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.

Monday, September 19, 2005

A lot of words that aren't mine

Okay. A smart blogger would take the e-mails he got in response to the post on Saturday looking for people's thoughts about law school and being a lawyer and figure "okay, cool, one a day, that's a week of content." But it feels like I'm cheating if I do it that way, because it's just a gimmick to get people to come back and to save me from having to think of anything to say. I hate it when I go to weblogs that'll, say, do an interview with the GM of a baseball team [Athletics Nation, an awesome blog that doesn't deserve my tiny little complaint here] and split it up into three parts and make me remember to come back. So here's a heck of a lot of really interesting content. People's thoughts on being a law student and a lawyer. This is cool stuff, and I want to just throw it all out there right now, and then worry about whether there's any common theme or what I have to say about it later. So... besides the one I posted yesterday, here's most of the rest of the responses I've received -- I'm saving one for tomorrow, about the LSATs, since it's different from these. (Note to people who e-mailed me: I'm assuming everyone wants to be anonymous, and done some small editing in brackets to make an effort to keep you anonymous. If for any reason you don't want to be anonymous, e-mail me and I'd be glad to put down your name.) If more come in, I'll post 'em as I get 'em. I hope they keep coming. This is interesting stuff to read.

I. Prospective Students

Post #1

Unlike most applicants, I was well into my late 20's before I realized that law school was something I was interested in. As a biochemistry graduate student it was assumed that I would follow the well-established path to becoming a research scientist, either in my own lab or at a pharmaceutical company. However, I'm now in my 6th and final year of graduate school, and for almost 3 of those years I've known that the bench was not where I wanted to spend the rest of my life.

Where could I find a profession that allowed me to use my love for and knowledge of science without forcing me to do benchwork? I considered the handful of alternatives that are most common, such as science writing and others, but it was law that appealed to me the most. Instead of tedious research, I could work for a company or a firm and be handed all the freshest and most interesting research.

Not surprisingly, I have received some criticism regarding my decision to leave behind the benchwork and the research for law. There is a general feeling among research scientists that intellectual property, however necessary, can get in the way of advancing knowledge. Others wonder why I'm spending 3 more years in school instead of finally getting out into the work force. The vast majority of graduate students do post-doctorate work after they defend their thesis and graduate. The post-doc can last as long as five years, and although they do have a salary during this period, it is much less than a full-fledged research scientist makes. So I usually bring up the point that instead of making little as a post-doc for 5 years, I'm going in the hole for 3 and then entering the workforce. I still don't know who wins that particular argument.

I'm now in the middle of obtaining my Ph.D. and working on entrance to law school, including LSAT prep and writing the all-consuming personal essay (both of which I should be working on right this minute!!). Added to those monumental challenges is the myriad of small ones. Can I afford law school? Which school do I go to - the big name or the great program? Can my wife, infant son, and I survive on her salary alone? Will she be able to find a job wherever we decide to go? Is intellectual property a field I will always love working in? Will I succeed at law school?

Amazingly, identifying the course of my life was incredibly simple compared to the many decisions I must make in the next 10 months. Hopefully, 25 years from now as I look back on my life, I'll have made all the right ones.

II. Current Law Students

Post #2

What I wish were different about law school:

I attend a 2nd tier law school in New York City. The pressures that press are different, I think, than those on students at NYU or Columbia (or *shudder* the dreaded Harvardlings & Yalies). I love my school. As a focused and driven student, I get a great deal of individualized attention from incredibly accomplished professors. As this same focused and driven student, I encounter a great deal of awkwardness [from fellow students].

Having obtained multiple offers from top ten law firms in NYC, I am part of a [very small group of people] at my school. Of the rest of the student body, about 10% has managed to land a job somewhere in BigLaw (very few in top twenty firms). The rest flounder - if they wanted to be here, they couldn't. Now, don't get me wrong, I wouldn't trust some of my fellow students in a padded room with a sharp stick, but others are quite bright, and just had an off day at the LSAT, or didn't have a private school college education, or whatever, and should be landing in the top 1/2 at NYU, where they'd have everything they wanted, instead of the top 1/2 at my school, where they're left with few opportunities for lucrative work; instead, my friend at the 25th percentile, who speaks [a number of] languages, who has international project management experience, and who spent this past summer in [a foreign country] learning about [its] legal system, is unable to get an interview at an NYC firm.

