Monday, January 25, 2016

What is law school really like? // part 3

Katie is an attorney & works for the State of Washington - she's in the Corrections division, which is the same division we worked in during law school and where we became so close (nothing like bonding over inmate law suits). Like Corey, she was a bridesmaid in our wedding and I couldn't have imagined law school without her help & support. (She single-handedly ensured I passed Evidence :))


Why did you decide to go to law school?
I am definitely the opposite of anyone who went to law school because they always wanted to be a lawyer when they grew up. I never thought that! But I always was interested in the idea of law school, even though looking back, I can say that I actually had no idea what law school was actually like. I think most of my ideas about law school came from movies and TV shows, which is embarrassing but true. Then, during the two years before I went to law school, I was unsure about actually going into the field that I majored in. I figured that if I went down the route I was on, I’d always wonder what would have happened if I went to law school—but if I went to law school, I didn’t think I’d have any regrets about leaving the other field behind. So law school it was.

Was there anything about law school that surprised you?
It was actually less competitive than I thought! I had heard the stories that one-third of students drop out, and that people hid books in the library so that their classmates can’t find them. Things like that didn’t really turn out to be true. Of course, I’m sure that depends a lot on the school. That’s also not to say things weren’t competitive. You can’t get away entirely from being competitive when you and your classmates are literally ranked based on your grades. Still, overall I was surprised by how not-cutthroat things turned out to be.


What were some of the greatest challenges of law school?
The learning curve is huge. The first week of school, I remember learning that state courts and federal courts were different (wait, what?!), and I had to stop and think each time I read about a “plaintiff” because I couldn’t remember which side that meant. We had to learn an entirely new way to write. Before we could write, we had to learn an entirely new way to do research. It was a lot to take in.

Were aspects of law school that were easier or harder than you had thought they'd be?
Easier: class. No, really! Once you get through 1L year and know how to read a case (as in, how to skim-read to get to the important parts), preparing for class becomes a lot easier.

Harder: Everything beyond class. I honestly think I spent 10% of my "school" time as a 2L and 3L on preparing for class, with the other 90% being all the extracurricular stuff. I wound up thinking at times, "wow, law school would be so easy if all I had to do was prepare for class." And then, strangely, 1L year, which was so overwhelming at the time, looked simple and appealing. Go figure!
3L year in a nutshell. Doing work for one extracurricular activity (law review) 

while on a plane for another (moot court). No actual homework in sight.

Which year of law school is the hardest?
They are all difficult for different reasons. 2L and 3L year were incredibly hard work, mostly because of all the extracurricular activities (journals, moot court teams, clubs, jobs) that get added to your workload. If I had to pick one, though, I’d say 1L year was the hardest. Everything was overwhelming. I didn’t know how to read a case and spent hours reading and highlighting and looking up words in the dictionary. I couldn’t remember what a plaintiff was. It was all pretty terrible. 1L year was basically about building a framework for legal knowledge from the ground up, and starting from the bottom was extremely difficult. 


What did you not learn in law school that you wish you had?
This is a horribly practical answer, but I wish I had taken more bar classes. Most subjects that are tested on the bar are also required classes in law school, but some of them are not required, and you can leave law school not having taken them. I would say most people have about 1 or 2 bar subject classes they don’t take, and the bar prep companies usually tell you it will be no big deal to learn those subjects for the first time while studying for the bar. 

For me, I never took Sales or Secured Transactions in law school. OH BOY, do I wish I had taken Sales. I spent so much time last summer learning it all for the first time. I was also very, very glad to have taken a couple other bar classes (Trusts & Wills and Family Law) during my last semester in school, because those were fresh in my mind while studying for the bar. Based on that, here is my completely unsolicited recommendation for planning a law school schedule:

1L: Take the required classes. You don’t get to pick your schedule this year.
2L: Take classes you are interested in, like IP law or tax law or something. If you take only bar prep classes, you’ll hate your life.
3L: Take all the bar subject classes. Make your life the tiniest bit easier during bar prep!


Do you have a typical response to people when they ask if they should go to law school?
No, because no one has ever asked me that yet! If they did, I think I would ask them why they were considering law school, and would probably tell them many of the same things I’ve said here.

What are some things that people should consider when they’re thinking about whether to go to law school or not?
The main thing I would ask would be, why are you going? Don’t go to make someone else happy. Don’t go for the money. Don’t go for “prestige” or any of that. Law school is a huge commitment, both because of the time and energy it will take from you for three years and because of the financial cost that will likely affect your life for a long time. There’s no reason to make a decision like that unless it’s a decision for you, and you alone. Go because you want to go.

Do you think law school was worth it?
For me, yes. I discovered in law school that I really wanted to be a lawyer, and now I’ve never looked back. However, I think the answer to that question will be slightly different for everyone who is asked. (How’s that for a “lawyer” answer?)



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