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The 10 Most Important Things To Know Before Starting Law School (6-10)

6 Mar
Law School

Your Prison Awaits

This is part two of “The 10 Most Important Things to Know Before Starting Law School.” You can find point 1-5 here.

  • The Number 1 Lesson Law Schools Want You To LearnSUCK IT UP

Misconception: Law School will teach you how to “think like a lawyer.” 

Truth:  Law School will teach you how to “think” like a jerk, or really more like a self-absorbed teen in a mid-rebellious phase.  I cannot emphasize this enough; you have to understand this method of thinking before you can succeed in Law School, but it will burn you in the legal field.

The goal of Law School is to strip you of any sense of shame whatsoever, and there are good reasons for doing so.  You have a duty (by law) to give your client the best representation possible.  This means that you cannot blush and hide after totally screwing up the opening argument, or get flustered every time you speak in front of people. You cannot get lost in the miles of paperwork you’ll be dealing with.  You may have to argue that your client, who walked into the gas station with a mask and a gun and deliberately fired at 2 people, was just joking around and had no earthly idea that his local drug dealer would sell him a gun with ammo as opposed to without.  And you have to do that with the appearance of complete conviction in what you are saying.  In the real world, you do have to have a sense of self-confidence, and you have to be able to reject what people around you are saying.  Lawyers don’t feel embarrassment, shame, or overwhelmed; it is a weakness they and their clients cannot afford.

So, the Law Schools focus on breeding such weaknesses out of you. They heap criticism on you over and over until the novelty wears off.  They growl and yell and demean you.  They’ll assign 1000+ pages of reading due the week you’re up to be called on in 3 of 5 classes (happened to me one time)—the lesson: get over it.  Learn the art of skimming.  Or better yet, learn how to face you professor and tell him/her you didn’t read (something no 1L ever has the courage to do, and that 3Ls do way too often).  When they give you quelling glares, sit back and return the favor. Your Legal Writing professor told you to do your paper one way and then graded it as though that was wrong?  Dry your eyes and find your anger.  Get to where you never take any criticism personally.  Assume that they are in the wrong.  Don’t ever let your feelings get involved. It’s not about rolling over, it’s about developing the cockiness to take it and make the problem go away.

But there is a problem: real life will require you to learn a balance.  Lawyers are actually a surprisingly laid back group.  The same two lawyers may face each other in the court in the morning and go out for beers at night.  It isn’t really a cut-throat world in general, and they don’t have the patience for arrogant, heartless people.  So once you are out of law school, you’re going to have to re-learn how to be human.

  • Law School Professors Are Not On Your Side. 

Misconception:  The Law School professors are like your undergraduate professors in that they are there to teach you how to succeed.

Truth:  As stated before, your classes are not there to teach you the subject or how to do the practice; it is to teach you how to get over your weaknesses.  To accomplish this, they target your weakknesses and criticize you over and over until it just doesn’t hit as hard.

Consequently, the law professors are not there to see you learn the material and succeed.  Their job is to show you every single thing you did wrong, over and over until they have a class of people who don’t care anymore.   They will not always tell you the truth when you ask them questions, part of their work is to teach you to make mistakes and deal with annoying people. Nothing about the system encourages them to make the process of learning any easier.  The more difficult it is, the easier it is to pick the grades apart.  And unlike undergrad, where the teachers wanted the majority of students to get good grades and move into good grad schools, law schools don’t have the same enticement.  The only test or accomplishment law students have to do to make the law school look good is pass the bar exam, and that’s pass/fail.  The professors will grade you on a curve which ensures that they will always have only a certain number of students with good grades.  And your failing actually furthers the lesson of learning from your mistakes.  So don’t ever assume that the professors are telling the truth when they say something won’t be on the exam,  or that they are giving you the clearest explanation of the topic material.  They may very well be just yanking your chain.

  • Law School Assignments Aren’t As Overwhelming As They Want You To Think.

Misconception: Law School assignments are so horrible, time intensive, and complex that only the most brilliant of readers can manage them.