I would change law school so that the entrance requirements for the elite schools, and thus the job opportunities for the elite jobs, were not so stringently based on factors that correlate so closely with class and race privileges. If, indeed, the elite law schools actually attracted the best and brightest, then they would attract fewer of the whitest and richest.

I chose this law school despite it being ranked lower than other schools to which I was granted admission because I never imagined that I'd have the opportunities that seven (of eight) good performances on pressure-filled essay exercises (aka "exams") would give me. I wanted the lower debt burden (having been awarded a scholarship at entrance) and its concomitant freedom. Ironically, I am now poised to accept a position at one of the best law firms in the world, earning more money than 90% of my classmates, and I get more financial aid than all but 4 others, whose packages are equal to mine. Am i the one who needs it? Hell, no! Will I turn it down? Hell, no!

I have no beef with my success - I worked very hard, and would come out on top at any school. But . . . it's obvious that the system is broken, that it favors those whose achievement comes not because of hard work, but by dint of being born to families with connections to Exeter, the Ivies, etc. It's not that there's NO possibility of someone lacking those connections achieving that success (I'm an obvious example), but that those connections determine success more closely than do talent and intelligence. Ultimately, I just wish that more of my smart friends could have these chances, instead of the students at the bottom of the class at more highly ranked schools.

It'll be weird having lunch with the Ivies next summer...

Post #3

I study at [a law school in Australia]. The law degree has to be combined with another degree like Commerce or Engineering etc which means it takes 5 years to complete our undergraduate studies. (It's supposed to give us a broader education or something... or maybe it's just a torture device - I haven't quite figured this one out :) )

What I have noticed throughout law school is that there are a lot of Law Students. Not just law students according to the usual definition "those who study the law". But the stereotypical ones. Usually, their most annoying characteristic is hiding books in the law library's air conditioning vents so others can't find them.

This year, being my 4th, I have to apply to be what you call Summer Associates at megaginormous law firms (we call it Summer Clerkships Programs). And I've noticed that this process brings out the inner Law Student in many people.

They would say things like "I've heard so many people say they are not applying for clerkships and I used to encourage them to apply but now I just think 'oh good, one less person to compete with!'"

People you would normally say hi to and have a 10 minute chat, suddenly become schmoozers who would much rather speak to the partners at a law firm's information functions than undistinguished characters like their friends. They would strive to impress with sugar-coated phrases while reciting that partner's CV as well as their own.

And I guess that's what most annoys me about law school. It makes some people so competitive that it is not a place where we can learn from each other any more. They care more about money, jobs and exam results than who they have in their lives. Sure law school teaches you how to think like a lawyer. But I can see that law school might also make you think that is the only way to think and if you truly believe that then you end up pushing a lot of good people away.

I am glad, though, that it's not all doom and gloom. I have made some great friends in law school and we always laugh together and learn together. I suppose in this kind of competitive environment, we have to adapt and insulate ourselves to some extent or else we would go mad. I have also had some very good lecturers who say to us "never forget the way you thought before you started". Through the clerkship process, I have met some lawyers who are passionate about what they do and they love going to work each day. And these are the kind of experiences I hold onto because they inspire me to be a better person/law student and they remind me that we are all in this together.

Post #4

I just spilled tomato soup on my offer letter and contract. It’s all signed and sealed, waiting to be placed in the mail. Once I mail it, I will have officially accepted a full-time position at a big law firm, to join their corporate group. Most of my peers at school are jealous. My parents could not be more proud. I’m already tallying up my budget for next year according to the generous salary I’ll be provided. However, the letter sits on my dining room table, and soup gets spilled on it. I’ve walked down to the mailbox 7 or 8 times in the past few weeks. I open the mailbox, slide the letter in, and immediately pull it out again, run back to my house and lock the door. I’m not the only one of my peers that has done this. I just can’t do it. I can’t willfully accept this job. It’s almost like standing on the balcony of a high rise in New York City and putting your toe over the edge. Much like that would be, my body’s survival instinct kicks in and sends me flying back inside, searching for something sturdy on which to lean.

It’s not like the summer was so terrible. I was really challenged and enjoyed a lot of the work I did. I almost wish I hadn’t done an associateship. The good parts of it tempt me to mail the letter; the bad parts keep me from actually doing it. I kept my eyes open this summer, and noticed too much. I wish I was ignorant, I wish I could be optimistic about my future at the Firm, but I know too much, about myself and about the Firm. I know I can find something there to keep me afloat, I’m just not sure I want to live my life with only my head above water. I’d prefer to work in a career where I’m not just barely hanging on to my sanity and family and friends.

