Law School Discussion

Taking a break from school.

Taking a break from school.
« on: February 26, 2010, 11:16:35 AM »
I'm sure I'm just like many law students - we get humanties degrees, don't know what to do, our lawyer-filled families suggest we go to law school, we say 'what the hell?' and do it.

I'm in the second semester of my first year. I don't like it; I dislike most of my classmates, find much of the material mind-numbing, and .. just don't really want to be a lawyer at this point. Then again, I've still got the same problem I had when I walked out of the auditorium with my philosophy and english BAs in that I have no earthly idea what sort of career I could go into other than law.

I've been itching to get out of the country for a while, perhaps with some foreign aid work - peace corps, etc - or maybe teaching english as a secondary language (TESL).

Let's say I went with either after this semester and spent 2-3 years overseas.
If I felt like coming back to law school, how would potential employers view a 2-3 year break between the first and second years?

I assume it would be with skepticism and they might think it shows a lack of dedication, comittment, seriousness (and it probably does).

I realize most of yall will say that I really should drop out anyway, and that's probably true, but I am curious anyway. I don't have any other idea what to do. I had some hopes of being a philosophy professor once, but the job market in academia is shakier than even that of lawyering.

Thanks.

Re: Taking a break from school.
« Reply #1 on: February 26, 2010, 12:51:21 PM »
If you do something law-related abroad for the two-year stint (volunteer with the Int'l Criminal Tribunal in Rwanda, for example) then it will probably help your resume for public interest employers.

Law firm employers would think it shows a lack of dedication, commitment, seriousness, strategic thinking, and stability.  It'll look like you couldn't cut it in 1L and burned out.  That may be the truth, but that's a little like wanting to be a doctor after failing the freshman year bio weed-out course.

Also, you should make the decision knowing that if you decided to go back to law school you may have a more difficult time getting back in, and you may even have to repeat your 1L year. 


Re: Taking a break from school.
« Reply #2 on: February 26, 2010, 01:01:12 PM »
I'm sure I'm just like many law students - we get humanties degrees, don't know what to do, our lawyer-filled families suggest we go to law school, we say 'what the hell?' and do it.

I'm in the second semester of my first year. I don't like it; I dislike most of my classmates, find much of the material mind-numbing, and .. just don't really want to be a lawyer at this point. Then again, I've still got the same problem I had when I walked out of the auditorium with my philosophy and english BAs in that I have no earthly idea what sort of career I could go into other than law.

I've been itching to get out of the country for a while, perhaps with some foreign aid work - peace corps, etc - or maybe teaching english as a secondary language (TESL).

Let's say I went with either after this semester and spent 2-3 years overseas.
If I felt like coming back to law school, how would potential employers view a 2-3 year break between the first and second years?

I assume it would be with skepticism and they might think it shows a lack of dedication, comittment, seriousness (and it probably does).

I realize most of yall will say that I really should drop out anyway, and that's probably true, but I am curious anyway. I don't have any other idea what to do. I had some hopes of being a philosophy professor once, but the job market in academia is shakier than even that of lawyering.

Thanks.


Aloha, Stylee -

First, congratulations.  Really.  We often think that "finding ourselves" means justifying a path we've already taken, but the fact that you've expressed serious reservations (albeit in the heat of the semester) is important.  You're quite right that many law students fall into law school as much as they choose it.  Paradoxically, this isn't always bad.  But it's certainly cause for the sort of circumspection your question exemplifies.  So, thus the congratulations are genuine.  (I'd bet 92% of your classmates are thinking exactly the same thing.)

To your question:  employers won't care (usually), as they WILL care about two things: (1) school + grades; and (2) personability.

Believe it or not, taking a year or two off will not usually be determinative.  Clearly it presents logistical challenges (depending upon the school and OCI process), but again, legal employers are looking at the world rather differently than law students.

However . . . it seems that your perspective is not likely to be conducive to a big firm job (to which the above is generally directed).  Anyone seeking a stint in the Peace Corps is likely to find more comfort taking a job as counsel in the Peace Corps (or like organization) after the stint, rather than an 80-hour-a-week highly paid legal sweatshop. 

(Note:  I am NOT commenting on the wisdom of this, as that's really the question for each of us.  It's easy . . . too easy . . . to assume that the six-figure job is the way to go.  The truth?  It is, but only for some . . . and not based just on grades, but more importantly on the soft factors you mention.  Some people are happy in a big firm; most are not.  Will YOU be?)

A thought:  whether you decide to teach English abroad, join the Peace Corps, VISTA, or some such, there's really no impact in terms of your current options.  In other words, completing your first year or not is unlikely to make a difference.  It IS, however, likely to make a difference in terms of your asking the nagging "What ifs" years later.