Truth:  It is true that you will have more and more reading as time goes by.  It is also true that some classes may only have 20 pages a day.  And there is also the magic of supplements.  These take 15-40 pages cases and summarize them in 1-2 pages.  Plus, you will learn all to quickly that the important things to know after 1L year is the legal decision and maybe the analysis.  You don’t have to remember all those facts and names and explanations.  Once you get used to that, you can skim 100+pages in 2-3  hours or less.  If you missed something, the professor will usually go over it.  Plus, there’s going to be 1 final exam; they cannot cover every single piece of material.  You can still get a B+ (great grade in law school) just by reading and memorizing the 4 page sparknotes that cover your class.  Make use of those, and the work doesn’t take nearly the time people complain it does.

As for whether or not the material will be over your head, law school readings are either really simple or really complex.  If it’s simple, anyone can get it (you cannot promise to deliver 50 pieces of lumber for $50 and instead give them 41 pieces of lumber while getting paid $50).  If it is complex, the most intelligent people in the world are probably still debating what it means.  The law itself is generally very simple.  Cases are just a bunch of stories and can be read as such.  The material isn’t hard, it’s just a lot to take in.  But use the supplements and you can forge ahead.  Just remember, the teachers aren’t always on your side so they won’t necessarily give you the simplest explanation.  Sometimes it’s easier to ignore them and learn the stuff on your own.

  • The Practice of Law is Not Guaranteed To Make You Money.

Misconception: Lawyers are all wealthy, employed, and making $1000 an hour every day.

Truth:  That’s like saying that because Donald Trump makes millions that all Americans are millionaires.  Honestly, it’s surprising how many lawyers are currently in debt.  If you get into one of the top 20 law schools (which you really need if you want a good job–and even then it’s iffy), your average cost is $136,707 (Jeff Rose).  Even in the lower levels, your tuition can be way over $100,000.   According to the ABA (American Bar Association), in 2010-2011, the average cost per year was (Access Group):

  • Public (Resident) = $39,765
  • Public (Non-Resident) = $52,331
  • Private = $58,109

Since most law students don’t actually work during law school due to harsh restrictions by the ABA and time restrictions of classes, many are as much as $200,000 in debt at the end, especially if they were in debt after undergrad.  That means that every month, they are looking at $2,000+ in loan bills due.  Then, they have to pay for the bar exam, their office costs, living expenses, etc. on top of that.  If they go into private practice that can mean thousands of dollars for the rental space alone.  Meanwhile, most lawyers are making closer to $40,000-$90,000 a year (ABA), not the $500,000+ that they make it sound like. And all that is if you get a job.

The job market now isn’t looking any too good.  A number of my fellow classmates are still unemployed, as are a vast number of graduated friends.  Fact of the matter is, if you run a job search, most positions want 3+ years of experience.  They aren’t hiring newbies.  So people are working for free internships hoping to get their experience up, but that means another 3 years without funds.  Striking out on your own isn’t so easy either.  You’ll fork over a bundle just to get your name out there.  And you will still be  competing against very experienced lawyers.  Of course, you also have the students who really want to do non-profit and humanitarian/public-service work, but that pays even less than normal law jobs.  You may  overcome these things with a lot of time and effort, but just be aware that you probably aren’t going to walk out of law school flying high and living pretty.

  • Law Students Will Leave Completely Different People.

Misconception:  You can go to Law School and then pick right back up with your life, the same person you were before.

Truth: No one leave law school the same.  Have you ever hear the song “For Good” from the play Wicked?   Well, that could be the theme song of Law Schools across the nation.  It should really be played at all of the graduation ceremonies.  Law School will change you, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse.

