Monday, March 10, 2008

a potpourri of pre-L advice

alright, i see a bunch of different topics in the questions thread, so i'm going to address what i can.

the summer before law school

as far as the summer before law school, Butterflyfish is correct--you don't need a law job the summer before law school. in fact, it's probably better not to have a law job that summer, because all you'll be doing in law school is law. take a break from it, since you'll be doing law all year from there on out, between law school and summer jobs in legal workplaces. the summer before law school i worked the same two jobs i'd been doing through my year off after undergrad. i was working part-time barcoding books in a library, and i was working full-time waitressing. the barcoding job was mind-numbing, and i hated it, but i needed the money and it was an easy job at a library i had been working in since my second year of undergrad. the waitressing was much was something i knew i'd never be able to try again, and something i had always wanted to try once. that's my suggestion...if there's some kind of summer job you can do for a short period of time before you start law school, something you've never done and always wanted to try, do it. it doesn't have to be anything taxing or academic...specifically, it's probably better for it not to be, so you can come to law school as relaxed and clear-headed as possible.

on coming back to school, after working

to the person who was wondering what it would be like to be working and then coming back to law school--don't worry about the college kids being ahead of you. i wasn't out of school quite as long as you were [one year, not four], but coming straight from undergrad isn't much of an advantage. in fact, it could be an advantage. some people come straight from undergrad to law school when they're really burnt out on school. if you've worked for a couple years and now feel ready to come back, you'll be in a good, fresh mindset--which is everything when starting your 1L year.

don't worry about being rusty with studying. law school is completely different from undergrad. it's a different kind of class, a different kind of reading, and a different kind of school experience. you will have a massive amount of adjusting to do to figure out how you best internalize law school information--but so will everyone else, whether they're three months out of undergrad or thirty years out of undergrad. i'm glad i took that time off after undergrad to work...i got some interesting experience, and i came to law school with a fresher, happier mindset than i would have had i gone on straight from undergrad.

choosing a law school

my personal experience in choosing a law school was atypical. at the time i was choosing a school, i was in a serious relationship with a person in St. Louis. i wanted to be near him, but i wanted to go to a law school where i'd have a good time [even if the relationship went south], i'd get a good education, and be able to easily move somewhere else in the midwest if i wanted to. so, Wash U was the only school i applied to, and that's where i went. it turned out to be a great decision...i love the school, i'm still glad i went there even though the relationship ended fall semester of my 2L year, and i got a great job in Chicago for after graduation. that's my background on this issue.

what's my suggestion? figure out what's most important to you. if you really want to work public interest, go somewhere where you'll take out the least loans, or even no loans at all. if you have a specific geographic area in mind, look for schools there. if you don't yet have a specific city in mind, then pick a school where you'd enjoy living for three years, but be mindful that the school is well enough regarded in places that you're interested in that you can get your foot in the door. if you plan on working a high-paying job at a large firm, especially if you're not wedded to any specific geographic area, it is probably best to go to a top-tier school if you can get into it, and pay the loans down.

whether you're planning on public interest or private sector, geography is a key consideration. unless you're planning on working in one of those really huge markets that are so popular that you don't need geographic connections to work there [New York, DC...], consider seriously going to law school in your chosen market if you're intent on working there. in small to medium markets, employers are extremely concerned about your local connections, and about whether you're actually going to stay in the market for the long haul. so, if you're dead set on a small to medium market, prove your dedication now, and pick a law school there.

[ineedhelp, or anyone else...i'm currently a 3L at Wash U, so if you have specific questions about it feel free to email me at, and i'll be glad to respond!]


it's a tradeoff between laziness and penny-pinching. the old editions are mostly like the new ones, but not exactly. if you get the old edition, you'll have to compare it with someone who has the new one, get the different page numbers, and search for the new cases that were put in the book. some books there's very little difference; some books, especially in fields where the law changes a lot, there's a ton. 1L books are probably less likely than most to have major differences, but there are no guarantees.

what i usually do for books is order them online. you can get them significantly cheaper from places like amazon and than you can from the bookstore, even if your bookstore sells used books. i never get anything but the most recent edition, because i'm not willing to take the time to compare them to the old editions to see what's different. but, i can usually get a good deal on the newest one if i shop online. it's still pricey, but i feel it's justifiable.


Butterflyfish said...

Concurring opinion:

I agree with the holding and reasoning of this post but would like to add some helpful dicta.

"on coming back to school, after working"

I was about 10 years out of undergrad and quite a few away from my MS that I earned part time while working. Everyone starts off on the same foot in law school. In some ways, the terror works to your advantage. Most everyone works hard, not everyone works smart. Practice exams and working the Examples and Explanations books!! See prior posts.

Monica Parker said...

your advice is excellent. here are my additions:

"the summer before law school"

i was working in management at a grocery store chain. it was also the summer of the '96 olympics. so i quit my job and spent the summer going to olympic events and spending time with family and friends. it was like summer break during college all over again. so i was ready and refreshed before i started law school.

"on coming back to school, after working"

like the person who sent you the question, i worked for 4 years before coming to law school. what you and butterflyfish said is right on point. straight out of undergrad, 4 years out, 10 years out, you're all in the same boat. you've just got a bit more maturity than the undergrads. things go wrong you don't freak out quite as hard because you know in the real world academic challenges don't mean your world is coming to an end.

great post!

nameless student said...

I concur in part and dissent in part.

- On coming back after working

I spent four years out between undergrad and law school. I found that I did have a harder time getting used to a a law school regimen in the beginning than students straight out of school: I wasn't as used to the reading or a classroom dynamic, and I got more frustrated with profs who played hide-the-ball and the semi-patronizing attitude of the school on things like job hunting. The tables turned, I think, by the middle of the first semester: I was better at dealing with deadlines, could compartmentalize stress more effectively, and didn't wait to have answers handed out to me. So while I think students who spend time out have a bumpier road in the beginning, I think they have a long-term advantage.

Note that there's also a different dynamic when it comes to job hunting. Some employers prefer students straight out; some like some experience. Many (in my experience) are suspicious of students who've been out for more than 3-4 years and want an explanation for career switches - just something to keep in mind.

- On choosing a school

I agree that a school's subject strengths and geography matters. I hate to be the one to say it, but so does school rank. It's stupid - really stupid - but prospective employers do care about school ranking, at least by tiers. And don't think that public interest employers don't fall into the same trap. They might not if you want to work for a local public defender or for a small direct services group, but many of the big public interest orgs (e.g. the ACLU, NAACP, Sierra Club, etc.) are even pickier about credentials than large firms.

kat said...

I graduated with a BA in Philosophy June 2009, and am finally ready to return to school. I'm looking for a program with a focus internationally and in humanitarian advocacy. Where would you suggest I start to find programs with these strengths?

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