Law School Confidentialby Robert H. Miller
Law School Confidential is written for students about to embark on this three-year odyssey by students who have successfully survived. It demystifies the life-altering thrill ride that defines an American legal education by providing a comprehensive, blow-by-blow, chronological account of what to expect. It arms students with a thorough overview of the/i>… See more details below
Law School Confidential is written for students about to embark on this three-year odyssey by students who have successfully survived. It demystifies the life-altering thrill ride that defines an American legal education by providing a comprehensive, blow-by-blow, chronological account of what to expect. It arms students with a thorough overview of the contemporary law school experience. This isn't the advice of graying professors or battle-scarred practitioners decades removed from law school. Miller has assembled a panel of recent graduates to act as "mentors", all of whom are perfectly positioned to shed light on what law school is like today. From taking the LSAT, to securing financial aid, to navigating the notorious first semester, to taking exams, to applying for summer internships, to getting on the law review, to tackling the bar and beyond...this book explains it all.
- Law Preview Book Review
". . . walks the reader from the decision to go to law school through the bar exam. . . a useful, worthwhile book."
- New York Law Journal
"Miller has decorously armed his readers. . . excellent advice."
- The Docket
"This abundance of information is just the remedy for the nerves of a student anxious to enter law school. . ."
- Journal of the Denver Bar Association
"This book is a must for anyone attending or thinking about law school."
- The Houston Lawyer
"... pulls no punches in providing revealing and honest advice for all three years of the law school experience..."
- Law Preview
- St. Martin's Press
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Law School Confidential Revised Edition
A Complete Guide to the Law School Experience: By Students, for Students
By Robert H. Miller
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2004 Robert H. Miller
All rights reserved.
Thinking About Law School? Think Again ...
The most important piece of advice that can possibly be given to you, the prospective law student, is really very simple. Surprisingly, perhaps, it has nothing to do with how to study or how to write a good exam. It is not about how to glean wisdom from the dusty pages of the supreme court opinions that shaped our country, or how to make the law review, or how to impress an employer in a job interview. Those things are important, but they're all secondary.
The most important advice that you can get as a prospective law student isn't even about law school. It's about you — and it can be summed up succinctly but completely with a single word.
Commit. That's it. "To carry into action deliberately." Commit.
Show up for your first day of law school with only a vague notion of why you're there — without a clear set of reasons for putting yourself through the punishment you're about to endure — and you'll be setting yourself up for a miserable and unfulfilling three years. Show up committed, with a well thought-out set of goals supported by reasons for attaining them, and the experience can be exhilarating.
The choice is yours. You picked up this book looking for answers, or maybe a "quick fix" that will put you ahead of your competitors in the rough and tumble world of law school. You have it in one word: commit. That's it. Don't "decide" to go to law school. Don't "try" law school. Commit to law school. That is the pure axiom of law school success. Commit, or forget it — for in law school, to quote an ancient Jedi master, "there is no try."
Still with me?
Now ... about the cocky guy next to you who just put this book back on the shelf with a "Hrumph" after reading these first few paragraphs — don't worry about him. That's the overconfident guy who will spend the first many weeks of law school casually reading cases, partying in the bars, and teasing you about studying too much. Learn to love that guy because he's someone you're going to flog on your first-semester finals. Trust me on that, because I used to know that guy.
He was me.
Step number one on the road to your commitment to law school is to ask yourself one critical question.
Why do you want to go to law school?
No really. Think about it. What's driving you? Why do you want to go to law school? Force yourself to come up with an answer.
Okay, now be honest. Does your answer, or something like it, appear on this list?
because my mom/dad/sibling/relative/friend is a lawyer
because I took the LSAT and got a really good score
because I'm not good at science and wouldn't be able to get into med school
because lawyers make good salaries and have financial and/or job security
because most of the people at my school are applying to law/med school
because I watch Law and Order/Homicide/L.A. Law and think they're interesting
because I read Grisham/Turow/Baldacci novels and find them fascinating
because I don't know what else to do and law is a respectable profession
because my parents/relatives/teachers/friends think I'm a "born lawyer"
If it does, all is not lost. It just means that you need to rethink your motivations, because these just aren't going to cut it for you. Let's dispel some illusions.
My relative the lawyer made me do it
First of all, what is it about your parent/sibling/friend the lawyer that makes you want to follow him into his profession? Is it the money? The prestige? Do you even know whether this person is happy practicing law? Have you asked him lately? More importantly, have you ever followed this person through a typical day — or even better, a typical week? Ever ask this person what he likes least about the law, or about how much time he spends in court compared to how much time he spends with his nose buried in the books? Ever ask how long it took him to make partner, or how many hours a week he had to work on the road to becoming partner? These are revealing questions that may help you explore a career in law more realistically. Ask them before you romanticize your relative, the lawyer.
