I guess I’m special

I really don’t have much to say about this right now, but there’s a discussion ongoing about why not to go to law school. The reasons listed in that post are amusing, and some may be true, but I think the correct question is why do you want to go to law school? Just like any other venture that you embark on, make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons.

Why am I special? I love my job.

Everyone knows some happy lawyers. I know a handful of lawyers who are genuinely happy with their work and their careers. But those are special cases, and special people in special situations. The data over the entire population of lawyers are much more grim.

Okay, I’ll say some more. Focusing on the “do-gooder jobs” category, the author says this:

But many public interest careers are practically inaccessible to people with large law school loans and no loan forgiveness program. And over the years I have known many, many law students to go to law school planning to do public interest work and then fall off the rails by third year.

Also, the early years of being a public interest lawyer will be particularly hard for you if you actually care about what you’re doing. There is a fairly steep learning curve in the practice of law, and for the first two years, you are just not competent. At the same time, many clients of many public interest outfits (especially legal aid, etc.) have suffered very badly, and you’re the last person to whom they can turn. Moreover, many public interest outfits can’t afford a lot of training, and are sufficiently understaffed that young lawyers get thrown right into important tasks and often running their own caseload mostly on their own. These facts add up to a reality where you feel really incompetent, but you have people who you care about, who have suffered injustice, relying on your competence to get them through major life problems.

[M]any public interest jobs are very hard to find. I’d edit that remark a little. It’s not that hard (relative to big firms and elite public interest jobs) to find jobs in legal aid, prosecution, or public defense. It’s not super-easy, because law schools are still spitting out far more lawyers than the market can absorb, but it’s not harder than the legal market generally. But the best public interest jobs — the ones that people stay in for years and are happy and have to be carried out on their backs — are the elite advocacy organization jobs. By that I mean the ACLU, NAACP-LDF, Earthjustice, IJ for libertarians, certain divisions of the Department of Justice, so on and so forth. Those jobs are really, really hard to get. The organizations don’t have nearly enough money to hire lawyers, and people do tend to really like those jobs, so few openings come up.

Two things: First, know what you’re getting into. Assess the jurisdiction you’re going to practice in. Does it have a good public interest system? Is the PDs office state-funded and decently paid? What about legal aid? Ask around. Ask about internships. Do some research. As always.

Second: If you’re going into public interest law, you don’t need to go to a top ten law school. There, I said it. I went to a bottom of the top tier law school, walked out with 2/3rds less debt and have a job that pays me enough in a field that I love and will do for the rest of my career. I know plenty others who are of the same mind as me.

Find a school that has a good clinical program (they’re not often the top tiered law schools – those clinical programs may be more famous, but they’re not better) or two and has ties to the community. I can’t tell you how many UCONN criminal clinic grads work in public interest in the State. The clinic has a fantastic reputation (thanks Todd and Tim!). Participating in trial competitions in my second and third year, the school that always won the damn things was Temple. They had a fantastic clinical program and I bet they churn out very, very good trial lawyers who go into public interest law and have no problems getting jobs. Employers in these fields look for experience over journals and moot court. You show them that you know something about being in court besides “may it please the court” and you’ve got a leg up.

SO, if you want to be a corporate lawyer, buy the hype. If you don’t, write a blog post.