My suggestion?  Complete your first year.  If you plan to take a break thereafter--perhaps a permanent one--you'll have a different perspective on law school.  Chances are, you'll have a healthier perspective, and chances are almost as good that you'll actually perform better than had you stayed in your (dis)stressed mode.  Why?  Because the way most law students study and act is inefficient and, usually, counterproductive.  This is because the world of the law student is viewed as a student, not as a future professional.   Etch this in your mind: while you might find discomfort in how law school makes certain people act out in hypercompetitive and negative ways, ALL of that will be irrelevant.  The ONLY thing that is relevant (to employers especially) is how one learns the law.  For employers, this is viewed through the prism of the law exam.  So, as much as you can, ignore the bad and do NOT succumb to this.  It is absolutely essential, regardless of what you decide (and, if you do continue, how you place) to stay true.  Presumably, this means staying honest and cheerful--or at least honest and pleasant.  I know this sounds outrageously chipper, but it really, really will make a difference.  For all, remember that you will be WORKING with these people for decades.  Even if you move elsewhere, you'll be surprised at how many times your colleagues' names come up.

I hope this helps,

Thane.

PS:  For thoughts on what employers will care about, there's a book I read that might be helpful.  It's "The Insider's Guide to Getting a Big Firm Job: What Every Law Student Should Know About Interviewing."  Your question reminded me of the foreword to that book, by Morten Lund, who wrote the two "Jagged Rocks of Wisdom" books.  His books are excellent.  (Better than mine!)  Morten is a partner in a big firm, and he tells it straight.  I highly recommend all three, regardless of what you do.  (Seriously, even if you decide to join an ashram, Lund's two books will be invaluable.  Okay, maybe not an ashram.  But an MBA and nearly everything in between, yes.)

Re: Taking a break from school.
« Reply #3 on: February 26, 2010, 01:08:15 PM »
Wow. Thanks so much, Thane.
Incredible answer.

I have people who would be able to help me some in this line of questioning - my father, f'rinstance, actually teaches law - but I don't feel very comfortable talking to them about it.

Your answer was terrifically helpful.

Re: Taking a break from school.
« Reply #4 on: February 26, 2010, 01:15:13 PM »
If you do something law-related abroad for the two-year stint (volunteer with the Int'l Criminal Tribunal in Rwanda, for example) then it will probably help your resume for public interest employers.



Exactly right.  If you do decide to return to law school, a law-related break would clearly be better.  (Even firms won't mind a break, provided it's not too far off the mark.  Also, if you learn a language during this time, you open up a new set of options, branches of big firms as well as numerous other offices in need of bilingual talent.  Careful, though.  Many expatriates end up staying for decades.  = :  )

Re: Taking a break from school.
« Reply #5 on: February 26, 2010, 01:43:50 PM »
I reckon I wouldn't mind staying for decades on a beach in Costa Rica or Honduras...

I guess I didn't even consider the possibility that I'd have to repeat 1L even if I completed it.
That's probably something I need to ask the admissions office at school about.

fwiw, my grades were completely average. I did very well in some classes - contracts, criminal, torts - and truly pathetically in others - civil procedure, legal writing, legal "traditions."
I was actually pleasantly surprised by my grades because I honestly spent about 5-10 hours a week studying outside of class. This isn't undergrad where it's cool to talk about what a slacker you are though, right  ;)

I don't really know anything about what schools are in what tiers but I go to LSU. They're ranked like...75?

So, all-in-all, I wouldn't be that attractive a candidate for any employer anyway. I just wasn't sure if taking a break would be putting the nail in the coffin if I wind up "having" to be a lawyer.  Thane's given me a nice little jump start for further investigation.

Re: Taking a break from school.
« Reply #6 on: February 26, 2010, 07:52:01 PM »

I was actually pleasantly surprised by my grades because I honestly spent about 5-10 hours a week studying outside of class. This isn't undergrad where it's cool to talk about what a slacker you are though, right  ;)



As it happens, a book I edited (and almost vetoed) was The Slacker's Guide to Law School: Success Without Stress.  It has probably the best section on "Should You Go?" of all the pre-law books.  You comment reminded me of the second part of that book that is important: the disconnect between study (which most law students measure, masochistically, as raw effort) and grades.  The law students with the best grades do work hard, but probably not the hardest.  And some who work uber-hard end up with mediocre grades, or worse.  This goes to the difference between what we assume law school tests and what law school actually tests.

So, consider that, with a bit more focus and effort, you might actually place very well indeed.  Then, the ranking of the law school, while important, won't be determinative.  (Not least because, if you do especially well, you might be able to take a break and then transfer to another law school.  If you're at all so inclined, another book you might find useful is The Art of the Law School Transfer.)

Whatever you decide, best of luck.