I can't ignore this amazing LSAT score, can I?
Why not? The LSAT is allegedly an aptitude test that predicts how well you'll do in law school, but the effectiveness of this correlation is controversial and much debated. A good LSAT score is a tremendous asset when applying to law schools. In fact, there's a whole chapter in this book devoted to teaching you how to get the best possible LSAT score. What is certain, however, is that the test bears almost no resemblance to what you'll be doing in law school, and even less to the actual practice of law. Both law school and law practice require well-developed research and writing skills, and to a lesser extent, oral advocacy proficiency, none of which is tested on the LSAT. There are no legal concepts tested on the LSAT, which in many ways, is basically a souped-up, trickier SAT. Yet some would use a good LSAT score to justify law as a career choice. A good LSAT score may bring you to the dance, but it's no guarantee that you'll be happy to be there.
I don't have a mind for science, so ...
Otherwise known as the old, "I can't be a doctor because I couldn't hack Orgo, so I might as well be a lawyer" rationale. Where's the logic in that argument? We're not playing the game of Life here — this is the real thing. Contrary to the beliefs of many, there are other career choices besides law, medicine, and investment banking. Maybe you should explore some of these. Take a year off to travel, learn a language, teach, write, or work for a nonprofit or volunteer organization. Start your own business. Think a little and figure out what it is that you like to do. Just don't fall into this ridiculous three-track mind trap and go straight for the law school applications because all your friends are doing it. To quote your mom, "If all your friends jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge ..."
It's the economy, stupid
This one is one of the biggest misconceptions of them all. If you're going into law because you think it's your road to riches, stop, and go directly to business school or ignore the advice in the last section and become an I-banker. That's where the real money is these days. While it's true that associates in big-city law firms make six-figure salaries right out of law school, in a good year, I-bankers at comparably large investment firms make that much in bonuses. Similarly, a successful business idea can bring you a partner-level salary two or three years after start-up, not to mention stock options and a flexible work schedule.
Remember this — the average lawyer's salary in the United States is still about 40,000 per year. Sure, partners at big city firms may pull down a million a year ... but it may have taken them fifteen to twenty years of eighty hour weeks, two failed marriages and a heart attack to get there. Meanwhile, the prosecutors you've romanticized may make as little as 25,000 a year while working the same hours. So don't kid yourself. A career in law does provide some job security and a good assurance that you and your family won't starve on the streets, but if money is your primary motivator, there are much easier ways to make your millions.
This ain't Hollywood, son
That brings us to the unspoken reason why many people go to law school — the secret longing to be Tom Cruise in The Firm, Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird, Sam Waterston in Law and Order, or Johnnie Cochran in the O. J. Simpson case — uttering phrases like, "if the glove doesn't fit ..." to a worldwide audience of millions, and bringing the opposition to their knees with a brilliant legal checkmate. Unfortunately, this too is a romanticized picture of the law. Most lawyers never make guest appearances on Larry King or get to parade secret, star witnesses into court to the gasps of the gallery. To 95 percent of practicing lawyers, law is not a glamorous profession. If your aspirations about law school center on supercharged days before a jury, a worldwide audience, and invitations to appear on national television after your latest victory, it's time to refill your prescription.
Most lawyers, even the really good ones, typically toil in the state and lower federal courts, often on mundane legal issues. Most lawyers will never argue before the United States Supreme Court, and an appearance before a circuit court of appeals or a chance to break new legal ground may only occur once or twice in a career. That's not to say that your days as a lawyer won't be interesting or intellectually challenging. Many of them will be. But they won't be like what you see in the movies.
Finally, remember that even what you see on Law and Order is the culmination of hundreds of hours of hard work in the library reading cases, developing theories, drafting court briefs and memoranda, and taking depositions from unwilling witnesses in law firm conference rooms — things the producers will never show you on television. For every hour of court time you log, you may spend fifty hours reading, researching, and writing. If you become a civil or criminal litigator or a prosecutor, you'll have your days in court before a judge and jury — but if you go to work for a big-city firm, it may take you five to ten years before you see a courtroom, and even longer before you'll try your own cases. In the meantime, you'll be a researcher — analyzing issues, finding applicable cases, and writing memoranda to the more senior associates and partners in the firm. You'll typically be asked to work sixty to eighty hour weeks, late nights, and at least some weekends.
Your fate is typically better in a smaller firm, or working for a state or federal prosecutor. Doing so can bring these opportunities much more rapidly — often within the first year or two, but these positions typically pay much less.
