Will You Find Personal and Career Direction in Law?
For people trying to figure out personal or career objectives, going to law school may seem appealing since law touches so many areas of life – almost anything that rules or laws can control. The purpose of law school is to teach students to “think like lawyers” and to learn some law. Law school is only tangentially related to the knowledge about these underlying fields. Likewise, law practice is only tangentially related to the substantive business or policy decisions decisions that the clients will make.
Not Much Time
Law school, although most JD programs are a long 3 years, the way the system is set up does not actually give students much time to figure out their objectives.
Hiring at big firms, federal government agencies, and other places that pay well occurs early in the 2nd year, based on 1st year grades. Membership in competitive law school activities like prestigious journals and moot court are based at least in part on those same first year grades as well. Technically these interviews are for “summer associate” internships for the student's 2nd summer, but hiring for regular employment occurs predominantly from the students who spent their second summer there. So first year grades, and the interviews that occur at the start of the second year determine which students get the desirable jobs and what those jobs will be. Due to the recent recession some firms have pushed back interviews by several months, even still, students will only have one more semester of grades and a few more months to figure out where they will work after law school.
What is Taught In Law School
The material that students learn won't help them figure out what it is like to practice in an area. The first year of law school has fixed courses based on 1800's common law – these are particularly unhelpful for figuring out what you want to do. Some students feel the method of reasoning taught sort of scrambles the intuition and gut instincts that guide us. It is of limited help outside of law, as discussed on the next page. Students in law school aren't learning that much substantive knowledge about other areas or other career choices, so law school is not a good choice for someone considering non-legal careers.
Law Degrees For Use Outside of Law
People with law degrees and/or experience who are now working in non-legal capacities are often reverting back to an area they had expertise in prior to law school (e.g. accounting) and are not necessarily using this legal experience. While their legal experience is somewhat helpful, the experience they would have otherwise gotten during that time may have been more useful. Most lawyers who work with entrepreneurial ventures are providing legal support rather than working in the core functions of the new companies.
Students considering law school because they are hoping to find career direction or don't know what else they want to do may want to figure out those questions first, before enrolling in law school. A student should attend law school because he or she wants to be a lawyer. A student should have a fairly focused idea of what type of law he or she wishes to practice, ideally before law school. Students must make career-directing decisions prior to their second year; yet most of the standard material in the first year will not help them make that decision. Also, seeking validation from law school or law practice probably is unlikely to lead to happiness or be healthy. Law is adversarial. Legal careers are not goal-based, but rather client-based; the goal of litigation is to serve the client's interest.