you go, or should you not go?
Let me tell you my brief experience during my year in law school. I talked about some of it yesterday, but I only covered the mental aspects, let me tell you more about how more of the common things are.
WHAT ARE THE CLASSES LIKE
The classes are intense. I'm talking med school intense, and for good reason. You're going to be dealing with people's lives and livelihoods as part of your every day life. The types of classes and the Socratic method are also universal throughout law schools, and this has been the case for decades.
You'll have some combination of the following your first year: Torts, Criminal Law, Contracts, Civil Procedure, Property, and Constitutional Law. Sometimes they're condensed into one semester, sometimes they're split into two. In my law school's case, I had Torts and Contracts in two separate semesters.
Constitutional Law is a bit of an aberration, or at least it was for me, since the class was more of a history class than anything. However, it was supremely interesting to see how the Supreme Court of the United States and the interpretation of the Constitution has changed over the years. It's also my favorite subject to debate because NO ONE is right. For instance, the anti-vaccination movement. There are some people out there that believe that not vaccinating should be constitutionally protected. There are other people that believe the opposite. And there are Constitutional arguments for both.
The other classes are your standard law school classes. Here's a quick rundown, courtesy of The Princeton Review.
A tort is a harmful act for which someone might be held legally responsible under civil law. You'll study the rationale behind judgments in civil cases. Here's a handy acronym for the primary actionable torts in the United States: FITTED CAB — F alse I mprisonment, T respass (to land), T respass (to chattel, or personal property), E motional D istress, C onversion, A ssault, and B attery.
DOSAGUILAS' EXPERIENCE: These classes were very interesting. Especially because now I get to settle the occasional car-ride argument about assault vs battery.
Contractual relationships are varied and complicated — so much so that you'll study them for two full semesters. Through the study of past court cases, you will follow the law governing the system of conditions and obligations a contract represents, as well as the legal resolutions available when contracts are breached.
DOSAGUILAS' EXPERIENCE: This class grew on me after awhile and after determining the kinds of cases that make contract law and how easy it is to bone someone (or get boned) BY NOT READING THE FINE PRINT.
If contracts and torts teach you what lawyers do in civil court, then civil procedure teaches you how they do it. “ Civ Pro ” is the study of the often dizzyingly and complex rules that govern not only who can sue whom, but also how, when, and where they can do it. Rules of civil procedure govern the conduct of both the courtroom trial and the steps that might precede it: discovery, pleading, pretrial motions, etc.
DOSAGUILAS' EXPERIENCE: This one might have been one of my least favorite classes, even though it was taught by the late Professor Wilks (who had been a law school dean when my parents were toddlers), but I think if I had tried to ask more questions I would've had a better time.
Like so much U.S. law, the laws governing the purchase, possession, and sale of property in the U.S. often date back to the English common law. Anyone interested in achieving an understanding of broader policy issues will appreciate the significance of this material. Many property courses will emphasize, to varying degrees, economic analysis of property law.
DOSAGUILAS' EXPERIENCE: My professor was great, but this was easily my worst class. Like the description, a lot of laws came from English Common Law so the notes taken were a bit challenging. Lots of talk about issues and I'm not talking current events.
Even if you become a criminal prosecutor or defender, in practice you will probably never encounter the crimes you will be exposed to in this course. Can a man who shoots the dead body of someone he believes to be alive be charged with attempted murder? What if someone forced him to do so at gunpoint? What if they were both on drugs — or had really rough childhoods? Your class is likely to rely heavily on Socratic dialogue, and criminal law professors are notorious for their ridiculously convoluted exam questions.
DOSAGUILAS' EXPERIENCE: Easily my favorite class outside of Con Law and a large part of it because of the professor. I'm going to disagree that the convoluted exam questions are "ridiculous". Sometimes the convoluted nature of the hypotheticals are meant to show how much you paid attention in class.
Finally, there is a class called Legal Research and Writing (LRW) which kinda shows you how to write briefs and memos which in all likelihood will be ALL YOU DO when you graduate and get a job at a big firm somewhere. It's more of a practical class, but it's highly useful.
