Applying to Law School: This is How You Do It
Remember the advice I always give younger friends and acquaintances of mine about whether they should go to law school or not? Well, one of those very same people recently announced on Facebook that he’s submitted his first two law school applications. In the comment thread, he went on to explain that he’s only applying to five or six schools in all, since he wants to stay in Colorado, where he currently lives and works. Needless to say, I was devastated at the news, not to mention ashamed of my own failure to dissuade my young, callow, impressionable friend from taking the broad and crooked path of legal practice.
I kid, I kid…as I mentioned in my earlier article, I never tell advice-seekers that law school is an absolute no-no, only that they should think long and hard and do a lot of research before taking that plunge. As demoralizing as the profession can be, the world does need some people to enter it (alas), and for all the talk about the wrong people going to law school, a great many students are right to go there. I suspect that my friend will fall into the latter category once he starts 1L — but why? How does one distinguish people who are cut out to be lawyers from those who have no business even taking the LSAT, let alone actually attending law school?
My friend, as it turns out, got a few very important ducks in a row before even applying to law school. For one thing, when we first became friends while participating in the same internship stipend program two summers ago, he actively sought out my advice on the law school question. If this approach sounds like a no-brainer for any freshly minted college graduate considering his academic and career options, it’s because it is — yet not every college grad takes it. While I got plenty of advice as a youngster about what I should do when I grew up, that counsel was all unsolicited. My friend was savvy enough to sound out people who’d been through the law school crucible before trying to enter it himself. Smart boy.
Second of all, he’s currently in the midst of a several-year-long gap between college and law school. Since graduating in the spring of 2012, my friend has worked for several organizations that do advocacy in the field in which he wants to build his career, namely drug policy. A staunch opponent of the so-called “War on Drugs,” he has interned or worked with The Colorado Marijuana Initiative of 2012 (where he helped stump for the legalization of marijuana in that state’s Amendment 64 ballot initiative) and the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation. He currently works at a law firm that represents legal marijuana dispensaries in the Centennial State. As a result, he’s getting priceless hands-on training working with lawyers and gaining at least some solid experiential idea of what to expect from the lawyer’s life. What’s more, he’s building an extensive list of contacts and potential future clients in the field of law in which he’d like to practice a few years hence, which is all but guaranteed to make him maximally employable once he graduates from law school. (Thanks to his work, he was also able to give me some very helpful advice on a marijuana policy-related research memo I had to write in my current position. Sweeeeeeeeeeet.)
Third, he’s already used his college experience to acquire expertise in fields outside of law or conceptually similar fields like political science. Having studied economics in university, he has a certain advantage over a great many lawyers — and even judges — that will serve him in good stead when he begins his desired career as an attorney representing legal marijuana businesses and otherwise advocating for drug decriminalization. His knowledge of economics will give him a perspective on legal issues that many (perhaps most) of his competitors in law school and legal practice will lack. I still remember reading a U.S. Supreme Court case — I forget the name — in my Federal Courts class a year ago in which then-Justice John Paul Stevens argued in dissent that anytime the government gives a business a tax exemption, its operations will be stimulated and society will end up with more of whatever it produces. I asked my professor whether that argument didn’t assume too much, such as that the market demand for the firm’s output was relatively price elastic (meaning that people will buy more of it when its price falls and less of it when the price rises). A good or service with relatively price-inelastic demand (they do exist, apparently) would not necessarily become more popular in the marketplace even after being subsidized. My professor — who was no economist but, like me, had taken an econ course or two over the years — smiled, nodded, and admitted that I might be on to something. Yet this possibility was lost on one of the most brilliant minds in the American legal field.
In all, my young Padawan learner seems to be doing it right: developing a broad practical and intellectual skill set, working immediately after college to discern what he wants to do with his life, working at a law firm to find out what lawyers really do and whether it’s right for him, and networking in the field of law in which he’d like to practice. There’s no better way to approach going to law school, believe you me.
Akil Alleyne, a native of Montreal, Canada, is a graduate of Princeton University and the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York City. His major areas of study are constitutional and international law, with focus on federalism, foreign policy, separation of powers and property rights. In his spare time, Akil enjoys reading works of historical fiction and watching crime dramas.
Featured image courtesy of [TempusVolat via Flickr]