On the corporate side, it is much the same story. If you want to become a dealmaker in a large city, you'll need to get in line. For the first few years, you'll be paid handsomely to draft boilerplate agreements and spend late nights at the printer arguing over the placement of commas in merger agreements and initial public offerings. Remember that at a big firm, there are up to sixty starry-eyed associates in your "class," all of whom want the same plum assignments that you do. Someone has to do the scut work, though, and for the first few years, that will be you. While smaller firms again offer more rapid opportunity, the deals are also smaller. Further, someone still has to copyread these agreements — and that someone is still going to be you. Oh — and if you're thinking of going the in-house route, remember that most corporations won't even consider hiring someone right out of law school. You'll need some years of firm experience first, so you're back to square one again.
Of course, there are exceptions to all of these scenarios. Partners in big firms will occasionally take promising young associates under their wings, channel them interesting and important work, or provide them with uncommon opportunities to sit "third chair" in a trial, or to help "put the deal together." Be clear, though: These are the exceptions, not the rule. The road to partnership is paved with the broken bodies of disillusioned associates who became bored and disenchanted with the work they were given and left voluntarily, or who, after seven years spent toiling in the mines, were told that they were not on the partner track and should look elsewhere for employment. In a typical large firm, of an entering class of forty associates, one or two will survive to make partner eight or ten years later.
Hey you! Yeah, you — the one with the distressed look on your face about to reach for Med School Confidential instead. Relax. It's not all bad. It's just that there are so many people out there with misconceptions about law practice that we needed to clear the delusions away up front in order to approach this experience with more realistic expectations. Now that we've done this, it's time for more introspection. Let's explore whether you have an accurate picture of what your law school experience will entail. As you read the questions that follow, carefully consider the answers that come from within. Pay particular attention to the "Yeah, buts ..." that come up. Trust me — it's better to deal with this crisis now than to experience it a month into your first semester ...
A Realistic Evaluation of Your Fitness For Law School
Go somewhere where you can be undisturbed for the next thirty minutes or so and force yourself to answer the following questions honestly. What follows below is a realistic picture of what the day-to-day grind of law school is all about. In fact, in many ways, it's also an accurate picture of what the day-to-day life of a young lawyer is like, too. So forget the glamorous pictures of law practice you've seen on television and in the movies and be honest with yourself. While very few people will find themselves completely in love with the thought of spending their next three years holed up in a library, if what you see below is too far out of sync with what drives you, your misery may last much longer than the three years you'll be in school.
How comfortable are you with the idea of spending the majority of each day in silence, reading difficult material?
Do you, or could you have the stamina to read dry, complicated material for four to six hours a day, every day?
Are you self-reliant, or do you depend on others for constant encouragement, evaluation, and/or affirmation?
Can you seize the main points of an assignment and move on, or do you typically get hopelessly bogged down in detail?
Are you disciplined enough to get up and attend classes every day?
Are you comfortable speaking out in class and speaking and arguing in front of others?
Have you been able to "will" yourself through difficult periods in your life?
When you don't understand something — are you capable of teaching yourself?
Do you enjoy doing research, searching through books in alibrary or online databases for pieces to a puzzle or "the answer" to a problem?
Do you like to write critically and analytically?
Is your personality more proactive than reactive?
When you've given your very best effort, will you be able to sleep at night knowing that you've done the best you could, or are you more likely to beat yourself up wondering if there was more you could have done?
Are you ready to make the law your life for the next three years, by subverting most of your hobbies, other interests, and your social life to serious academic dedication?
It's probably obvious from the way these questions were worded, but you're looking for mostly "yes" responses — or at least the probability that you'll be able to work up to "yes" responses on each of these questions. If you've had too many "oh-ohs" during this evaluation, you should take that as a warning. For example, if you don't like to read, you're making a big mistake applying to law school. In order to help you examine your readiness for law school, let's develop these areas more completely.
The reading load
The typical law student will read in excess of three thousand pages of case law, hornbooks, and outlines during a fifteen-week semester. In that semester of 105 days, that means roughly thirty pages of reading every day if you read seven days a week without ever taking a day off. At an average rate of ten pages per hour, that means three hours of reading per day, every day, with no weekends, holidays, or excuses. Naturally, that's an unrealistic expectation — but realize, of course, that when you start taking days off, the missed reading starts backlogging and piling up on other days. In my own experience, in the first year of law school, I generally read for about four hours a day, six days a week. That of course, is in addition to class time, and time spent outlining what you've read. But we're not talking about the time commitment yet, just the reading. Recognize what you're signing up for. If you can't fathom yourself reading law for about four hours a day, six days a week, you might want to start reevaluating your career choice.
Excerpted from Law School Confidential Revised Edition by Robert H. Miller. Copyright © 2004 Robert H. Miller. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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