Monday, February 16, 2009

So, you want to go to law school.

Sit down, and let's have a chat.

It's a fantastic thing, this whole "law school" experience. And I'm very glad you'll be following in my footsteps. And I'm delighted that you've come to me, a stranger on the internet, for advice. And I'm so happy to share with you some advice.

1. You know how people generally say that such-and-such isn't at all like it is in the movies?

Fuck that. Law school is exactly like the movies. It's exactly like Legally Blonde, in fact.

But wait, Hobo!That movie didn't make any sense! And I'm pretty sure it was sponsored by Pantene!

True. And yet. The one inaccuracy is that Legally Blonde takes place at Harvard. While Harvard exists, you will not be going to Harvard. How do I know? Well. You're looking for advice on the internet. That means at least one of the following statements is true about you.

1. You have poor judgment, and an inability to sort valuable information from useless information. That, or you can't manage your time for shit. I know this because, well, the internet is on all the time, this blog is found easily by google. For real advice, you'd have to find a bookstore, get there while it's open, and either loiter long enough to learn something, or buy your ass a book. Obviously, you were unable to do that.

2. Neither your mommy nor your daddy is a lawyer. Nor are they rich enough that their friends or your relatives are lawyers. How do I know? Because then you'd ask them; or someone else you know, about what law school is like. Not me, the aforesaid stranger on the internet.

How do I know that if either of the above statements are true, you're not going to Harvard? Well. I don't. Actually, and this is good practice for the LSAT's - if both statement one and statement two are true, you're not going to Harvard. If statement two, but not statement one is true, you're not going to Harvard.

If statement one is true, but statement two is false, you could probably still go to Harvard, because nepotism and privilege trump judgment and intelligence. Get used to it. If you can find some shmuck to pay $3,000 for a Kaplan LSAT course, and some shmuck already paid a buttload for your SAT course, and your "rigorous education," so your undergrad degre doesn't have the reek of proletarian accessibility, you'll get into a good law school. But fuck you, if you do.

So anyway, other than the fact that you're not going to Harvard, Legally Blonde is a pretty accurate portrayal of law school. First year is confusing; everyone's a fish out of water; cliques form quickly; you'll be humiliated in class at least once. Then, after first year exams, you'll find out that someone you thought was a dipshit is a genius, and someone you thought was a genius is full of shit (me! me! me!).

After that, there's a montage, and you graduate. Seriously. I have no real memory of second year that doesn't involve Fed Courts or washing Mr. Miyagi's car. And that one time I got so drunk that I fell and actually bounced.

2. Everyone says that the first year of law school is the most challenging year of post-secondary education in America. I don't know if this is true. I'm not, after all, Hoboustabeamedstudent.

It's tough. It's time consuming. It's strange and it's rigorous, and the way that the classes are taught is so completely different than the way that anything else is taught - it's like foreign-language immersion, especially if you are the first person you know to go to law school. I was. I didn't know what a casebook was, what, really, a "case" was. I didn't know what a brief was, or a memorandum.

But I had two advantages that got me through the first year of law school, better than most. First, while I was an undergrad, I was a barista. I worked as close to full time as the coffee shop would let me. That meant that I would often get up at 4:30am to be at work at five, work 'til one, get in my car and go to class until eight or nine o'clock.

As an undergrad, I didn't have time for luxuries like "keeping up with the reading," unless I was willing to sacrifice in other ways, like "not paying my rent" or "living on stale pastries and stolen milk." If you spend your undergraduate years working 14 or 15 hour days, always feeling like you don't have enough time to really get anything done, always having to switch between being a college student and a wage slave -- the eight or nine hour day necessary to keep up with your work as a first year law student seem like a vacation. And, really, it can be. Being able to focus on one thing is amazing. All you have to do is show up, work hard, and learn. How decadent.

