Law School Discussion

3rd Year Associate at AM LAW 100 Firm Answering Questions

3rd Year Associate at AM LAW 100 Firm Answering Questions
« on: March 07, 2013, 06:45:26 AM »
Hello All,

Back when I applied to law school, I was on this board too much for my own good.  I had a lot of questions, and the answers always seemed to be coming from other people like myself, i.e., people who had not gone to law school yet, were not lawyers, had never been on an interview with a big law firm, had not interviewed law students for a job at a big law firm, and generally had no idea about the profession.  Thus, I thought I would "give back" and see if any of you have questions that I could answer.

I'm currently a third year associate at a regional office of an AM Law 100 firm.  I went to a top 25 law school and graduated in the top 10%.

Here is some general advice, for what its worth:

(1) Don't go to law school: Law school is probably for about 5% of the people that go.  Really.  While I'm not a huge fan of Tucker Max, his thoughts are pretty spot on:  If you are itching to go to school, I would suggest an MBA.

(2) 90% of you will not be in the top 10% of the class.  Accept this now. 

(3) If you do go to law school, I would starting thinking about a career path outside of an AM LAW 200 firm RIGHT NOW.  I have friends that have started their own practice and they love it.  While the first year to a year and a half were rough, they now make about the same amount as I do.  They have also created jobs, don't have to answer to partners, probably learned more, and are generally very satisfied with their choice in life.

(4) I would strongly recommend that you apply/attend a school in the area where you want to practice that is (1) cheap and (2) has a good (or better) reputation locally.  Keeping you debt down should be your #1 priority.  I think most of you haven't faced down $150K+ in debt.  I have about half of that and its miserable.  I can't imagine what its like to pay $1500 a month for the next 25 years for the privilege of working 60+ hours a week.

(5) On a related note: if you don't get into Harvard, Yale, Stanford, or Chicago you are going to need good grades.  Yes, that includes other "T-14" schools that report grades.  Time and time again, at the two firms I have worked, life experience plus good grades at a well respected school trumps (on paper) a straight out with no experience, that did mediocre or worse at Georgetown or Cornell.

(6) If you are going to do well in law school, you are going to do well regardless of what school you go to.  I have nothing to back this up other than experience, but doing well in law school is not something that comes naturally to most.  If you are able to figure out the secret sauce, it will probably put you in the top 25% of most law schools.  Thus, if you see (4) and (5) above, go to where school is cheapest and reasonably respected.  If you do well, you will have opportunities at a "market pay" job.  If you don't, then you should start your own practice and have as little debt as possible.

(7) Finally, you are all smart.  I don't know any of you, but if you did well enough on the LSAT to go to any law school, and have good enough grades to consider going to law school, you are smarter than the vast majority of people.  Guess what: EVERYONE IN LAW SCHOOL IS SMART.  Understand that and check your ego at the door.  You cannot go into this thinking you are going to be the exception because, odds are, you are not.

If you have specific questions, fire away.  I'm happy to answer.

Re: 3rd Year Associate at AM LAW 100 Firm Answering Questions
« Reply #1 on: March 07, 2013, 12:55:37 PM »
I agree with most of your points. I'm recent law school grad, and much of the "advice" out there is amateurish claptrap from 0Ls and law students who have no clue what they're talking about. They simply ape what they've heard elswhere, or regurgitate the USNWR rankings.

When I was a 0L, I too made assumptions about the legal market based on the uninformed opinions of others. Since working at a firm and a government office, however, I see now that although some of my assumptions were correct, others were completely wrong.

(3) If you do go to law school, I would starting thinking about a career path outside of an AM LAW 200 firm RIGHT NOW.  I have friends that have started their own practice and they love it.  While the first year to a year and a half were rough, they now make about the same amount as I do.

This is a great point, and should be taken to heart by anyone considering law school. I'm convinced that much of the hand-wringing and high unemployment stats we see are the direct result of 1) unrealistic expectations, and 2) people having no clue how to actually get hired.

