In light of our upcoming book, Outliers in Law, we asked one of our favorite attornies to give us the 411 on law school: what you need to know before you go and how to thrive once you are there. Having practiced law for 10 years now, we knew he would have a great perspective on school and his career, but we had no idea he would give 23 priceless tips (especially since he did not bill us for his time). We decided to split his advice into two different posts. Check out last weeks post “10 Things to Know Before Law School.”
1) You have three years to figure out what you want to do when you are in school. Take every possible class in different areas to figure that out in your 1L and 2L year. Once you graduate, and take a job, you will most likely be stuck in that area, unless you have a lot of connections (see above list, this is why connections are so important).
2) Live WITHIN your means, or better yet, live like you are still a law student after you graduate – Don’t feel like you deserve a nice car, or a nice house, or a nice anything. Spend your money on a few nice outfits, and everything else on paying down your law school debt. It’s amazing how much of a slave you are to debt when you are ten years out of school and still paying down the debt, with significant interest. It also prohibits you from taking the career path you like, versus the one you have to, to pay off that debt.
3) The first two or three years of your career, work as hard as you can – This is the time to become good at your trade. If you are lazy now, you will miss out on an opportunity to be a good lawyer. Also, this is the ONLY time in which it will be okay to really screw up a case. Thereafter, if you are a lazy attorney, and you screw up your case after practicing for ten years, you can’t just claim that you “didn’t know…” Forgiveness for being new is your best friend when you start your career as an attorney.
4) Do not chase money – Find what you really want to do, because at the end of the day, the more money you make as an attorney, there will be an inverse proportion to happiness (unless you are just in it for the prestige and bragging rights of being an attorney at a big firm, and that drives you, then go you). The money will come, so long as you enjoy what you are doing.
5) Work every connection you can get – Ask everyone you know if they have a friend at a law firm, or know of an opening. Take attorneys out to lunch who may be decision makers in their firm. I know lots of mediocre law students who kept talking to associates at big firms, and they are now working at a big firm.
6) Don’t take contract work unless you have to – I know a lot of attorneys that take contract work, thinking they “might” get permanent work with that firm, and they wait five years and they are then let go. If you can, find a stable position, even though no position is ever stable, contract work is definitely less stable.
7) It’s okay to try for a job you have no experience in, later in your career – If you take a job that you have no idea about, work to learn it as quickly as possible. The longer you don’t do that, the more money you are going to cost the firm. And it’s okay to take that job and get fired, because it will make you a better attorney. But don’t lie on your resume or your application, that is NOT a good reason to get fired. It’s okay to sell your previous experience though, and find as many connections as you can between the old subject matter and the new, as they are more in common than you would think.
8) Find a good mentor at your new firm – And if it doesn’t seem like someone will take you under their wing when you are interviewing for the position, don’t take the job.
9) The market is bad for attorneys, unless you went to a top 10 school, and graduated in the top 10%. If you are that person, good for you. If not, get used to this truth. Make up for it with drive, connections, and passion.
10) If you are a litigator, and love talking in Court, the work that goes into it pretty much stinks. As a litigator, you will not be in Court often at all, you will be writing until your fingers fall off (you are really a writer, not an oral speaker), and 99% of your time will be doing pre-trial work until the cows come home. It is not as glorious as the movies make it. Once you are in Court, it is intimidating, and you better have studied every angle of the case during the pre-trial process. That is why typically Court cases take two years to get to Court, because you need that time to study that case, along with all the other 100 cases you have.
11) You will never be “rich” if you are an attorney… unless you hit the jackpot in a personal injury or complex commercial litigation case. Ok, I don’t mean to say that you will not make good money in your life, but this should not be the reason you pursue law.
12) Answers in law are NEVER black and white.
13) Take care of yourself, before anyone else.
And that’s all from our attorney friend! Aren’t you glad he was pretty blunt with you? Well, this is just the tip of the iceburg.