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.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

"Tell Me If I Should Go To Law School"

Someone e-mailed me asking if she should go to law school. Frankly, if you're asking a stranger whether you should go to law school, the answer is probably no. But the question provides a nice excuse for me to start a series of posts in the "law school wrap up" category. Less than 24 hours from my last law school exam ever, obviously I need to continue to avoid studying. So I'll start with this post, which is less about whether you should go to law school and more about some things to be thinking about when making that decision. I feel like this is ground I've covered before, but not recently enough. So I'll tackle this stuff, and in the pipeline I have a few more ideas -- someone e-mailed asking for advice for summer associates, and I promised I'd get to that; and someone else asked me whether I'm glad I went to law school. I am, but can probably wring a couple of paragraphs out of that. I feel like I could also do a post with law school survival tips and maybe some course selection advice. If there's more "law school wrap up" ground you'd like to see me cover, shoot me an e-mail and I'll see what I can come up with. But, for now, if you're thinking about law school...

1. The People Who Say You Should Only Go To Law School If You Want To Be A Lawyer Are Right. And Wrong. I've told a bunch of people (and surely written on here before) that coming into law school I had no idea that afterwards almost everyone goes to work for a law firm, or what a law firm was even like -- I hadn't thought about what people do after law school, I hadn't done my research, I thought I was going to law school to avoid looking for a job for three years, not to put myself on a track toward a law firm life I knew nothing about. I mean, I just didn't do my research. It didn't even cross my mind that this was different from college in this respect -- I didn't go to college having any idea what I wanted to do when I got out, and so I didn't think about it at all before getting to law school. Which is why I was surprised when a month in they start talking about resumes and job fairs and dark suits. Some people have been kind of baffled when I've told them this. They think I was negligent at best -- a moron at worst -- for not looking into this stuff before I applied. And I'll admit I was negligent. But, really, it didn't cross my mind that this was something I had to think about. I'm not entirely upset about that. I don't know for sure that I would have come to law school if I knew what the career paths looked like on the other end. But I've liked law school, and I'm glad I've spent these past three years here. It's benefitted me, intellectually, socially, and in terms of career opportunity creation. I don't have any regrets about it. Which is why I'm completely torn about the merits of the standard advice you hear that law school is to train lawyers and if you aren't sure you want to be a lawyer, don't go to law school. It's good advice. Sort of. It's true. Sort of. But it's also kind of stupid. As much as anyone wants to argue that law school is of value primarily if you want to be a lawyer, it's hard to deny that the law degree has value beyond that. It's a set of skills. It's a credential that sets you apart. If you go to a "name" law school, it's another name on the resume to help impress, it's another set of alumni and possible connections, it's an education that can help in a whole variety of fields -- government, policy, even just being an informed citizen -- not just the law. I don't want to say these are reasons to go to law school. But they're reasons why I think you can make really compelling arguments for why it's not wrong to go to law school even if you don't want to be a lawyer. I think you want to know what you're trying to get out of law school. You want to have a story to tell for why law school makes sense. But if you can make that story make sense -- if you can satisfy yourself with your story -- I can't say I think law school is a bad choice. I didn't do my research. Maybe I should have. But maybe it's okay that I didn't.

2. The People Who Are Miserable At Law School Are Doing It To Themselves. I feel like I either know lots of people here who are miserable, or lots of people who enjoy the idea of being miserable. People don't love it here. And I partly get it, but not entirely. If you're miserable here, it's your own fault, because whatever is making you miserable is probably something you can stop doing. Exception for the weather. If the weather is making you miserable, you should transfer. But if the schoolwork is making you miserable, this is kind of pathetic and speaks terribly of the education we receive, but you can stop doing it, basically. There are people here who don't go to class, don't buy their textbooks, and spend the day before each exam studying, and do fine. It doesn't take a heck of a lot to pass. This is sad and unfortunate, and is something that's wrong with legal education at least here, but it's true. So the schoolwork is a lousy reason to be miserable. If you're miserable because you haven't met the right people, maybe you just need to meet new people. I have trouble seeing how law school can be more miserable than having a job, any job -- except for the money part. But if money is the determining factor as to whether you're happy or miserable, then maybe that's the thing you should work on, and not why law school is making you sad.

3. Go To The Best Law School You Get Into. Or Not. Again, advice that's kind of good. The better the law school, the more firms come and recruit, the easier it is to get a job, the more weight the name carries if you're looking to do something else.... But, again, maybe there are reasons to go somewhere else. If you know you want to do something that you can do equally as well coming out of law school A, better ranked but really expensive, and law school B, lower ranked but they're giving you a full ride, why not choose B? It's all about that story you're telling yourself about why you want to go to law school. If you want to clerk for the Supreme Court, go to the best school you can (probably). If you want to impress your grandma's friends, go to the best school you can (probably). If you want to open a solo practice doing divorce law, I'm not sure it matters as much.