But I really have no choice. My paralysis leaves me with few options. I’ve not looked anywhere else, and I’m too frightened to jump back in to the pit of a job search. My grades are good enough to get a government job, I could always hop back on the public interest train, and I could probably get a job at a smaller firm, one where I’d be a human instead of a mere cog. However, the inertia has sunk in. I’m sure I’ll accept the offer. I just need to get a clean envelope, a bottle of vodka, and a friend to mail the letter for me.

Post #5

I worked for 10 years in consulting before I headed back to school. I'm at [a 4th tier law school]. It's small here, and it's not fancy. We’re getting a good, practical education. The profs are pretty down-to-earth and accessible, and many of them are even brilliant.

Very few of us will even get a crack at working for a law firm. I have mixed feelings about this, but basically it means that the law firm culture doesn't really permeate the school culture here like it does at higher ranked schools. Most of us go into family, real estate, or immigration law, which is not what I’m interested in.

The coolest thing about where I am is that we actually get to think about what we're interested in, and pursue it. There are many paths and sometimes I feel as though I have more options than your classmates do.

So what am I afraid of? When I figure out what I want to do, I'm not sure I will really be able to do what I want. There are a lot of lawyers who graduate from [other] law schools [in this city], and a lot of them want to work here. Most of them go to better schools than I do and probably have better grades. And they will get looked at first, and second, and so on.

III. Law School Graduates


I went to law school, graduated a little over a year ago, practiced law for a short time, and have since become a high school teacher. I get much more satisfaction from my current job.

I am currently living in New York, but went to law school [elsewhere]. The school is ranked low, and basically unknown in New York. My options were limited when applying for legal positions, and although I ended up with a fairly decent job, the fact that I wasn't making all that much money made it a bit easier to walk away. For that reason, I am thankful I attended a lower ranked school; simply put, I doubt I would have had the will power to walk away from those New York legal positions paying top dollar. I do believe in time I would have ended up where I am anyway, but more time would have been wasted in a job that I'm sure I would have thought I had to hold on to.

Often you've posted about people wasting their talents by accepting jobs in law firms only for the money. Those posts always get me thinking. Perhaps if the reasons people end up unhappy in law firms were specified, the aspects that lead to satisfaction within a job might be easier to understand. In other words, if a reason why so many people are not satisfied in law is because the job lacks a creative output, then creativity might be a significant factor in job satisfaction.

Perhaps it is the number of hours most lawyers work that leads to unhappiness. That's the easy answer; all that's needed is a shorter work day to solve the problem. I don't think that's it, though. When I worked as an attorney I often thought about how even if I did everything right, and was able to produce work of the highest quality, the end result of that work, and how that work affected others, did not excite me. How is one supposed to strive to improve if the reasons for improving are not apparent?

In contrast, I am constantly trying to improve as a teacher. In doing so I might be able to get through to my students in ways I would be unable to without the improvement. I have an incentive to work hard. Money, even if my potential was greater as an attorney, did not provide that incentive. Even those who do quite well monetarily are often dissatisfied with their jobs, so I have to believe I am not alone in that respect.

We spend so many hours of our lives working, so the questions you've posed and your apparent concern with finding satisfaction within your profession is something I share. Of course, the greater the importance we attribute to this decision, the more difficult it becomes to find a truly satisfying job. I think it's worth the effort, though.

Post #7

So, I just got my bar scores. I passed the multistate but failed the [state] section. I won't know by what margin for a few days, but I know enough to know that a) I am not a lawyer and b) even if it was close, it wasn't close enough.

Things I Do Not Want to Hear:
- "You'll get it next time." (There may not be a next time. I'm really not sure I want to go through this again.)
- You'll feel better tomorrow. (Fuck you.)
- Any sentence or phrase involving the words "JFK Jr."
- "Wow! Are you disappointed?" (No, I've got Botox coarsing through my veins. Emotion? 404: File Not Found.)
- "That's a shame. (Insert name here), who isn't very smart, passed."
- "You'll get it next time."

Things I Do Want to Hear:

- "I've got this plane ticket to Paris that I'm totally not using. Wanna go?"
- "I've got this gift certificate to Georgette Klinger for a hot stone massage that I'm totally not using. You want it?"
- "There's this amazing art school that is totally hiring and pays well. The principal owes me like 50 favors. Do you want me to make some calls?"
- "I need a housesitter for my villa in Tuscany. Are you busy?"
- "I'm buying the margaritas."