You will start as a timid, overwhelmed, and frantic 1L who suddenly realizes that undergrad and other jobs did nothing to prepare them for the Law School experience.  You will soon realize that the preparatory materials didn’t come even close to giving you enough warning.  That first year, you’ll read ever page of every case; you’ll spend hours and hours combing case notes, developing outlines, and cramming thousands of little facts into your brain; you’ll attend every class every day; you’ll tremble every time a professor looks your way. By the end, you’ll maybe read the LexisNexis headnotes on the cases for a couple classes and skip the reading all together for the others; you’ll ignore the case notes and rely on the problems in your supplement books; you’ll buy outlines from OutlineDepot and friends, and ignore all those stupid little details; you’ll miss 30% of the classes if you ever show up; and you’ll probably tell at least 5 professors that you didn’t read without the slightest wince.   You will start feeling proud of your C+ grade, and absolutely over the moon if you got an A.  Most of you will have traveled abroad, or at least done internships in some pretty serious workplaces.  People will look at you differently.  There is just something that changes when they hear you have been through law school, and it makes you walk taller.  You will start seeing the crimes in every movie and start listing legal defenses to every accident.  You won’t look at a sidewalk crack or a dog the same way ever again. You will have cried, sobbed, and probably drank your way through at least one semester.  You might need therapy after it’s over, and you will certainly age physically (I knew one student who literally had to go into counseling because he was so busy that he just quit eating for weeks at a time).  But you will be more confident, more articulate, better read, and more socially aware than you ever were before. It seriously matures you over time.  If you make it, you will be a whole new person and nothing can stop that.  Whether this is good or bad is entirely up to you.


Don’t let Law School wear you down.  Don’t let it kill you or convince you that you are a hopeless disaster.  Fact of the matter is, Law School takes some of the best students in the nation and tears them down repeatedly for three years.  You go into a place that has one goal–to tell you what a terrible student/person you are and to remind you over and over that you are a failure.  But, the funny thing is that the only failures are the one’s who actually listen to their professors, the one’s who take these criticisms to heart as truth.  If you learn the lesson they are trying to communicate–that what they think doesn’t matter–you will have succeeded.  All they want you to understand is that you can’t let the public, or the opposing counsel, or your own emotions get in the way of you standing confidently at your client’s side against all odds to say “I AM IN THE RIGHT.”  Even when every defense you can offer the court is ridiculous and you have to look the judge in the eye and say “A ninja really did do it,” you cannot back down.

Law School will tell you you’re wrong; laugh in its face.  It’s life changing, self-liberating, and potentially soul-destroying.  But personally, I think it’s worth it.  And if I’m going to go through such an experience, there is no better group than other law students surviving the same process.  So weigh the pros and cons carefully, think about what it is you really, really want to do. And if it’s law school, stick your shoulders back, your head up, and never let them see you blink.

The 10 Most Important Things To Know Before Starting Law School (1-5)

6 Mar
Law School

Your Prison Awaits

As the time for law school applications draws near, I find myself frequently answering questions for people about the law school life.  Students have heard about the horrors of being called on in class, the grueling readings, and the much-dreaded bar exam.  But there is so much more to take into consideration when looking at the legal programs.    So here together are the top 10 things I tell students interested in studying Law School.  Take this as you find it; these aren’t meant to warn you off or suggest that law school isn’t the place for you. Just don’t walk into it unprepared.  Law School is something that has to be your passion, or it will be pure torture.  So, if you’ve dreamed of being a lawyer since you gave your first persuasive speech in high school, here’s what you need to know. On the other hand, if you just want something that will keep you in funds while you live your life as an artist, here’s some things you might want to take into consideration.  Good luck with whatever your choice is!

  • Law Students Are Generally Good People At Heart. 

Misconception: All law students go into the legal practice because they are money-grubbing and self-entitled, and they will do anything to get ahead of one another in the maddening race to a job.

Truth: If you are going to spend 3 years with a group of people, almost to the exclusion of any other company, law students are the people to do it with.

Since the schools are full of Type A personalities, there are of course the jerks (you know who you are).  But in general, law students are very sociable.  They come to law school because they are very sympathetic by nature.  They care about and want to help people (ergo the ever increasing number of classes on Immigration, Non-Profit, and Discrimination issues).  So don’t take those warnings you’ll hear about the “cut-throat” student too seriously.  When you feel like you’re breaking apart under the pressure, fellow law students will be the first to rally around and support you.  You will find a great support group and truly make friends for life (and no that is not meant to be cliché—it’s just true).

