I’m always running into someone who is thinking about going to law school and wants to know my opinion, advice, and if I recommend it. First, I never recommend anyone to go to law because that isn’t my place. That decision, like most decisions, should be between you and yourself. Only you know your vision and only you have a clear view of your vision. So, as a reference for those who have asked and those who will ask, I decided to put together a list of all of the things I wish I knew before going to law school. Disclaimer, I love my career and if I could go back and do it all over again I would still go to law school.
LSAT scores matter, GPA matters:
This one may seem like a no brainer, but it wasn’t for me. I knew that my GPA would matter, so as a freshman and through senior year I strived to keep my GPA up and was pretty successful at it. The LSAT is the part I didn’t know. I knew I wanted very badly to go to law school, but I had the wrong mentality of “take me as I am, I just need one door to open–any door.” I do not remember what my LSAT score was but I remember it wasn’t impressive. I also remember that I made the decision to only take it once and to apply everywhere with the hope that I would at least get one yes. Well, I didn’t get anyone to say yes and I was too stubborn to retake the LSAT. I did get a “maybe” and I ran with it. I applied to Florida Coastal School of Law and received a rejection letter. A few weeks later they sent me an invitation to join their “aample program” The program was designed for people we may not have had the best LSAT score but with all factors considered could possibly thrive in law school. Rather than fully invest, the school gave me a trial run. I had to take two 2L level law school classes during the summer. If I received a GPA above 3.0, then I would gain full admissions. Fortunately, I thrived under these circumstances and made it through the doors.
The moral of the story wasn’t to give you a glory story– life doesn’t need to be that hard. My mistake was being stubborn, not studying for the LSAT properly, and not retaking it. If you want to go to law school, study for the LSAT seriously and if you do not do well the first time then RETAKE IT. Invest in a study program like Kaplan. The reason why this is important is because, unfortunately, some employers/internships/clerkships, will still consider the school you graduated from above considering your credentials. Your goal should be tier 1, but if you’re unable to then fret not— you should still consider law school. However, keep in mind that you will have to work twice as hard both in the classroom and at meaningful networking.
Understand and determine WHY you want to go to law school. (Because, honey, Navient does not care about your poor decisions.) :
You need to know why you want to go law school and it needs to be something more concrete than “I like to argue” or “I like law & Order”. You can argue all day without undertaking large student loan debt and a super competitive job market. Figure out exactly why you’ll need a law degree to manifest your vision. This is important because some careers incorporate some aspects of legal and they do not require a law degree. An example is Compliance. Compliance is a large career field and covers a wide range of subject matters. If what you truly want to do falls into a compliance field, then don’t bother with law school and figure out how to get in that field. If what you want cannot be accomplished without law school, then go to law school. This type of understanding is a lot harder than it seems. It will take a lot research and the guidance of trusted mentors to figure out. My suggestion, find someone who is doing what you want to do and ask them how they did it.
Have a plan. Write it down. Then throw it out:
I know. This contradicts with the last thing I just said…sort of. This is for my people who have their acceptance letters and are ready to go. This advice is predicated on the simple notion that nothing ever goes as planned. You should have a plan but that plan should also be flexible. When I started law school, I had a plan. I was going to get great grades, land an awesome internship, and said internship would hire me as an associate. These things did happen, but not in the way I planned. Because my plan didn’t pan out perfect, I had several anxiety attacks and an existential crisis. (I’m being dramatic) In all seriousness, I wish someone would have told me that law school isn’t a one size fits all process. So yes you may have the top grades but that doesn’t mean you’ll have the one-size fits all outcome.
Humble thy self or life will:
During my first year of law school, several students came in very cocky. Some felt that because they scored in the 90 percentile of the LSAT that they were automatically going to earn a spot on law review and/or finish in the top 5%. Others wouldn’t stop belittling Public Defenders or Assistant State Attorney salaries because “they would never work for that amount money”. (Side-bar those are actually very hard jobs to get because those attorneys tend to be an elite group). Well some of those 90 percentile students ended up in the bottom of the class and even struggled during the bar exam. The others that belittled the ASA and PD salaries, ended up accepting jobs for less and in the private sector. So, in the words of the great Kendrick Lamar “sit down, be humble”.
In all seriousness, this part is important because your classmates become colleagues/opposing counsel/employers/judges. People will remember your poor attitude and your arrogance. Some may be forgiving, others won’t be as much. Your career can be defined during your first year of law school, be kind to everyone.
First year of law school is the most crucial year of law school:
This absolutely needs to be the year of no distraction. I had a general idea about this going into law school, but I really wish I had a mentor who sat me down and shook me until this was embedded in my brain. You need to do everything you can to position yourself to have the best grades. Not only is you graduating class rank determined during this year, but your study habits are too. During the first year you need to learn, and you need to do it very quickly, how you learn. Let me unpack that. Figure out the best way to retain information and to apply it. Because you can memorize rules all day, but honey if you can not apply those rules then you already lost the battle. Your study habits will become your bar prep study habits. The Bar exam is probably the most important exam your going to take.
