Tag Archives: Legally Blonde

The Truth About Law School: What They Forget to Tell you

20 Feb

Picture via Girlinyourworld.blogspot.com

I have to admit, I am a pretty big fan of drama shows or movies portraying the lives of lawyers. Mostly I like these types of shows because they are completely inaccurate and make the life of a lawyer look far more interesting than it really is. I recently got into the show The Good Wife. While I do like the way Alicia is portrayed as a hard-working litigator, I don’t like the way that the show makes it look as if the life of an associate attorney at a big Chicago firm is as exciting as it is. In real life, a big firm would not allow two associate attorneys to try a murder trial; instead, Alicia would be up to her head in case-law. I would guess that it would take Alicia five years of paper pushing before she actually stepped foot into the courtroom. Then there is Legally Blonde, where the dumb valley girl gets into Harvard Law, graduates top of her class, and then goes on to become a member of congress. Sure, achieving such things may be possible, but not likely for someone like Elle Woods. And how about The Lincoln Lawyer, where a bad ass (and sleazy) attorney suddenly has a change of heart when he represents a defendant that he discovers actually committed the murder (no way).  Now, if I weren’t a lawyer and really knew what the day-to-day life was like, these movies would make me want to run right over to the closest law school and submit an application. The truth is the being a lawyer is nothing like what the media portrays. Maybe these media portrayals are responsible for the increase in law school applications.

In 2009 and 2010, many college grads turned to law school so that they could finally stop the useless job hunt and have a safe and stable career as a lawyer. In 2010 alone there were 87,900 applicants to law school. While this may not sound like that many applicants, you have to keep in mind that there are only 200 accredited law schools throughout the U.S.  That is about 439 new potential lawyers for each school (if every applicant is accepted somewhere). Although this number went down in 2011, likely due to the fact that people are FINALLY starting to realize that being a lawyer doesn’t necessarily guarantee you a job, there is still an alarmingly high number of college grads running to law school in hopes of a better future. This fact scares me!

This post is not about statistics or about the media’s portrayal of lawyers, it is about the things law schools don’t tell you. It is about the things that people don’t know until they are graduated and take the time to reflect back upon their law school experience. I am writing this post to enlighten those of you who have an inkling to go to law school. While I am not trying to discourage those of you who want to go, I am going to share those things with you that I wish I had known before I sent in my application. These are the things, in my opinion, that law schools don’t tell you:

Grades Are Important, but They Are Not THAT Important

Anyone who has gone to law school or has read any sort of law school book, like 1L,  knows that grades are important. You need good grades to get scholarships, to be considered for certain internships, summer associate positions, or judicial clerkships, and to make people even want to read your resume. Getting good grades in law school is definitely not a cake walk, but it is possible. If you find yourself with a B or a C at the end of the semester, it isn’t the end of the world. Trust me! Surely you don’t want to be the person who has a C average, but getting one “bad” grade is not going to kill you.

I graduated from law school 13th in my class. So, needless to say, I had pretty good grades. All of the administrators in law school always told us that if we had great grades we would be able to land those big law firm jobs that pay at least the $100,000 to start. We were told that if we had good grades we would get a clerkship in a federal court, which is a highly coveted position. They told us that if we had good grades things would just be easier. The only thing my good grades did for me was get me a summer associate position at a big Dallas law firm paying me big law firm wages. Good grades didn’t make me an automatic shoo-in for the job. Good grades didn’t teach me how important it was to be able to schmooze with the attorneys that summer. Good grades didn’t land me a job at one of the  numerous clerkship positions I applied for.  And when I moved to Georgia after graduating law school, my good grades didn’t get me the best job in Atlanta.

My point is that while grades are important, they are not the end all be all of job opportunities. Sure, it is self satisfying to know that you got the highest grade in your federal jurisdiction class,  but knowing that doesn’t get you a job. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter how good your grades are if you don’t have connections, contacts, or know how to network. You could also have straight A’s, but if you graduated from a third-tier law school that won’t matter. Who do you think law firms want to hire, a 2.5 from Columbia Law School or a 3.7 from some law school no one has ever heard of? So yeah, grades are important, but they will not define you as a lawyer and will not make you an automatic shoo-in for law firm jobs.

