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[Jan. 21st, 2013|10:10 am]
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[oohscranton]
Has anyone here attended/graduated law school?

Can you tell me about your experience? Does your coursework differ greatly depending on which area of law you want to pursue?

I am interested in possibly going to law school to provide legal services for low-income/homeless individuals - how different would my law school experience be than someone who wanted to be, say, a litigation attorney?
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[User Picture]From: crackthesafe
2013-01-21 07:05 pm (UTC)

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I can offer my observations based on being the fiance of a fairly recent law grad, if that's helpful. Your first year everyone has the same classes--your core classes, basically. At FH's law school, they didn't pick their schedule or what classes they took; the school just handed them a schedule and that was it. Second year is slightly less structured; you still have some core requirements to fulfill but you can start taking classes that you're personally interested in. Third year is take whatever classes you want plus a lot of people do internships. One of our friends attended law school with FH and although they had some overlapping classes, she wanted to go into child advocacy and so her classes were very specialized for that field while his were more general (since he wants to be a generalist).

As for the experience, it's pretty much the same for everyone as far as I could tell--really your only difference between your peers is what classes/internships you choose to take. Was there something specifically about the experience itself you're wondering is different?
[User Picture]From: oohscranton
2013-01-21 07:14 pm (UTC)

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Thanks for your input. You answered my question perfectly!
[User Picture]From: a_new_machine
2013-01-21 07:56 pm (UTC)

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I just graduated in May from Boston University School of Law (a top-25 school, at least last I checked). I think I need to preface it with a big, big warning: most of the things your law school tells you about itself are wrong. The biggest part of law school is the promise of how much you can make, and how easy it is to get a job. These job statistics are carefully manipulated. Basically, they send out a survey, and when you reply that you're working at Starbuck's for $8.50, they count you as employed (for the purposes of "has a job within 6 months of graduation") but discard your salary from the "average private-sector" number, because you're not in a JD-required position. So you'll see all this fantastic stuff about people making $100K+ their first year. Just understand that this is maybe ten percent of the class, unless you're at a top 14 school.

Second, law school is not going to do much past the first year to prepare you for practice, no matter what they tell you. It's required to practice because the ABA says so, but the first year teaches you how to read a case, and the second and third years are basically that, only with different cases. Oh, and they'll only do federal law in general, because state laws vary too much to test, so you won't learn anything you'll actually use (because 95% of issues are state-level). If you go, do as many clinics and externships as you can, because that's the only place you'll actually learn how to practice.

Third, the types of job you want are actually quite rare, and very competitive. A lot of folks spend a few years in BigLaw and then drop into public service work to salvage their self-image, and because they've paid off their debt. And they'll get the job since they've got 5 years' experience and you don't, so good luck. And of course there's a surplus of lawyers right now anyway (1 in every 2 law grads from 2011 didn't find a JD-requiring job within a year of graduation -- that should scare the fuck out of you). Oh, yeah, those "average public-sector salary" numbers? Mostly made up of government jobs that pay way better than your average legal aid. Even at the top end, a legal aid job will not pay more than 40-50K. Now, that might be OK from where you sit pre-law school, but when you consider that law school is $50,000 a year, you could walk out of just your post-grad with a small house's worth of debt -- before you start paying rent or anything else. It is incredibly hard to deal with that amount of debt with that type of career goal. So go as cheap as you can -- being in the top 5% of a crappy school is going to be better than being in the 50% range of an amazing one, especially if that crappy school gave you a full boat to get your kickass LSAT score factored into its average for US News and World Reports rankings.

Fourth, law degrees are huge red flags for most non-law fields, so ignore the hype that a law degree "opens doors" to non-JD-required work. Nobody wants you if you're just killing time before you get a law job. It can and will seriously restrict your ability to work in different fields. It sucks, but that's the truth.

So with the warnings out of the way, your actual answers. Please forgive my overwhelming bitterness, but I'm studying for the bar at the moment, and... yeah. It doesn't put you in a good space to look back on law school and laugh when you have to explain to the bar examiners why you haven't made a payment on your mountain of debt. Continued in another comment because LJ has a character limit and I'm verbose.
[User Picture]From: a_new_machine
2013-01-21 07:56 pm (UTC)

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1.) My experience was that law school is mostly a waste of time based on a model that's become incredibly irrelevant in the past five years. I actually had a professor tell me that they actively try not to give you any useful skills, because "when you get hired by Skadden or other BigLaw firms, they want to teach you their way, and don't want any residual bad habits." However, Skadden et al. aren't hiring nearly as much as they once were -- I know maybe fifteen people who got BigLaw jobs. Everyone else would've benefited greatly from knowing what a trial calendar was, or what the different "parts" of the New York state court system mean, or even how to create a business plan, or market, or, y'know, any of the things you're going to need to run your own business when you can't get a job. The whole model is geared towards getting you to "think like a lawyer" (that is, know how to read cases and do basic research) and then passing you off to firms who do the actual training in actual lawyer skills for two years. Clients, however, no longer want to pay for those low-level crap associates, so they're not getting hired. They're being replaced with contract-based doc review workers (at a quarter of the pay), or electronic discovery programs, or even, in some cases, folks in India and China who have American bar admission. The job market is just so bad, and the law schools do nothing whatsoever to prepare you for it by giving you practical skills.

