Monthly Archives: February 2007

Big News!

Okay, FINE, I’ll tell you all my news. But it’s not completely official (handshakes and several emails have been exchanged, but no dotted line has been signed yet), so if this jinxes it, I am so blaming you guys. Consider yourself warned.
I GOT A NEW JOB!!!!
Alright, so that’s probably somewhat anti-climactic since I’ve made it painfully aware on here that my current job was ending soon, and well, I wasn’t really planning on collecting unemployment so obviously I was going to have to find something to do. BUT! It’s not just that I found someplace willing to hire me so that I don’t have to take a crappy temp job. I really think I found the place I want to work and I am so excited about it.
I won’t divulge too many details about the firm on here because, well, that’s just dumb. But what I will say is that it is a medium-sized firm located in Virginia, that their work/life balance philosophy is right up my alley (as in, they actually want you to have a life), that I will get litigation experience very early on, and that the focus of their practice is on employment law. Every single person I’ve met there seems very happy and was so excited to tell me about their work. If you are interested in any more info, you can email me personally about it.
Of course, there are a few downsides, but they are nothing in comparison to the good stuff. First off, as alluded to (okay, outright stated) earlier in the week, I have to take another bar exam. (Which also should have tipped you guys off as to my news… come on, people! :-P ) I had taken the NY bar because although I planned to stay here in DC, I figured if I ever went anywhere else, it would be back to NY. As far as getting barred in DC, well, you can waive into DC with a high enough multistate score from another exam so I just figured I’d wait until I got a permanent job down here to pay for all that. Anyway, even if I’d decided to take a more local exam to waive into DC, it probably would have been Maryland, not Viriginia. I didn’t really expect to get permanent employment in Virginia. (And no, it is not lost on me that I will be a Southern Trial Lawyer, so help me god.)
Second, the pay. I will be taking a pay cut. Which, fun for you all to continue to hear me complain about the sad state of my bank account! Whee! But, with the quarterly bonus structure, it’s only a matter of time before I return to, or even surpass, my current salary. It’s just that for the first four months of this job, I’ll be making almost $1000 a month less than I do now. On the plus side, I’ll have no time for a life for most of those months with the whole working full time/bar exam studying thing.
Anyway, like I said… no signatures on the dotted line yet, but it’s 99.999% a sure thing. They are excited to have me start there and the paperwork to have them pay for the whole VA bar thing is already in motion, so I feel confident in being able to confess my news. But again, if this jinxes it, it’s all your fault.