AUTHOR PLUG: The fun thing, I was reading Scott Turow's One L and he wrote it as a law student at Harvard Law in 1978. A lot of the things he experienced, things he covered in class, types of classmates...were the same way then as they are now. Other things, not so much. I laughed when the sum total of his textbooks was $200 or so dollars and that was considered highly expensive then. HAHAHHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAAHHAHAHAHA
AUTHOR PLUG FUN FACT: Before he went into law school, he taught creative writing at Stanford.
Now, that's just the first year, the one L year that separates the grain from the chaff. The second year is when the lucky bright and few start going to their OCIs (on-campus interviews) while also taking classes (with everyone else) they're required to take and the other half are law electives like Environmental Law, Oil and Gas, Military Law, Animal Law, Health Law, Maritime Law, etc. etc.
Third year, you take one or two few required courses and the rest are classes you take to strengthen your knowledge in what your passion would be like and hopefully interning and being a paralegal for someone.
Then you graduate.
And then the fun stuff begins. You're a law school graduate, but you can't legally practice law until you take the Bar Exam, which is a two-to-three-day exam going over everything you learned in the last three years. Want to talk about pressure? If you don't pass, you don't get to practice law which is what you just signed over your life to do and you have to wait to take it again.
Also, what state you take the bar in is going to affect you long run. California, New York, and Texas Bar Exams are the hardest (and Texas, naturally, adds an Oil and Gas Law component int heir) and give you a bit more leeway if you wanted to practice law in other states. But if you pass the bar in another state and want to come in to Texas or California, you better be ready to take the bar again.
WHAT'S THIS SOCRATIC METHOD I KEEP HEARING ABOUT
The Socratic Method is one of the most common teaching techniques in law schools that has survived over generations. Using the Wiki definition at its simplest: In a typical class setting, the professor asks a question and calls on a student who may or may not have volunteered an answer. The professor either then continues to ask the student questions or moves on to another student. The employment of the Socratic method has some uniform features but can also be heavily influenced by the temperament of the teacher. The method begins by calling on a student at random, and asking about a central argument put forth by one of the judges (typically on the side of the majority) in an assigned case. The first step is to ask the student to paraphrase the argument to ensure they read and basically understand the case. (Students who have not read the case, for whatever reason, must take the opportunity to "pass," which most professors allow as a matter of course a few times per term.) Assuming the student has read the case and can articulate the court's argument, the professor then asks whether the student agrees with the argument. The professor then typically plays Devil's advocate, trying to force the student to defend his or her position by rebutting arguments against it.
In short, on any given day, a professor's going to single you out and ask you to stand up and engage with them in discussion over a particular case. And you have 40 pairs of eyes staring intently at you. So, hopefully, you spent an hour or two the night before reading over the case, finding the fact, getting the issue, and understanding the reasoning behind what the judges held.
How they pick is really up to the professor. Sometimes it's alphabetical order, sometimes its by row. Sometimes its by arbitrarily generated student ID number. You have to be ready.
If you want to dick around and not study and pick up a case brief outline (which the law schools themselves inexplicably sell) and read from that, you will be figuratively crucified by the professor. Why? Because remember that whole no fuckery bit? No fuckery. That, and the professors have already read the case brief themselves and know it by heart, thus enabling to spot when someone picked one up. And they'll point it out.
"Mr. Suchandsuch, please stand up."
<Suchandsuch stands up, smirking at having memorized the case>
"Tell me about Fletcher v. Rylands,"
"Well, it's a case where two parties discussed the theory of strict liability and the judge stated that party A--"
"Page 182 of CaseNotes. Mr. Suchandsuch, if you're going to use canned briefs, please be sure to not lead off your argument with the same wording used in the briefs. You may sit down."
Some professors will let you just say 'pass' if you flat out didn't read, but will limit the times you do it. Others will let you stand there and kind of jog your memory by walking over the elements of the last class with you guys. Sometimes, even if you did do the reading, you'll still feel raked over the coals.
Not that it's a bad thing, mind you. It's easy to pick apart an argument in your average internet argument, but when you're trying to defend a point in a large room, feeling so alone, naked, vulnerable...it's different. And you learn.
I don't remember much from the times I got called on to talk about a case. I do remember shaking. I do remember getting through the facts and the holding successfully but not being able to explain the reasoning properly. I stood while the professors dismantled the argument, discussed it open with me as if it had been the two of us just chilling in their office, and then having me sit down while they moved on to the next student and then made a point to pause for a few minutes to explain a particular point.