The second advantage I had was that I didn't really care about being good at law school. Although I had decided to become a lawyer, it wasn't a long-standing childhood dream. I didn't feel like I was destined to be a lawyer. Thoughts of Clarence Darrow didn't dance through my head. I just wanted to get through it. Law school is hard; you WILL feel like you're doing it wrong. The only way to get through it is to have more investment in working hard than in doing well. Some people do phenomenally well, and always feel like they're failing. Some people feel like they're really getting it...and they end up doing really poorly. If you go to school every day feeling like you must have escaped from a diagnosis of serious mental disability - don't let it bug you. It doesn't mean you shouldn't be a lawyer, or even that you're not getting it.

So relax. Care less. And remember, if you've worked your way through college, or you've been out in the workplace, or you've been in the military, or you have kids - you've done something harder than this.

3. Consider not going.

I mean it. I'm $125,000 in debt. I'm the motherfucking head lady of our publication. I've got actual legal experience. I've gained serious respect for my work, both on the job, and in school. And I have no serious job prospects. None. I've loved law school. I loved, loved, loved working in legal services, and at the tax court. I want to be a lawyer; I realized today, while putting off writing take-home exams in order to work longer on some work for the publication - that I love legal work, even the nitpicky little stuff.

But it might not be worth it. I might have, I'm realizing, been just as happy getting a teaching degree, and working as a substitute teacher. Or, continuing to work as a barista, and spending more time seeing if I coud write. I might have been happy being a housewife, and perfecting my blueberry muffin recipe. Or raising and slaughtering heirloom turkeys. Happiness can come from a lot of places; and not a lot of them result in $125,000 of debt.

So think hard. And don't assume that going to law school means that you're going to get to be a lawyer. And if you can actually sit and think of what it would mean to you, to sit, like I am now, and write about what it is like to have fallen for the law - bereft of any hope of practicing - and you still want to go - more power to you.

4. Think about what school to go to. As I said above, you're not going to Harvard. It's fairly useless to make a list of schools to consider before you've taken the LSAT's. By the way, treat the LSATs like the single meaningful determinant of your admissability - because that's what admissions committees do. A 4.0 is cheap; a 172 is dear.

There are two, and only two, good strategies for picking a law school. I endorse both of them. The first strategy is to go to either the highest ranked school that will accept you, or the highest ranked school that offers you significant scholarship money. I did not do either of these. However, if I had, I might be in a slightly better position than I am now, because the highest ranked school that accepted me also offered me a full scholarship. (Note- consider changing blog title to Hobojackass). This is a strategy which may go far towards ensuring future financial solvency.

The other strategy is to go to my alma mater. Seriously.

I have absolute confidence that the law school I attend provides the best legal education available. This is not mere rah-rah jingoistic chauvinism; I'll admit that my school is lacking, well, in several areas. The physical plant was half-crumbling; now it's constantly under construction. The school can be unreliable, when it comes to getting grades out on time, letting you know about important deadlines. It can be a little bit dishonest about placement figures. It can be freezing and damp and leaky in the summer, and sauna-like and steamy and smelly in the winter.

It offers no, and I repeat, no, long breaks. No summer. No Christmas. It's expensive, and they're cheap with scholarships. The rank is low. There's only one publication, and we haven't published yet, because I'm blogging instead of providing leadership.

But I can't possibly imagine having gone anywhere else. I can't imagine being on the verge of graduating from another school, trying to face the legal world, without the preparation I received at my school. Conversations I've had with students from other schools, purportedly better schools, only confirms my belief that the education my school provides is far superior.

I can't go further into it, because I'd lose all semblance of anonymity. But, if you happen to be actually reading this for advice, email me, and I'll tell you. And when I tell you why, I think you'll agree: considering going anywhere else is fucking ridiculous.

5. Never look back.


rachel said...

I loved this!!! You don't even want to know what I googled that landed me on your blog. But this was a fab post. I've been in law school apprehension mode for like five months.

Devin said...

You are a hilarious writer. Like the girl above me, you don't want to know what i googled and what application i should be working on right now ( Cal Western) but thank you for the break.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely super writing.

You have missed your calling...