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The Truth About Law School…

Recently, a friend asked me if I liked law school. He is looking to pursue a career in a very narrow field where a law degree is certainly not required (he already has a Master’s in the area, as well as work experience), but could prove to be helpful. My response was basically this: The three years of law school were, and probably will always be, the worst three years of my life. (If we’re going for worst four years of my life, then tack on that year right after graduation where I (a) studied for the New York bar exam, (b) was umemployed for what felt like forever, and (c) finally gained employment working for a person who is one of the cruelest human beings I have ever met.)
However, I wanted to be a lawyer and I do really love my work. I could not be where I am today, or get where I want to go, without having gone to law school. Of course, not all of law school was a terrible experience. I enjoyed much of what I learned; I had some truly amazing professors (and some total crackpots); I made some great friends. Would I do it again? Absolutely. Do I have doubts about where I chose to go to school? Sometimes… but usually only when I’m down to living on $18 for two weeks and cursing myself for not going to one of the schools that offered me a free ride; but in the end, I think I chose the right place for me. But did I actually enjoy law school? There were fleeting moments, but for the most part it was a completely soul-crushing experience.
I was fortunate to never have to work very hard to do well in high school and college. I just sort of absorbed everything I needed. I wouldn’t say I did nothing… I did the work that was required of me, but I rarely found it difficult. (Except I just never really got the hang of Abstract Algebra… or Abstract Algebra II for that matter. I still managed to get a B and B+, respectively, though.) School just came very naturally to me. I excelled at standardized testing, which made me eligible to go to schools that may have otherwise been beyond my reach. But until law school, I hardly ever had to study or put in any sort of extra work. I just did what I did and that was enough.
Showing up to law school without ever learning how to study? Yeah, that makes law school incredibly difficult.
I felt like I somehow ended up in this neverland between two types of classmates: those who never learned to study but didn’t need to in order to do well in law school (people whose “absorption” skills were more advanced than mine), and those who had studied and had to work very hard to get excellent grades in college and high scores on their LSATs and were able to carry over that ability to study into law school. And then there was me. Who, quite possibly, still has never gotten the hang of studying. I put so much work into my classes and while I felt like I “got it,” my grades often suggested otherwise. I did well in paper classes and clinics, but I just never “got” how to take a law school exam. I studied so hard for those exams; I studied with friends and explained the concepts to them… and then all my friends would do better than me on the exam. They would thank me for my help, and assume that I did just as well if not better. (In fact, one clinic professor even expressed some disbelief at my average grades, considering the level of actual legal work I was able to turn out even as a student.) But I knew that I hadn’t done well in those classes; I knew that my GPA was in the lower half of the class. For someone who had always been in the top 5% or so, that was devastating. I took being average, or slightly below average as the case sometimes was, as failure.
It’s ridiculous, the way that the top law firms go about hiring new associates. The interviews take place the summer after your first year of law school, when all you’ve taken at that point are the bare bones basics. You haven’t taken any specialized classes; you haven’t had the time to explore what kinds of law you want to practice. Sure, those interviews are just for a summer position after you complete your second year of law school, but I know very few people who were not extended an offer at that point. Your first year grades determine your career path. Simple as that.
Maybe I’m just bitter that I wasn’t chosen for a summer associate position at a big law firm and that’s why I find the whole process insane. But it’s funny… I never wanted to work at a big law firm; it’s just that that is how people determine who in law school is “smart” and who isn’t. “Did you hear so-and-so is going to be working at XYZ firm?” “Wow, really! I had no idea he was so smart!” I had always been one of the smart ones. As dramatic as it sounds, it was as though I had lost part of my identity. Here I was, feeling terrible about myself for not getting a job I didn’t really want.
But, it is insane. I mean, I know many perfectly capable lawyers out there who didn’t get hired by a big firm right after their first year. That first year is a huge adjustment for a lot of people, and the classes you take your first year don’t test your capability as an attorney, but just lay a bare foundation upon which to build your knowledge and skills in the field. The fact that some people may be faster at laying that foundation doesn’t mean that they build a better house. I’m good at what I do. Very good. Only, because I didn’t have the best grades, it took me a long time to see that. Sure, I’d had employers and clinic professors and moot court coaches tell me how impressed they were by me, but all I could think was “yeah, well if I was good at this, I’d be getting As,” or “yeah, well if I was good at this, then a big firm would have hired me and I wouldn’t constantly be looking for employment.”
This field is a tough field to get into. I knew that from the get-go, on some level, but I never realized just how hard until I was going through it. All first year, you worry about getting good grades and finding a summer job. All 1L summer, you worry about whether you are going to get hired by a Big Firm. If you get hired by a Big Firm, the worrying basically stops there (except maybe that last week your 2L summer when you wonder if you’ll get an offer, but yeah… you probably will). If you don’t get hired by a Big Firm, you spend all 2L year applying for jobs for the following summer. You try to get a firm job, because it could turn into an offer and then you can stop there. Or, you go the fellowship or public interest route so you can feel good about and really enjoy the work you do. But those jobs don’t turn into offers. So you take your public interest internship (or, if you’re lucky like me, you find one that pays, albeit $10 and hour which pales in comparison to the $40+ an hour made by your peers at Big Firm). But then you spend all third year scrambling to find employment for after graduation. Cover letters, resumes, interviews, travel. Fellowships, clerkships, big firms, government work. (That $10 an hour you made burns out really fast; note how your friends who made $30K for the summer do not have to spend all of it on heavyweight paper and plane tickets for 15 minute interviews.) Summer rolls around and not only are you worried about the bar exam, but you are still worried about finding employment. You get desperate. You apply to anything and everything.
(Then, if you’re like me, you settle for a job that turns out to consist of working for a complete asshole who overworks and underpays you; abuses employees, co-workers, and opposing counsel; belittles clients and mishandles their money; and is an all-around world-class jerk. So you quit, without anything lined up, and start from square one. Only this time, your school loans have kicked in. Damn did I get lucky falling into my current job so soon after that!)
So yeah, law school and finding a career in this field? Kicks. Your. Ass. It will crush your soul. It will drain every ounce of self-esteem from you. It will make you doubt every move you make for years and years. It will leave you anxious and depressed, stressed beyond belief. And I have found that this doesn’t change once you finally do get that job… it takes time to start to really feel worthwhile again. Basically, what it comes down to is this: if you aren’t sure this is what you want to do, stay the hell away.
But if the law is something that moves you, that calls out to you in a way you’ve never experienced with anything else… go to law school. Getting through it is beyond hell, but the reward of doing something you truly love to do is worth it. Now that I am on the other side, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

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