Law Firm Partner Reacts with Additional Insights to “More Thoughts on Law School Rankings: Does it Ever Make Sense to go to a Lower-Ranked Law School?”

Advise-In’s last two posts, parts one and two of “More Thoughts on Law School Rankings: Does it Ever Make Sense to go to a Lower-Ranked Law School?”, had their origin in a few e-mails back and forth with a retired partner of an elite international law firm (I’ll call him Arthur), who suggested the topic to me after reading a previous post.

After I posted “More Thoughts on Law School Rankings,” Arthur, who practiced law for about 30 years, sent me an e-mail that added to what I’d said there (and in one other blogpost).

Arthur’s thoughts are backed by so much experience, and are so clear and valuable, that I asked him if he’d allow me to post his thoughts verbatim.  He prefers to remain anonymous but kindly permitted me to do so.

His views are, in my view, essential reading for anyone considering law school and a career in the law.  Arthur gives terrific advice about thinking about how to decide whether law school and the practice of law are good alternatives for you, how to decide between law schools and how to think about and proceed to look for post-law school legal employment. 

There’s a lot of useless noise on the internet.  There are not nearly enough successful, experienced, smart, responsible and caring people willing to share their thoughts for the benefit of pre-law and law students.  I am thrilled to be able to offer Arthur’s insights, and thank him for being willing to share them with readers (and for saying nice things about my prior posts).

So, without further introduction…

“Kyle, those three blogs include so much powerful good sense, and they always take me back to the thoughts I had about the whole process while I was at [my law firm].  You touch on all of the following, but here were my thoughts that popped up while reading those blogs:

1.  Money is important, but happiness is more important.  (Not to say that having money doesn’t make most people happier than not having money.)  If what you are doing to make money is making you miserable, it’s not a good trade-off.  You have only one life, on average, if you’re lucky, about three score and ten.  Most of those years will be spent working.  And if you become a lawyer, most of your waking hours during those working years will be spent WORKING.  So – what will make you happy when you are working (besides the money)? Answer: What you do and whom you do it with. And whom you do it with will almost undoubtedly be more important to your happiness than what you do.  It took me years and one wrong job choice to understand that.

How can you know what is likely to make you happy?

2.  Know yourself.

3.  Try to get to know the people you will be working with before you accept the offer.

4.  Then ask yourself: Are they pretty much like you?  Do they share your values, your likes and dislikes?  If this sounds a lot like the questions you should ask when choosing a life-partner, it should – you’ll spend as much if not more time with your work colleagues as you do with your life partner.  And while opposites do sometimes attract, they rarely stay together.

You touch on those questions in many contexts – ‘how much you’re like those who are successful graduates of that law school’ / ‘how much do you want to be a lawyer; and how much do you know about what lawyers actually do?’  And you perform a great service to your blog-readers and clients in getting them to ask those questions, which aren’t easy when you are young (and I would guess that most people who are deciding whether to go to law school are young).

5.  Look AT LEAST five years ahead.  You aren’t simply deciding what to do for the next three years when you decide to go to law school.  As you say, ‘Every choice you make — and you will have to make them — begins to foreclose other options.’

6.  Weigh ALL the alternatives.  As a business consultant (which is what I did right out of law school), I found that my clients’ worst decisions were made when they posed the question as ‘should we do X?’  Because by posing the question that way, by analyzing the consequences of doing X, they often forgot to analyze the consequences of doing Y or Z as an alternative – or even simply doing not-X!  So, when deciding whether and where to go to law school, do all the analysis that you can on that question.  But also set out your alternatives clearly and analyze those as well.  Work? Grad school? Try to build a business? Whatever.

7.  Law school is trade school.  It is hard to believe that this still happens (it’s not the 60’s!), but I still hear young people saying ‘Well, I haven’t decided what I want to do, so I am thinking about law school’ – as though that opens endless possibilities, rather than foreclosing them.  Now, it is true that if you go to a Top 5 or 10 law school, the people you meet may well open possibilities to you (other than practicing law) that you wouldn’t have otherwise had.  But what law schools teach is how to be a lawyer – or at least how to analyze problems like a lawyer, and the subject matter of various areas of the law (how to be a lawyer you won’t learn without working as a lawyer).  Oh, there may be the odd course on the philosophy of law, etc., but you don’t need to go to law school for 3 years to take that course.  If you decide to go to law school, you are going to a trade school, where the trade is law.  Period.  If you don’t want to practice that trade you should almost undoubtedly not go to law school – any law school.

8.  Incurring a lot of debt to make a bad investment is bad; losing three years of your life to make a bad investment is worse.  Back to that three score and ten:  Of those, your best working years constitute half – 35 years.  So if you waste three of those years going to law school when you shouldn’t have, or going to the wrong law school, you will have lost almost 10% of those best working years – a huge cost.

9.  NOT going to law school is a better choice than going to the wrong law school.  Just as not marrying is a better choice than marrying the wrong person.  Oh, yes, any life experience, even a bad one, should teach you something.  But three years and many dollars of debt?  No, if X is going to law school, then think very hard about alternative not-X!

10.  One other thought about how to choose among those third- and fourth-tier law schools (if that is what life offers you):  Find out what firms interview at the school and how many interview slots they offer. Yes, you may be able to get an interview with a firm by lobbing in a resume without an on-campus interview.  But the on-campus interview process is much more efficient and more likely to lead to a job offer.  So, long before you get to that point, you should find out what will be available to you on campus.

I can see why you took up your new business.  You have the opportunity to help so many people increase the probability of life happiness!”

On behalf of my clients, readers and myself–thanks, Arthur.

~ by Kyle Pasewark at Advise-in Solutions on January 25, 2011.

4 Responses to “Law Firm Partner Reacts with Additional Insights to “More Thoughts on Law School Rankings: Does it Ever Make Sense to go to a Lower-Ranked Law School?””

  1. […] to core principles.  Your investment in law school is an investment in a career, as a longtime law firm partner recently suggested on this blog.  What most people want out of a career is a good living in a job […]

  2. […] 10 based on who you are, but they are very few.  As a law firm partner noted in an earlier guest blog, you should make your initial employment decision in a way very similar to choosing a life […]

  3. […] guest bloggers and I talk a lot here about the care you should take with your law school decision, and the […]

  4. […] law is.  In other words, “Why weren’t you concerned that I’d be happy?”  So, my guest bloggers and I persistently point out the risks and dangers of law school and a career in law (we probably […]

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