Jeremy's Weblog

I recently graduated from Harvard Law School. This is my weblog. It tries to be funny. E-mail me if you like it. For an index of what's lurking in the archives, sorted by category, click here.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Re: my post over the weekend about hoping for some new ideas of stuff to write about besides interviews, a reader e-mailed to ask:

"How practical do you think your education is, in terms of actually being a lawyer?... I'm torn. I feel like much of what I'm learning will make me a better lawyer. But better than an apprenticeship? I'm not sure. I just wondered what your take was, particularly given the stereotype that higher ranked schools aren't the curved competitive mess that the 2nd tiered schools (like mine) are. Do you feel like you are prepared for the real world? Do you even know?"

It's a great question, and I wish I had a great answer. The truth is, though, I really don't know. I don't really know beyond the basics what lawyers at law firms do, what lawyers not at law firms do, what lawyers in any context besides being a law professor do. And the knowledge and skills they use and need to perform their jobs well. I mean, I know they do legal research, and write memos and briefs, and counsel clients, and try to come up with solutions to problems within the context of the applicable legal rules. Or something like that. And I guess that's more than I knew before starting law school. But without actually working at a law firm, I don't know that I have any idea whether law school is good at training us for the work we'll do, or bad at it. I do think law school does a fine job of teaching us how to think about the various spheres of law we have courses in -- I feel like I understand a lot of the issues in contract law, in property law... that I could recognize when there's a problem, and have some idea what kinds of things I'd need to do in order to get a better handle on it. Obviously we don't learn the actual legal provisions of state law, or details like that... but we at least get a framework and I feel like we know how to find out a lot of what we need. In the areas of law I haven't taken a course in, I'm not sure simply being at law school has done all that much except show me there are lots of neat study guides I could probably use, and, of course, Lexis and Westlaw. But ask me a question about Tax Law, and I'd be pretty stumped. The one area I do feel like there's probably a bit of a disconnect regards writing -- from everything I know, much of a lawyer's time is spent writing -- persuasive writing, like briefs, or clear and concise memos, carefully drafted documents, etc. Yet in law school -- at least here -- we take a pass-fail writing class that nobody fails, and we write a couple of memos, and that's it. Writing out of the way, all done. The focus is minimal. Which seems not to be how it goes in the real world.

So the short version of that long-winded paragraph is that I have no idea -- I don't know if I'm prepared for the real world any more than I was before, and whether the training I assume I'll get at whatever place I work will build on what we learn in law school, or be closer to starting from scratch. And on some level, it doesn't really matter, I don't think -- I'm no more or less prepared than my classmates, and I'm sure the firms have figured out what they need to teach us and what we've learned in school, and we all end up okay in the end. So the thought that I may not be learning anything useful, bad as it sounds to say, doesn't really worry me as long as I feel like I'm learning about as much as anyone else is and will be starting off at the same baseline.

And I don't know if it's any different here than anywhere else -- I've got no reason to believe the coursework is substantially different -- we use the same casebooks as anywhere else -- and it is competitive here, and there is a curve -- although it is probably a lower-pressure environment than elsewhere just because of the job situation coming out. But having only been here, I don't know how different it is elsewhere.

Good question. Deserves a better answer than I've got. But at least it's not about interviews. :)