Grades are also important for landing that coveted summer associate position and most other internships/externships. You’ll need the grades if you want to make Law Review and you should want to make Law Review. Your ability to earn high grades, land a summer internship, and make law review will all be factors in landing your first Associate Attorney job offer. Remember, the job market is extremely competitive.
Law School is Graded on a Curve:
Speaking of grades, majority of law schools grade on a bell curve. Not all curves are created equally. The graded curve means that there is a pre-determined median grade that is the same for every class in the school. So for example, if a school follows a B curve that means all of the grades in that class are curved so that the majority fall within the median. There are also outliers, the top students will score above the bell of the curve and earn higher grades than the median. Students will also fall at the bottom of the curve and earn lower grades than the median. You do not want to be at the bottom. Repeat that. Restate that. Don’t forget that.
Here is how it all works. In a traditional grading system if you earn an 80 on an exam you’ll earn a B and it would not matter what your classmates scored. In law school your letter grade for that 80 would depend on how well or bad your classmates performed. So if majority scored an 80, then the professor would scale that 80 to reflect the B curve. Any student scoring higher or lower than median would be the outliers. It is important to understand this grading system because law school exams aren’t about doing well on the exam it is about outperforming your classmates.
Life is short and so is law school, take the chances:
I’m a very timid person in large spaces or when I’m first getting to know a person. Needless to stay, I struggled bad with networking and building meaningful relationships. Partly because I was always criticizing myself and my abilities to the point that I felt inferior to lawyers who had been in the profession for years. I felt this way despite work ethic and good grades. It took a lot of self-reflection and time to get over that. Then one day I decided to take a chance.
I applied to an externship with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission(SEC). I knew I had the grades and all of the qualifications but I felt like my application would get lost in a pile of applicants. Two months went by and I didn’t hear anything. I attended the Minority Mentoring Picnic that was held in Miami. Towards the end of the event, I finally saw a booth for the SEC. I mustered up the courage, walked up to the booth, introduced myself, held a conversation, and mentioned my application. That following Monday morning I got a call from the SEC and scheduled an interview. Within a week, I was offered the externship. I couldn’t help but think “what if I never walked up to the booth”, “what if I let my fears control me”. That moment completely changed my outlook on networking and taking chances. In life you have to shoot your shot. Sometimes you’ll make the shoot and sometimes you’ll miss. The only way to win the game is to keep taking the shot.
Don’t forget to take care of yourself:
I think in general, we aren’t taught about self-care enough. This is especially important if you’re going to go to law school. I really wish I knew this going in, instead I had to learn. Luckily, I had the help of one of my best friends that I met in law school. We had this thing where would say that I kept our academic life together and she made sure we had regular life in order. So for example, I made sure we had study rooms booked and outlines. She reminded me to do things like my laundry, cook, and take personal days for mental health. Your first year is very important and you need to focus on your academics but you also need to focus on you and your personal life. Life is about balance.
Prior to going to law school, I read the book How to Lie with Statistics written by Darrell Huff. As you can infer from the name, it was all about how you can essentially lie or misconstrue an issue based on statistics. Statistics are positive indicators but it does not take into account outlying factors. Once you get to law school, you will hear nothing but statistics. The bar passage rate, gainful employment, etc. Understand that you are not in control of these numbers, these numbers do not dictate your future, and they certainly aren’t telling of what the numbers will be for your year. Control what you can, which is you and trust in the process.
Never comprise the integrity of the Juris Doctor or Esquire out of Desperation:
Bills–we all have them. Your bills will still become due when your stipend ends because you’ve graduated. Understandably, you’ll want to get a job as soon as possible. I understand that life happens but do not settle for scraps. Do not settle for a job that wants to undercut you way below your market value. Stay persistent, continue to network, and be patient. This sounds like it is meant for students who are already in law school, but this applies to law school hopefuls. It should matter to you why I would even give this advice.
THE END, for now.
If you still want to go to law, please consider all of the above factors. A legal career can be extremely rewarding but if you’re ill-equipped or unprepared for what you’re actually signing-up for, then you will be extremely disappointed and frustrated. My last piece of advice is to find a mentor who is a practicing attorney before you ever even begin the application process. Actually seek guidance and be confident in your decision.
Did you find this list helpful? Do you have any questions? Tell me below!
— Esquire in Love.
DISCLAIMER: This post was intended to be a general overview of the author’s personal experience and advice. This post is not intended to offer criticism or promote any institution or program. Statements herein shall not be construed as testimonials, admissions, or for any other purpose. The author fully reserves all rights.