Over the coming weeks, law students across the nation will begin classes. In 2018, I published a blog post with advice for students entering law school. The points I focused on were not often, if at all, mentioned in this kind of writing. These points remain relevant in my opinion today. Also, I have reprinted my original suggestions largely unchanged:
1. You should think carefully about the type of law that you wish to practice.
Lawyers enjoy a relatively high social and income status. Studies repeatedly prove that lawyers feel deeply unhappy. It is higher than other professions. Many lawyers hate their work. However, it doesn’t have to be this way. You can choose from many different legal career options. It’s possible that you will find the right one for yourself. One person might not like working in a “Biglaw” company, but they may find happiness as a lawyer for the public or family. You need to think about what legal profession best suits your interests and needs to reap the benefits of all this variety.
Many ways can you find information about possible options. One place you can start is by talking to your school’s careers office. This should provide details about many options. A lot of schools have alumni who are working in different types of legal professions. You can get a feel for what it is like to be a Field X Practitioner by talking with them.
However, you shouldn’t “go with it” when choosing the type of legal career that you wish to pursue. Many of the jobs your classmates are interested in may not suit you, or vice-versa. Remember that there are likely to be more options for you now than in the next five to ten years. It may also prove difficult to change to a different career field after graduation.
2. Learn as much as possible about your professors and classmates.
Law is an “people” industry. It is vital to build connections. You can’t be a brilliant legal thinker if you work alone. You might find that many of your classmates from law school are useful contacts down the line. These are often true in big schools with a large alumni base that go on to become powerful politicians, judges or partners in prominent firms. This is also true of schools with more local or regional reputations. Many of your former classmates may be able to help you if you are interested in a specific career. This is also true of professors who often have strong connections to their field. It can sometimes be more difficult to get to know them than students. The effort can often be worthwhile. Many of them will be more than happy to share their knowledge.
This was one area where I did not do well in law school. But I’m still going to recommend you listen to me and not do what I did. Learning from my error will make you a better person than repeating it.
3. You should think about whether the things you want to do are right or just.
The law presents greater moral problems than other professions. Innocent people’s liberty and property can be lost or their lives. They can save them all. It can also save all three. Lawyers played critical roles in nearly every significant American advance in liberty or justice, such as the Constitution’s establishment, the Antislavery Movement, and the Civil Rights Movement, among others. However, they are also responsible for most of our great injustices.
Robert Cover’s classic novel Justice for the AccusedThe book describes the ways in which some of America’s greatest legal minds and judges became complicit with slavery perpetuation. It is a piece that really made an impact on me as a law student. Even though we have come a long way since then, we still live in the Fugitive Slave Act era. Unfortunately, there are still serious injustices within the system and attorneys whose work perpetuates and worsens them. Lawyers still come up with dubious excuses to deport literal escapees to countries where further oppression is likely.
It is a good time to get involved in ensuring that the profession you choose is ethically acceptable. Your career doesn’t have to be devoted to good works. However, you must avoid exacerbating injustice. You can do this by thinking about all the relevant issues while there are still many choices, rather than waiting to get involved in injustice-producing jobs. You and, more importantly, the victim may find it too late.
Point 2 has been highlighted by the Covid-19 epidemic. It was an extremely serious issue that many people lost contact with each other. We should use the opportunities offered by vaccinations and natural immunity to help bring this back better than what most educational institutions have done in the past academic year.
It’s not necessary to reflect on the importance of Point 3 in the past few years. It is enough to state that there have been many instances of lawyers helping the good guys. Even if the goal is not to maximize the first, it’s important to try and avoid contributing to the second.