The Graduate is a new blog feature considering college majors, graduate school, and a look into career options beyond higher ed.
For the past decade, teens have consistently rated becoming a lawyer as one of their top career aspirations (following careers in medicine, education, and STEM fields). Careers in law are often depicted as sexy, whirlwind, detective style who-done-it professions- and probably just a bit over glamorized – in popular media today (except for you, Amal Clooney: swoon. Looking at you, SVU and Suits.) but what is a career in law really like, and what does it take to get there?
Should I go to law school? Is pre-law an undergrad requirement to get there? Is being a lawyer actually worth it? We reconnected with corporate lawyer and Role Call interviewee Erika Payne, JD, for some hard nosed advice about a highly sought after field. Here are her points to consider:
Do Your Early Years Right. First off: your major doesn’t really matter for l law school admissions (don’t do pre-law, please), but probably don’t major in art. (I think everyone should major in business, but that’s beside the point). Grades, LSAT, and the prestige of your undergrad institution do. Do well in high school (yeah yeah), and go to the best college you get into and can afford. Get good grades in college. And study your butt off for the LSAT.
Prestige Matters. It sounds a little harsh, but I always say that you shouldn’t go to law school unless you get into a T14 or money isn’t an object (either because you’re loaded or you get a nice scholarship). It isn’t 2006 anymore, and jobs are not there for the taking. Firms and lawyers are snobby – more so than other industries I’ve come across. If you don’t go to a top tier school, you’ll struggle to find a competitive job. If you go to a lower tier school, you may struggle to find work as a lawyer or at all.
Then, once you graduate, go to the best firm you can. Controversial advice, and advice I didn’t exactly follow myself. But, looking around 7 years out, the big boys (and girls) all have very shiny resumes, and are certainly no worse for the wear. And, hard as they can be, law firms provide indispensible training. I would hesitate long and hard before hiring someone in-house that didn’t have at least a few years’ training in a law firm (in corporate law – not litigation).
Go in With Your Eyes Open. Everyone gives this advice, and they give it for a reason. There are a lot of unhappy lawyers out there. Lawyers are REQUIRED to get substance abuse training in NY. It’s hard to truly know what you’re getting into, but there are ways. Sit down with lawyers and ask them what they actually do on a day-to-day basis. Intern at a law firm during college. Be a paralegal for a year or two after you graduate college. It’s hard to know whether you will enjoy the work, and whether you can stomach the often long and unpredictable schedule, until you have seen it first hand.
Being a Lawyer Isn’t Actually That Bad. Unless you’re a career big law lawyer, your life doesn’t have to be that different. My first few years out of law school were tough. We were young and in our 20s, and, while my friends were making plans to get together for drinks at 7:30, my response was always “maybe.” That was hard for me. 7:30 is fair game if you work for a law firm, and if there’s a deal going on, plans are expected to be cancelled, no questions asked. However, now that I work in-house (at a company, not a law firm), I have it pretty good. I have an interesting job with reasonable hours that puts me in the ring, and I am able to lead a comfortable life. When you’re making your decision, the consequences at 3 years may be different than at 7 years and at 12 years. What seems like a bad move at one point could be a great one later on.
Understand what law school is, and isn’t. It is a trade school. It’s a tool to get you a job. It won’t teach you to be a lawyer. Do not go because you like to argue. (Even lawyers don’t like those people). Do not go because you find the study of law interesting. Go because you are making the informed decision that you want to be a lawyer. Unless you get into Yale or Stanford. Then, god speed. You shouldn’t be taking advice from me.
For more information, visit The Girl’s Guide To Law School.