In the past month I've had two friends (really, younger siblings of friends, but I like to think we're old enough to all be friends now) ask me for advice on law school. And since I was already sharing my wisdom, I thought I'd write it here for other people to add their own. My points will all be a bit superficial- there's a nuance to these questions that an email can't reach and everyone's situation is unique, but for what they're worth, here's my thoughts on law school.
1. Go to the best school you get in to. I can't emphasize this enough. Prior to starting law school, I had no idea how much rank mattered in the legal profession. It was only because I was under the delusion I wanted to be a law professor that I restricted my applications to the top 10 schools (and I only knew to do that because my thesis advisor told me it was necessary). And now, even with $140,000 in loans, I'm so glad I wasn't swayed by the promise of scholarships at lower ranked schools. A first year attorney at a top law firm makes $160,000 a year, but that doesn't do any good if you don't have a job. Of course there are plenty of people at non-top 10 schools who get great firm jobs, you just have to be at the top of your class and/or on law review (or know someone or be really lucky). The higher the rank of your school the less grades matter. This is wonderful because as far as I can tell, much of law school grading is completely random and it's nice to not have your future employment depend on what number your professor decides to throw at the top of your exam.
2. Ask about OCI before you pick a school. This is an extension of the first, but getting a job after law school is supposed to be the reason you're there in the first place. OCI stands for "on campus interviews" and it's the process where a bunch of firms descend on campus for short screening interviews of potential candidates. The ones they like are then flown back to the firm's office for more in-depth interviews (called a "callback" or "flyback." They also usually involve a night at a fancy hotel and a lunch or dinner where everyone pretends to be relaxed you're really still being interviewed. Do not forget this.) I think that at most schools the firms have a say in who they interview at the OCI stage, but at UChicago they do not. We "bid" for interview spots, but it's based on luck and I don't know a single person who didn't end up interviewing with a firm they wanted (most firms add extra spots if there's more interest than anticipated). Firms get our resumes in advance but don't get our transcripts until the interview itself, which means regardless of your grades you get a chance to charm them. UChicago should advertise this more because it really is a huge draw for that school (whereas the quarter system, in my opinion, is a huge drawback). Another plus is that we are not ranked, we are told not to put our GPA (which is never calculated anyway) on our resumes, and our grading system makes no sense.
3. Think about whether or not you really want to be a lawyer. Are you really just trying to stay in school a few more years? Law school is an expensive and stressful way to spend three years of your life if you don't want to make use of your J.D. once you're done. I know there are people working outside the legal profession who would say that law school was an important part of their career path, and I can understand that completely- I may even be one of those people one day. But in general, you're going to be doing something law-related and it's nice if you think you'll like it. And it's completely possible that you can love law school and hate practicing law or hate law school and love practicing law. I'm not sure one has much to do with the other.
4. Mind your debt. I may think it was worth taking on my loans to get that $160,000 job rather than have less debt and no job at all, but that doesn't mean they don't bother me (or haunt me, depending on the day). So remember that student debt is something you have to pay back, with interest. Don't try to keep up with high-spending friends, it'll be worth it when your debt is paid off before theirs.
5. Believe in yourself. That sounds cheesy but I spent my first year of law school overwhelmed by the intelligence and study habits of the people around me. I'm a last minute studier, it's just the way I work. Trying to be like everyone else starting months before exams and making 100 page outlines only made me more stressed and produced my lowest grades. By 2L I trusted myself and my 1-page summary outline worked much better for me than any hyperlinked 100-page all-inclusive bible of legal precedent (all of our exams were open-note, open-book, probably another good thing to ask about before enrolling). You got in wherever you got in for a reason. Yes law school is very hard and you will probably have to work harder than you ever did before, but that does not mean you have to completely abandon the methods that got you there. This also applies to study groups- if you didn't like them before, don't feel like you have to pretend to like them now. I love people, I study alone.
That's it for now. As I said, I know these points aren't universally applicable. There are good reasons to go to less expensive, lower ranked schools, especially if you know what you want to do post-law school and know you will have a way to do it. I've just had friends take the scholarships and graduate jobless and regret their short-term decision. The extent to which law school rank matters (even within the top 10) was shocking to me. I'm not defending the system, there are fantastic future lawyers at schools outside of the top tier, but I think it's important to know about. And even if it isn't a factor in your school decision, it might be for things like whether or not to try for law review or other activities.
And now I'm going to bed. JP's finals start tomorrow so it's just Landon and me every night this week and I'm tired just thinking about it.
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