THE PEOPLE YOU GO TO LAW SCHOOL WITH
There is the stereotype that a lot of law students resemble Patrick Bateman in American Psycho minus the murder.
Law classes are divided into 1-6 sections. The people in your section will be the people that you pretty much live with for a good majority of the next three years of your life. And it's not 'haha classmates college live with' kind of living with. It's you will spend sometimes up to 20 hours a day with those people.
Law students are like any other graduate students in the sense that they're in competitive programs. Although I don't think some dude in an MFA program will be as exposed to risks of substance abuse and mental illness as a law or med school student will be. (And I say it with no disrespect to my fellow MFAers)
Does it reflect on students? Absolutely. The horror stories about how ruthless and cutthroat competition within classmates do have some basis in reality. Why? They are your competition, for grades, and for jobs in a very, very, very, shallow job market. If a law firm is looking at the top 10% of a class and you're in a section of 100 people, you're out of contention. In some "lower-ranked" schools, employers will only look at the top three candidates from a class. So, you could argue that on paper, every single one of your classmates has a vested interest in your failure.
In practice, if on the way to the very top of your class you act like an unrepentant and unforgiving asshole, maybe you'll have a better job offer at the end of your second year, but that's not guaranteed. What will be guaranteed was that every single person you were an asshole to will remember how much of an asshole you were. And they won't piss on you if you were on fire.
I met a few assholes, definitely, but the funny thing was that they weren't in the top of the class. Incidentally, those who were on the top of my section (known affectionately/enviously known as The Brain Trust) were very reserved but very polite and nice. Everyone else? I wouldn't consider them anything other than normal. Highly intelligent and driven, but normal. What ends up happening is, you start law school, you go to a few socials, you have a few classes, and somewhere within those first weeks you start filtering into your 'core' group. I had three different groups in my year in law school and most of that was because when the stress kicked in, our study methods were so ridiculously different that it was better to seek different groups.
(Or maybe I'm much more unpleasant than I think I am)
Why are friends important? Because you don't know everything. "But I was super sm--" maybe, right now, you won't be. Someone's going to be smarter. You're going to be smarter than someone. You could be excellent at Torts and your buddy could be excellent at Contracts and you'd balance out.
It's also important because your law school friends are the only ones that understand exactly what you're going through and, as I mentioned, you are going to pretty much live with them so it pays to be with someone you're not going to want to kill 90% of the time. You'll still want to kill them, just not as frequently.
You'd also be surprised at who your group ends up being. My group was Houston-born-and-raised evangelical Latino who had been a longtime intern in local family law courts. The other was a tiny Orthodox Jew who would argue every point possible. The fourth and final was a six-foot-four massive tank and self-proclaimed Aggie redneck from Texas' Golden Triangle who spoke in a machine-gun staccato. The last one, I'll call him Big Dog since that's what he wore 95% of the time. Big Dog is such an interesting character, and became one of my best friends in and out of law school.
Now, as far as dating in law school?
Don't shit where you eat.
"But, we can make it work, we're professional!"
Again, you're living with someone 20 hours a day. You don't want that kind of drama. What if you break up? "Oh, well, it was friendly." trust me, it's not going to be friendly when they're with someone else in the same section. "Oh, well, it was acrimonious" well, congratulations, you pretty much farted out loud and no one's going to want to be near you.
As far as the students' backgrounds go, the majority were indeed liberal arts majors, but there were a number of STEM majors as well with all sorts of motivations. Some were just following the family, some wanted to make change, some had very specific plans for their future. It's a crapshoot of motivations, really.
OUTSIDE LAW SCHOOL WHILE INSIDE LAW SCHOOL
Being in law school is no different than being in med school. I'm going to paraphrase Professor Corn and say that the minute you walk in to law school, it's no longer just your time, it's your future clients' time. So 1) you're in law student mode whenever you're conscious 2) fuckery is discouraged. That means that your relationships, friendly and otherwise, will take some form of hit. Your friends, family, and loved ones will have to cope with the fact that you will find yourself absent from parties, from hanging out, from 'just chilling' because you're going to be studying a lot. From my own experience, even finding time once or twice a month to talk to my friends from outside of law school filled me with all this guilt because I saw it as two hours of studying lost. So the whole point of "just enjoying myself" was defeated by that. And that's taking into account that I was probably going to spend those two hours worrying and hitting my head against my desk because I couldn't get my head around the exceptions to the but-for clause or changing venue in a lawsuit.
