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.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

If I've written this post before, I can't remember. But I may have, since there's really nothing about right now that's prompting it. I'm sure there are people who stumble on this site who aren't yet law students, but are thinking about law school, and whether it's right for them. So I thought I'd summon some thoughts on what I didn't know when I started law school that might have been things I'd have considered, couched in some autobiography so this all makes some sense. It's not quite the "why you should go to law school" post (although I guess I could do one of those too), but let's call it:

The "So I'm Thinking About Law School... Or At Least Thinking About Thinking About Law School... But I'm Not Even Really Sure What That Means" Mega-Post, Part 1

I. I don't exactly know how I ended up in law school. I took the LSAT because a friend of mine was taking the LSAT at some point during junior year of college, and I figured law school wasn't something I knew I *didn't* want to do, so I didn't see any harm in taking the LSAT and then at least it's an option. So I took the LSAT. And then senior year came around, and, since I'd taken the LSAT, I applied to law school, not really with any intention of going. And then I found myself at the "Science and Technology Career Fair" to grab some koosh balls and t-shirts, and ended up handing someone my resume, and somehow, after some interviews, I ended up convinced that working for a software company in the middle of Texas made good sense. Which maybe it did. But at the very least it became an alternative to law school... until two years later when I realized that maybe working for a software company in the middle of Texas didn't make sense anymore, and law school sounded as good as anything else... 3 more years to figure out what did make sense, and it wouldn't be a bad line to have on the resume. Truth is, the most frustrating part about the software job was not knowing what it was leading toward... and at least I knew that law school, even if it sucked, would be leading toward a degree in the end, and the three years couldn't be a complete waste. Even if I didn't practice law. This is probably terrible reasoning for why someone should go to law school, but that isn't the point of this post, and, besides, I like law school. I'm glad I went to law school. I've enjoyed it. No regrets.

II. But I didn't know anything about law school, or lawyers, or what lawyers do, or what law school teaches you. I knew I'd be taking classes about the law. That's about the extent of what I knew. I honestly didn't really think about it that much. I didn't know any lawyers -- at big firms, at small firms, at no firms, in government, at public interest organizations... I'm not completely sure I knew what a public interest organization was, and I know I couldn't have named a single law firm. I didn't have any idea that the legal world -- or at least the legal world as presented in law school -- was basically split into two categories. Firms, and Public Interest. It's not that I thought it was something else; I just didn't think about it at all.

III. One of the bigger surprises 1L year was that basically two months in, everyone started looking for a summer job. I went to law school to avoid looking for a job... so this was not terrifically happy news. But there everyone was, with their lists of firms, and their lists of public interest organizations, knowing what lawyers do, and what they thought *they* wanted to do, and all ready to start their legal careers. But I thought... I thought this was school school, not vocational school. I was ready to read. Not so eager to write cover letters.

IV. And so here is where I finally get to making the point I should have just started the whole post with. Before you go to law school, understand: law school, much more than I expected, is trade school. The legal world that we're presented with has two categories: law firms, and public interest jobs. Later on, you discover there are also clerkships (working for judges), which can lead to academia (teaching), but just as often lead right back to firms or public interest. If these are not the careers you want to pursue, you will be swimming against a very strong current -- a current that can take hold of your body and carry it along, even if you started out intending to swim in a different direction. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but I truly believe the current changes people's destinations quite often. It is very easy to go through the recruiting process and end up at a law firm. Easy enough that you can do it without much effort or thinking, and in fact if you don't expend much effort or thinking, that's probably exactly what will happen.

V. The problem, I think, is that law school forces you to make these choices pretty early on, and without much background. I didn't know what a law firm did until I worked at one this summer. And I'm still not entirely sure what people do at public interest organizations. And as far as what other lawyers do? Not much of a clue. Because they don't come and recruit. I mean, the same thing sort of happens in undergrad, when consulting firms and investment banks are the only people who come to recruit, and you start to feel like those are the only options out there. When there are surely a gazillion more jobs -- but they don't need to come and recruit because they have enough people coming to find them, or they're smaller and don't need entering classes of 50 people and so it doesn't make any sense to go to college campuses. Same thing with law school. The [fill in whatever law job I'm unaware of] doesn't need to come recruit because (1) they're not looking for people with no experience, (2) people find them, and (3) it makes no economic sense to come and recruit. But because the firms do come to campus, the whole law school experience ends up tailored around sending us there -- the recruiting season, interviews, career panels, etc.

VI. The next logical step in this piece would be to tell you what exactly law firms and public interest organizations do, at least as far as I know, in case you don't, and you want to go to law school. So I'll call that part 2 and write it tomorrow. :)