Monday, December 27, 2010

Law School as a Rite of Passage, not as an Actual Education

Non-trads, before we go much further, one point needs to be made perfectly clear, right now:

Law school does not prepare you for the practice of law.

Well, what academic program does, right? “Shocker!”, I hear you say. Do engineers run factories straight out of college? Do finance majors run banks straight out of college? Do professors become chancellors of universities straight out of college?

No, no, and no, of course (unless you are the heir apparent of the President/CEO, but that is another discussion).

However, other professions of this sort do have a sort of “natural career trajectory”. Part of being hired is the recognition that you will grow into the role and accept more and more responsibility as you are able. When you can handle the small things, you are ready for larger things. When you can snatch the pebbles from the master’s hand, it is time for you to leave. Medical school is predicated on this model – that is why it is an eight year commitment.

In contrast, as an attorney, you will be expected to run everything, the day after bar passage, immediately. Perfectly. Because you are representing a client. And it is your fault if you have no clients.

Sadly, the Rule in Shelley’s case, the concept of the covenant of “seisen”, and the Rule Against Perpetuities will do little to assist you here. Your M&A class will be so generic as to not assist you in the particulars, assuming you follow all the material. You will likely get through a Wills, Trusts, and Estates class without even drafting a Will, Trust, or Estate. It is also possible to get through Law School without any clinical or practicum experience, period, due to limited capacity – and it is debatable how much said clinics prepare you for practice in any event.

Again, if you have connections, this question of preparation is taken care of for you. One of the straight-throughs in my class was going to work for Daddy’s firm. He partied, got his 2.0, and moved on to greener pastures. Or if you are fortunate, the firm that hired you purely on your Manga Cum Laude credentials are more than happy to shepherd you along because they value the long-term investment.

Otherwise, that E&O policy could get a big workout early on if you want to go solo. After opening your own law office. With few to no connections and no practical experience. With other, experienced members of the bar courting available clients. With no book of business to woo another firm.

My point is that Non-trads take a large risk because they are (by definition) transitioning careers, may have family obligations, and potentially less access to family support to boot for a program that does not prepare them for the actual profession nor ease the transition into the profession. It’s not that you are unwilling to “pay your dues” – it may be that you literally can’t afford to…again…after three years of taking out loans for burgeoning tuition.

The answers that are given to this dilemma are “network” and “sink or swim”. That’s fine if you’re 25. It’s a little different at, say, 45.

Again, if you are a balls-to-the-wall entrepreneur who doesn’t take “no” for an answer, don’t let me get in the way. Just realize that your prior successes won’t necessarily be an asset for what is coming ahead. It is indeed a jungle out there.


  1. As someone who started law school at 25, I only take issue with the suggesting that it's fine to rely on networking/sinking or swimming then.

    Otherwise I love this post, because I really don't think people going to law school understand how disconnected law school is from the actual practice of law. Law school is little more than the memorization of vague, generic rules. Taking a course in family law will never, in a million years, give you even the first step in managing a divorce at the local courthouse, at least not any more than you had prior to law school. Those who get internships or work may pick up a few things, but on the whole law school does little than a good book couldn't do.

    Doctors, at some point, actually have to deal with patients and their symptoms under supervision to become a licensed physician. Lawyers have no analogous process, and frankly, it's scary.

  2. My Wills and Trusts professor stated on day 1 that he didn't intend to cover California probate law, which seemed odd seeing as how I was in law school in California. Instead, he said he would teach the model probate code that no state uses and English common law.

    At that point, I checked out. I walked into the exam blind, made 86 random guesses on the exam and walked out.

    Dude gave me an F, but the school had already certified me for the bar, so my grade was "adjusted" to a D-.

    Had I gotten an A, I would be no better suited to draft a will. I was, however, better suited after good ol' Barbri.

  3. Non-trads are generally not wanted by law firms. They want someone they can mold in their own image. It is harder to do with someone who has had a career, family, and kids, i.e. these people might have a solid understanding of what is truly important in life. Law firms don't want that.

    I hope this blog can convince some non-trads that law is not a suitable or hospitable place for them. If you have a spouse or kids, be responsible and keep earning a paycheck. In the end, NO ONE gives a damn if you were an accoutant, lawyer or professional ass-wiper.

  4. J-Dog, I hear you loud and clear, and you're right. I don't envy anybody the legal job search, regardless of their stage of life.

    My thought was that as a twenty-something, it is understood that there is less life experience at that point - which is where the crazy-hours-for-breaking-into-the-field-and-earning-your-dues exchange comes from. Not that that is an easy road by any means (c.f. networking), but it is a theoretically well-understood entry point compared to the non-trad entry point. Not that legal employers have been using my so-called "well-understood entry point" for straight-throughs in the recent economy.

  5. Great post. It's a good point, and one that doesn't get enough attention.

    I don't envy anyone in the legal job search either, instead of looking for a job, I dropped out last week after my first semester. They really try to make you conform and mold you, like you said in the post. This tacit, oppressive pressure to conform is suffocating. That's why I say peace to the legal world.