No One Cares About Moot Court

Everyone always tells you that you should either do moot court or law review when you are in law school. Both are competitive extra curricular activities that you essentially have to “try out” for. While doing moot court and getting the experience of arguing/litigating a case is great, employers don’t really care about your moot court experience. Every job that I have ever applied for has required or seriously preferred that you have law review on your resume. How often have you ever applied for a job that required moot court? So, while moot court is great experience, if you want one of those big law jobs law review is a MUST.

Those Job Stats That Law Schools Put Out For Each Graduating Class Are NOT Accurate

For those of you who don’t know, fifty plus law school grads are suing their alma maters alleging that the law schools they graduated from lied on their job placement statistics. Suits have been filed against the following law schools. I have included the alleged “employment” statistics:

  • Albany Law School (reports rates of between 91% and 97%);
  • Brooklyn Law School (reports rates of between 91% and 98%);
  • California Western School of Law (reports rates of between 90% and 93%);
  • Chicago-Kent College of Law (reports rates of between 90% and 97%);
  • DePaul University College of Law (reports rates of between 93% and 98%);
  • Florida Coastal School of Law (reports rates of between 80% and 95%);
  • Hofstra Law School (reports rates of between 94% and 97%);
  • John Marshall School of Law (Chicago) (reports rates of between 90% and 100%);
  • Pace University School of Law (reports rates of between 90% and 95%);
  • Southwestern Law School (reports rates of between 97% and 98%);
  • St. John’s University School of Law (reports rates of between 88% and 96%);
  • University of Baltimore School of Law (reports rates of between 93% and 95%);
  • University of San Francisco School of Law (reports rates of between 90% and 95%);
  • Villanova University School of Law (reports rates of between 93% and 98%); and
  • Widener University School of Law (reports rates of between 90% and 96%).

 In 2011, almost all top 100 law schools reported nine-month employment rates of at least 90%. This means that 90% of those who graduated from a particular law school apparently held “legal” jobs within nine months of graduating.  NALP similarly alleged that 88.2% of all law school grads were “employed” within nine months of graduation; however, these number reflected those working in non-legal jobs and part-time jobs. If those non-legal and part-time jobs were excluded, only 62.9% of law school grads were “employed” within nine months of graduation.

After my husband and I graduated from Michigan State University College of Law we received one of those inevitable are-you-employed forms in the mail. The form asked if I was employed in a position where I was receiving a salary or if I was unemployed and seeking work. While MSU does separate their job placement data based on legal jobs and non-legal jobs, it doesn’t necessarily specify what those “non-legal jobs” are. For example, are those people who wanted a non-legal job? Are those people working at Starbucks? Or are those people who couldn’t land a legal job, and as a result had to take a non-legal job?

Of course statistics can always be a little misleading, but 90% placement after graduation in this economy, seriously? So, for all of you out there who believe these employment statistics and hope to be one of the 90% employed after graduation, take into consideration that “employed” may include being a barista at Starbucks.

You Will Not be Able to Enjoy Those High Paying Salaries

Sure, if you are lucky enough to land a big law job you will be making $100,000 or more each year, but you won’t be able to enjoy those salaries if you owe $100,000 in student debt. For some insight into law school debt, check out my post. They say that the average law school graduate comes out of school with about $97,310 of debt. YIKES! While paying that debt off with a salary of $100,000 a year may seem possible, let me tell you that it is not as easy as it seems. I came out of law school with about that much debt and I currently pay about $700 a month. How long will it take me to pay off my debt? 30 years! So, sure, law jobs can pay you a lot, but they forget to tell you how much you will owe to the government once you graduate.

Don’t get me wrong, being a lawyer is challenging and intellectually stimulating, which a lot of jobs are not, but make sure that it is really what you want to do. Make sure you will be happy working long, hard hours for little pay.

Do you wish someone would have told you something about law school before you applied?