  • Law School Will Eat Up 2-3 Years of Your Life.

Misconception:  You will be told at the beginning that you should “keep up with the things you love—like skydiving” (literal quote)

Truth: Forget it.  While the years will pass like a flash, you’re life for the duration is over.  Law school is crazy busy . . . and not like the busy of undergrad.  No,   this reaches whole new levels of craziness. No more spaced out projects, no more finals worth 15% of the grade. You’re in law school now. It’s 100% finals, 30+ page papers, and sometime more than 100 pages of reading per class.   In your first year, the schoolwork itself is insane—it’s how they weed out the weak.  Then second year and beyond, if you are serious about getting a job, you’re going to want to do research assistantships, journal positions, club leadership, internships, interviews, and more.  The schoolwork eases up, but the extra-curricular activities will be on overload and are unavoidable.

  • Law School Classes are Not Meant to Teach You The Actual Law.

Misconception:  You go to Law School to learn what is in the law.

Truth:  Law schools/professors will deny it to their death, but law school classes are not there to teach you the law.  Sure, you’ll pick up a 5-minute Sparknotes version of the basics on some of that material here and there.  However, since so many laws are state specific, you’ll have to learn all of that out of class when studying for your state bar exam.  And that’s only for the 7-8 most basic courses.  Any other specific topics will have to wait until you actually start working in the field.

The classes themselves are kind of a prequel to learning how to do the law.  You learn how to take hundreds of files and readings and slap them into 3 hours of productive skimming. How to go from quivering in your seat when called on to staring your professors down.  How to bluff your way through  on the fly answers, until you can spew BS without flinching and still sound convincing.  Ultimately, classes are just part of the process of changing you from a caring individual into the arrogant, cocky lawyer you will leave as (see Point 6).

  • Law School Will Not Prepare You For Legal Practice.

Misconception: Law School teaches you how to file all the forms, write an undefeatable contract, and handle cases

Truth:  You’re going to walk into your first internship and realize you don’t know squat.  In fact, you’re probably going to be told to forget everything law school has taught you.  You won’t learn how to write a contract, you’ll be lucky if you even see a real business contract.  They’ll tell you that “assault” is only a crime  in certain circumstances, but they won’t tell you how to handle the case, file the report, or work with the police. You might learn the laws regarding divorce, but they won’t teach you where to find the forms or how to actually go about the process.  You’ll be taking Legal Writing classes where they have you write 10-15 pg. briefs and memorandums; you’ll cite until you cannot cite any more.  And then the boss at the company you work for as in-house counsel will  tell you that they don’t want any citations at all or that they want one paragraph summaries instead.

Some classes, like trial ad and civil procedure, may try to help with this, but even then it will all depend on the judge.  Cases have been won and lost based on the fact that a particular judge wants the lawyer to hang his coat up in the back of the room instead of hanging it on the chair.  Paperwork has been rejected when the staple was crooked instead of straight.  Ultimately, you’ll learn through trial and error, but law school isn’t the place.

  • Law School Is Taught (and Graded)Backwards

Misconception: If you were a good student in undergrad, you’ll be a good law student.

Truth: Law School is the only educational program I have ever seen where your assignments aren’t practice for your lessons.  They teach everything absolutely backwards, and it screws a lot of people up.  They will give you an assignment (say read a case) and ask you to report on it. Then they will tell you everything you did wrong.  It’s the same for every class, every grade, every project.  They tell you to write a memorandum, then they tell you how you should have done it after it’s graded.  They adopt a perverted version of the sink-or-swim method.  Instead of teaching you how to swim and then letting you try it out slowly until you perfect it, they take you, dump you in the water, wait for you to drown, and then tear you up because you didn’t know to paddle with your hands. Supposedly it teaches you to be more careful because you don’t want to drown again.  Unfortunately, you already missed the opportunity to get an A on your swimming license.


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