Unrealistic Expectations
Law students need to understand that the first few years out of school will likely be difficult, and they shouldn't expect to land their dream job at age 25. The people I knew in law school who expected to land great jobs and high salaries right out of the gate usually ended up disappointed and bitter. Those who focused on gaining lots of good experience in marketable fields of law, however, got employed.

Many law students are convinced that the only road to success is via large/mid-sized firms, and they're wrong. They consider small firm/solo practice as something to be shunned, but are clueless as to the potential for a good income. I met a guy recently who graduated from law school two years ago (a T4, no less) and has his own DUI solo practice. He charges 3K a pop, and brings in one or two cases a week. Even if you assume only four cases per month, that's 144k a year. Not exactly wealthy, but a helluva lot better than doc review. 

Getting Hired
If you're not graduating from an elite (or at least highly respected) law school, it's imperitive that you gain meaningful experience. The vast majority of law students will be competing for jobs at small and mid-sized firms, and perhaps local government offices. In my experience, personal connections and practical experience will often trump things like grades and school rank when it comes to landing these jobs.

Smaller offices don't have the time or money to spend hundreds of hours training a new associate. They need people who can hit the ground running. That doesn't mean they expect you to take a case to trial on day one, but they aren't interested in people who need lots of supervision, either. Most law students would be better served spending their days at a small firm writing motions and interviewing clients than by writing a law review article that no one cares about. If you can do both, so much the better.

I also think that part of the reason that the unemployment rate is so high is because people insist on applying for jobs for which they're simply not qualified. Law students must understand that you've got to make at least some effort to tailor your job search. Mass resume dumps don't work.

I worked at a firm that expanded quite a bit while I was there. When a position opened up, it was the typical story: we'd receive tons of resumes. But here's the thing, the vast majority of those applicants were completely unqualified. Not because they went to lower tiered schools or didn't have high grades, but because they lacked any relevant experience whatsoever. We were a civil litigation firm, and we'd get applicants whose sole experience was a one semester internship at the DA's office. Needless to say, those applicants didn't get interviewed. Keep this in mind when you're looking at unemployment rates. 

If you're smart, personable, and make a serious effort to gain experience and connections, you'll probably be alright no matter where you graduate from. If, on the other hand, you're immature and inexperienced, you're going to have a very tough time finding a job, grades and ranking not withstanding.


Re: 3rd Year Associate at AM LAW 100 Firm Answering Questions
« Reply #2 on: March 09, 2013, 09:34:15 PM »
I think there are many OL's and I always encourage anyone on this board or others to not take what they read from anonymous internet posters like ourselves seriously as we can write anything we want.

With that said I think plenty of people are happy with law school and plenty are miserable. I believe Maintain hit the nail on the head when he said that law students have unrealistic expectations. First if your goal is to work in Big Law then go to Harvard, Yale, Stanford, or bust and even then there is no guarantee it will happen. I will say that I went to a mediocre law school, but had realistic expectations. I got a large scholarship to keep my debt low, worked in government positions during law school, and got a job as a City Attorney after passing the bar. I love my job as a lawyer, but I am not ever going to be driving a Ferrari or own a beach house in Malibu. I do get to bust crack houses, be in the paper, and do exciting stuff that I enjoy and I am very glad to have attended law school, but I was realistic with my expectations.

OP also makes a great point that everyone in law school is smart and do not count on being in the top 10% of your class. 100% of people cannot be in the top 10%, but I know everyone on my first day of law school thought they would be in the top 10%, but you don't need to be math major to see how that works out. I think you can apply the same logic to big law only about 5% of lawyers work in Big Law as OP does and therefore if as a OL it is your job to work in big law there is a 95% chance it won't happen. However, if you really want to be a lawyer and have some cause you believe in that law school can be a great career, but one thing law is NOT is an easy way to get rich. If money is your main goal law school is not a good choice.