2.) Coursework is based on whatever you want to do. They will offer all the traditional, useful stuff (UCC, tax, corporations, bankruptcy, etc.) alongside whatever it is that the professor wants to talk about, regardless of its viability as a job. I did a lot of useless stuff. First Amendment law (which nobody actually does), National Security law (which basically comes down to "it's a political question so we can't litigate it"), municipal law (which is all state-based and so the "broad rules" I learned are useless)... they really do let you shoot yourself in the foot if you want to do that. We had a class at my school in space law. The law of who gets to mine asteroids. Interesting? Certainly! Going to help you at any point in your life? Not so much.

3.) You should do as much clinic work as you can. Most states have exceptions to the licensing requirement allowing law students to actually represent clients, so long as they're properly overseen and they're working for indigent clients. Volunteer at low-income assistance places. Just build a network, and let the classwork take care of itself. Seriously, you'll stress about tests and the like, but unless you're aiming for BigLaw, grades are very rarely going to be the difference. However, knowing people will always get you connections and opportunities.

A bit more advice: be wary of scholarships with a GPA tie-in. Grades in law school are all curved, so only X% of the school can attain a certain grade. If your school is offering you "$30K so long as you maintain a 3.5," know that they're offering that to probably 80% of the class, and only 15% will be in the 3.5+ bracket. Your odds of staying there are not good.

Sooo... yeah. If you want more of my perspective, or some of the data to back it up, check out Inside the Law School Scam, the various employment related tags on Above the Law, or just listen to the WSJ. There are dozens of articles like that last one, btw, I just grabbed the first one I saw on Google.

tl;dr law schools lie to you about everything and are probably not worth the time, you can do more good making a decent salary and donating a big chunk of it, and you won't waste three years of your life and $150K or so
[User Picture]From: oohscranton
2013-01-21 08:12 pm (UTC)

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wow, thanks a lot for your detailed answer and info! sorry the experience wasn't too positive for you. maybe i'll stick with social work.
[User Picture]From: ntensity
2013-01-21 08:53 pm (UTC)

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I agree with all of this. I graduated law school almost two years ago and I'm lucky as hell to have the relatively low-paying job I have now . The classes weren't helpful; clinics, internships and externships were.
[User Picture]From: phenomenal
2013-01-21 09:13 pm (UTC)

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At my school there are a ton of required classes, so the classes you take don't really indicate anything about the field of law you're going into (for the most part.) Your first year classes will be set regardless. Your second year classes may have required courses and you may be able to take electives also. Your last year will be mostly electives, but you may have classes that you're required to take also.

I'm in my last semester. The best experiences I've had so far and the most learning I've done haven't taken place in a classroom, but at my internship.
[User Picture]From: ___tornprincess
2013-01-22 07:58 am (UTC)

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I'm in law school, 5th year (of 5 years). I'm interested in working for the government providing legal services to disadvantaged clients. I live in Australia, so our program is extremely different to the one in America, but I'm sure some of my experience has been the same. I know I'll sound incredibly cheesy answering this question, but law school completely changed my life for the better and it is the best thing I've ever done. I've worked for the actual organisation I want to end up practising with when I've graduated for over a year now, and I'm sure I've made the right decision about where I want to work. I have a lot of lame thoughts and feelings about law school because it seriously did change everything about my life, but I won't ramble on about that.

My coursework is mostly core units - standard Criminal, Civil, Administrative, Constitutional, etc. We also have a few electives, which I've chosen subjects that relate to what areas I want to practise in. So no, it doesn't differ greatly at my law school. The thing is, the coursework itself hasn't taught me very much about law in a practical sense. I know more about law from coursework than my non-law friends and family do, but most of my legal knowledge has come from work experience (which is crucial to your legal career).

My experience is pretty different from people I know still interested in becoming corporate lawyers and making a lot of money. When I started I wanted to work in commercial law and make lots of money, which changed over the years. When I made the decision to follow this path instead, I stepped back from a lot of the typical law school competitiveness and became more interested in work experience than doing everything perfectly at school. My friends who are trying to become corporate lawyers are focused 100% on their study and have not a lot of time for working, etc. They also have to do things like complete clerkships at top-tier firms (super competitive), apply for grad jobs (even more competitive) and do a lot of extracurricular activities within the law school. My experience started out like that, but now I mostly just work (in the legal field) and study to get good-enough grades (say Bs or higher). I don't do law school activities unless they are purely social, and I definitely don't do clerkships or internships.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask.