I went to law school for all the wrong reasons. Ten years later, I can now say that it was the best life decision I could have made. Unlike others who plan for many years to go to law school, I decided to apply to law school after reflecting on a conversation I’d overheard at a party.
What I had overheard was a colleague tell her friend that she was planning to go to law school because it was a great degree; she had no intention of being a lawyer but knew that a law degree could be useful for so many different careers.
“Is that so?” I thought. "Great for careers other than being a lawyer? That might be good for me. How do I get into law school?” Most people spend time thinking about this life decision, learning about the degree, learning about the opportunities that will come up if they have the degree, and the career they can have after law school. Since I wasn’t going to be a lawyer, I suppose I thought I’d figure that out later.
This was stupid.
Before I go much further, let me stop for a moment and debunk this myth that law school is good background for many different careers. Going to law school without any other plan or further training in mind is not a great way to land yourself an unspecified plush job in a non-law field . Although it may be an interesting thing to have on your resume or “sort of” useful background training to be a journalist (for example), I can guarantee you with 99.9-percent certainty that there is better training than law school out there for most nonlegal careers.
Law school is expensive and gruelling. You have to work very hard to get into law school and work hard throughout law school. My recommendation is that if you don’t want to be a lawyer, even for a short time, don’t go to law school.
I didn’t want to be a lawyer before I went to law school, but I have, obviously, become one; more importantly, I am happy with my decision. Why? Law school was really hard. The first few years of practice were very difficult, but in addition to the interesting people I get to meet and the interesting work I get to do, I have a solid, marketable skill. With a bit of creativity, this has meant I have been able to build my own business the way I want. Self-determination cannot be underrated.
That said, when I look back to the start of my law career, I could have done it better. If I had spent time consulting with others and researching a legal career, I may have prioritized different things and stressed less about things that I can see now don’t matter.
So, here are three things I wish I’d known before I went to law school:
1. Law school is ground zero for your legal network. The friends and connections you make in law school will serve you throughout your career. These are the people that will help you do better at law school by getting you the right outlines, sharing information, commiserating when you’re stressed, etcetera. They will also be of assistance later in getting you a job by telling you when there is a secret job opening or recommending you to an employer. They will send you client referrals and even help you promote your business. They will also be there as trusted resources to consult on points of law you’re not familiar with and to share their resources.
So—I cannot stress this enough—make friends at law school. This will be your most valuable asset to your career in law.
In case you’re wondering, I made great friends at law school; but if I had known how important my law-school network would be, I would have spent more time building and nurturing these relationships as opposed to stressing about reading one more case.
2. Unless you were born in a legal family where you have already been steeped in this world, you will find that law school is an introduction into a specific culture with values and unwritten rules that are likely different than what you’ve encountered before.
This can be incredibly disorienting and confusing. For some, it may make you feel even more marginalized that you did before. You don’t need to take these values on yourself, but the faster you learn these values and unwritten rules prevalent in the profession, the sooner everything will start to make sense and you’ll be able to get to where you want to be.
I wish someone had told me this. I would have spent more time exploring different post-law school opportunities to find one that would work for me while I was at law school and less time doing what I could to purposefully reject these new values. I can say, however, that I figured it out in the end.
3. Lastly, you don’t need to read everything all the time. You will be buried under information and material to read at law school. One major goal to achieve at law school is to learn how to filter through vast amounts of information in a short period of time to get the information you need to know. This is a large part of what you will do as a lawyer.
For those of you considering a legal career, I can tell you it is a rewarding, if at times frustrating, profession. For those of you embarking on a legal career, I wish you the best of luck as you make your way forward, and I hope this article was of some help.
A word of caution: you should not act or rely on the information provided in this column. It is not legal advice. To ensure your interests are protected, retain or formally seek advice from a lawyer.