But it's not impossible to have a healthy work/life balance. Some of my classmates had school-aged kids and managed to be there for them. Others had time to work.
Then there's the change in how you start perceiving things around you. One of my buddies was a bit of music prodigy and he had spent long hours (prior to law school) just studying music theory and practicing. After awhile, it got to the point where he couldn't just "listen" to something on the radio because his head would start tearing apart the chord progression and musical structure. In law school, and as you progress in your legal career, you start seeing the same thing all around you. Sometimes it's fun, like for instance when someone says something is against the first amendment and therefore unconstitutional and you laugh because you can quote the majority opinion in the last 10 first amendment cases. Or you could be watching a show on TV and break down torts and crimes occurring without anyone going HUH.
Sometimes it's not fun (but useful) because you get extremely paranoid about contractual obligations and understand the perfectly sound explanation why a band like Van Halen could have a Brown M&M tour rider.
This is where you get into the "are you really sure you want to do this?" territory. You're looking at $30,000-$45,000 a year in tuition. Loans will get you for that, but you also have to repay those loans.
"Oh, well, I'll probably just land a job at a big firm and make that in like six months, lawl"
That's a hella big assumption. That assumes you're going to be at the top of your class. That assumes you selected a top-tiered law school. That assumes that you're going to survive 12-hour workdays like they were nothing. Good ol' Tucker Max has a good breakdown of the cost over here.
There are no guarantees in life when it comes to money. There is a belief that a lot of people myself held that, well, even if I don't practice law I can still make use of the JD degree. And I'd come up with ideas like 'Well, Oliver Luck is an AD somewhere and not a lawyer' or something like that and eventually I realized...wait, if I want to change the world, or change my community, it seems counter-productive to have to drop say $120,000 to do so. I gave so many people shit about saying "I'm not going to go to college because Paul Allen, who founded Microsoft with Bill Gates, dropped out of college and he's now a billionaire" when I was espousing THE SAME KIND OF NONSENSE ARGUMENT.
There's a (sometimes-controversial) book out there by Paul Campos that I read recently aptly titled 'Don't go to law school...UNLESS' which I found very sobering (specially after reading Turow's One L) and very useful and I think if you're considering law school, you should read both.
Side note, it appears that that whole blog/book thing made for its own drama.
The thing is, you will be going into debt unless you have someone pay for it. And the kind of people that have $150,000 lying around for shits and giggles don't tend to be the type of people that have more money than sense.
Then you add the fact that there is a lot of skewed data out there concerning post-law school employment figures that only recently has started to change. Before, if you were a law school graduate with a job, you were counted. So universities were able to say, "oh, well, 90% of our law school graduates are employed after law school"
But that was taking into account any "job". If you had a JD and were working retail just to, you know, not be homeless, that counted, so law schools were able to pad their stats and people would ignore that 35% or more of those 90% graduates were working as baristas or mechanics.
That's changing now, but it's always good to do your research.
SO IS IT WORTH IT OR NOT?
You have to make that determination.
Earlier this year I thought about going back, but the financial cost would be too heavy. I am much more mature than I was five years ago, more grounded, more driven, and I would definitely be a success, especially now that I have managed to learn techniques that help me deal with my ADD/ADHD. But...that's too much money.
If money wasn't an option and there were some anonymous benefactor with more money than sense that would tell me, sure, I'll pay for your law school, as well as your half of the mortgage and utilities that you'll be missing....then I'd say yes. If I had that second chance, I'd do things differently, too. And I do love learning. It was an amazing, intellectual challenge that I cherished even in the pits of despair.
But in the end, it's your call. If you want to write a character that went to law school, it is not necessary for you to go to law school. There are many people who went/graduated and made a living somewhere else, but it's not necessary, even for the intellectual challenge of things.
But if you do want to make a change and are completely cognizant of every fact and figure out there, go right ahead, I will cheer you on. The friends I made there are now working as lawyers, some working contracts, two defending victims from both sides of the aisle (one is a prosecutor and the other a defense attorney), others are working for political campaigns. I've yet to run into one that would say they'd do something different if given half a chance.
Song lyrics by Gorillaz - Rhinestone eyes