Auburn University Philosophy and Law Conference: Lawyers, Academics and Consultants Discuss the Practice of Law and Who It’s Right For

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of participating in a roundtable discussion at the Auburn University Philosophy and Law Conference.  The panelists included two lawyers currently working for the government after long and interesting legal careers, a law professor from Cardozo, two undergraduate philosophy of law professors and me.

The roundtable really became a very active Q&A for pre-law students and interested college faculty.  Since this is law school application season, some of the questions dealt with the nuts-and-bolts of law school applications and law school admissions policies, and were directed primarily to me and the law professor.  So, we talked about the importance of the LSAT, how law school admission committees work, the importance of law school personal statements, some things you should and shouldn’t do in your personal statement and the rest of your law school application package and the impact of the US News ranking system on law school admissions.  It was purely coincidental that yesterday was also LSAT D-Day.

Those are important topics for people who are committed to applying to law school but many undergraduates in the audience hadn’t yet made that decision.  For them, the conversation centered on exactly what it should have:  What’s it like to be a lawyer, and what makes a good one?  Even those panelists who haven’t been practicing lawyers had, in the ordinary course of things, dealt with lawyers, and had (ultimately the most important) views on what makes a good lawyer.

Two things were striking, though not surprising.  Everyone agreed that the best lawyering, and from us lawyers’ perspective, the most satisfying lawyering, is the traditional virtue: being a great counselor.  That’s also the model for Advise-In Solutions and why all of my services are individual, not mass market.  Technical knowledge and ability are tremendously important but are best for clients and lawyers alike when they’re brought to bear in solving a difficult problem in a creative and satisfying way for your client.  That’s sometimes a long and arduous path.  Among many other things, it involves correctly diagnosing what the problem really is, determining possible courses of action, constructing trees of likely results of those courses of action, and readjusting each of those elements for changes in “facts on the ground.”  When lawyers and clients get that right, and get to the best result (which isn’t always the perfect result), it’s a great feeling for everyone.

The second point of agreement was that law school and law aren’t for everyone, and that people thinking about law school should gather a lot more information than they often do before they commit to spending a great deal of money and emotional and intellectual resources to enter a career that may not be satisfying for them or, worse, lead to a very expensive unhappiness.  The seriousness of getting these investments right is a point I’ve been making on Advise-In’s website and this blog for a long time, as have some others (of course, it’s true that most of my income comes after a client commits to LSAT prep and admission to law school).  This week, the economics of the law school decision were highlighted by Slate and picked up by today’s Washington Post, which is good to see (though it would have been nice had the Post disclosed that its parent company is also the parent company of Kaplan—in the online version of the article, at least, it did not; in any case, one hopes that Kaplan representatives are including within their sales pitch some of the article’s cautions and commonly-known data).

This conference was itself a terrific way for prospective lawyers to gather important information and perspectives.  The three lawyers all had quite different personalities, and had taken very different paths over the course of their legal careers.  The discussion usefully highlighted the tremendous variety of legal practices and employers, and emphasized that the key—from law school through to employment—is to find the right fit for your personality and strengths.  A simple example:  some (like me) prefer less conflict-laden environments, and that influenced the type of law I practiced and where I practiced.  Other lawyers get a bigger kick from the smell of napalm in the morning.  What you do and where you do it should fit the dominant features of your personality.  To be sure, one of the keys to successful lawyering is being able to move between various styles, since some situations and counterparties really call for different types of responses at different times.

I commend the organizers of the conference, the Auburn University Department of Philosophy, for putting together a terrific and diverse panel, and for stepping up for students at Auburn who are interested in going to law school.  The students were terrific as well, and I think all of us panelists very much hope that each of them has a deeper framework from which to think seriously about whether law school is the right course for them and what working as a lawyer is actually like.  The Department of Philosophy provided a very important service.  It was my privilege to be part of it.

~ by Kyle Pasewark at Advise-in Solutions on October 31, 2010.

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