Should I Go to Law School? Resources to Help You Decide

Should I Go to Law School? Resources to Help You Decide

should i go to law schoolSo you want to go to law school? If so, you’ve probably asked yourself (at least I hope you have!) if you actually want to be a lawyer.  Unfortunately, figuring out whether you want to be a lawyer is difficult. How is a college student or recent graduate supposed to know what it’s actually like to be a lawyer? Keep reading to help find the answer to “should I go to law school question?”

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Click on the links below to jump to a section on deciding whether to go to law school.

Get a Legal Job

One great way is to get a job as a legal assistant at a law firm. You’ll be able to observe the firm’s day-to-day operations and get a sense of the lives that attorneys lead. But not everyone is going to be able to do that. Below are a couple exercises that will help you get a sense of what it is that lawyers do.

Exercises

Before we get to the exercises, it’s useful to understand a bit about the legal field. Broadly speaking, there are two types of lawyers: litigation and transactional. Litigation attorneys deal with disputes between parties, i.e. lawsuits. Transactional attorneys deal with agreements between parties, i.e. contracts. I’ve provided one exercise for each type.

Should I Go To Law School Exercise #1: Litigation

Litigation is the process of resolving disputes using the legal process. It includes civil lawsuits, criminal prosecutions, actions before administrative tribunals, and claims in private arbitration.

The purpose of this exercise is to familiarize you with how litigation works in the real world (as opposed to the super exciting way it works on television and in movies).

To illustrate this, we’re going to use King v. Burwell. This case is one of the many lawsuits that stemmed from the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). The exercise is going to take you through the process of Supreme Court litigation (appellate litigation). It should give you a sense of the work product that litigation attorneys produce.

Quick Summary of Appellate Litigation:

Appellate litigation typical involves two steps: briefing and oral argument. During the briefing stage, the parties submit their written arguments to the court. These documents, called briefs, outline the factual and procedural history of the case and lay out each side’s legal position. The appealing party submits their brief first. The responding party reviews this brief and then submits their own. The appealing party then gets to submit a reply brief. The court reviews all the briefs before oral argument.

At oral argument, each side makes an oral presentation of their arguments to the judges. Typically, the judges will interrupt the presentation and start asking questions. The attorney and the judges will go back and forth until the allotted time has expired. Once oral argument is complete, the judges will consider the matter and render the decision. The official document is called the court’s opinion.

This exercise involves a fair amount of reading (which for lawyers is par for the course); it will probably take 3-5 hours total. That sounds like a lot, but it might save you the $200,000 it costs to go to law school.

Step 1

Read this short article by Orin Kerr, professor of law at George Washington University School of Law. The article explains how to read a legal opinion. While the title may make it seem rudimentary, the article is useful because there are many non-obvious things about legal opinions and the legal process that are very important.

Step 2

Head over to Oyez and read the summary of King v. Burwell. Don’t worry if you don’t understand everything. You just need to get a basic idea of the nature of the dispute.

Step 3

Read the briefs of the parties. Make sure to read the briefs in the order below.

  1. Brief of Petitioners
  2. Brief of Respondent
  3. Reply of Petitioners

Step 4

Listen to or read the transcript of oral argument. The links are on the left side of this page.

Step 5

Now read the Court’s opinion and the opinions of the dissenting Justices. Note that the official opinion begins on the 6th page of the PDF. The first five page are a summary provided by the Court.

Should I Go To Law School Exercise #2: Transactional

Transactional attorneys spend their days negotiating and drafting contracts for their clients. These contacts include things like mergers and acquisitions, real estate deals, licensing agreements, employment agreements, and wills & trusts.  The negotiations include the exact language of the contract. This process can be a long and tedious. A misplaced word or comma can have severe legal consequences and parties frequently litigate the meaning of their contracts.

To illustrate the kind of work that transactional attorneys do, you’re going to review an annotated contract. The agreement is a Google services agreement. The annotations are by Ken Adams, an expert on contract drafting.

Step 1

Read the annotated agreement slowly and carefully. You can also also read Ken’s post get a sense of where he’s coming from.

Don’t worry if you don’t understand all of the language. The point is to give you a sense 1) the end product that transaction attorneys produce and 2) the level of attention to detail (as illustrated by Ken’s comments) that is required.

So You Want to go to Law School: Assessment

How did you like these exercises? If you found them tedious and boring, there’s a good chance you’ll find both law school and being a lawyer tedious and boring. Yikes!

On the other hand, if you felt like one or both of the exercises got your intellectual juices flowing, then maybe going to law school is the right decision for you.

Bottom line, though, committing to law school costs hundreds of thousands of dollars and three years of your life you cannot get back.  Your first loan payment comes due shortly after you take the bar exam, so whether you want to or not, you need to find employment and fast.  And, whether you like it or not, you probably can only comfortably pay off your student loans with a high-paying legal job.

What does this mean?  If you go to law school, you are very likely going to be an attorney.  If you didn’t like going through the exercises above, you may want to save yourself the time, money, and pain of joining a profession that is already over saturated.  Be honest with yourself.

On the other hand, if you enjoyed the process, go get ‘em!

Best Books for Pre-Law Students

Picture of the Paper Chase, an excellent book for pre-law studentsI could list a bunch of different books here. But I don’t want you to waist your time reading about the exploits of courageous and righteous lawyers battling the forces of evil and injustice. There’s a time and place for books like that. But, honestly, it be like watching “Die Hard” to decide whether to become a police officer. The two books below will get you a realistic sense of what it’s like to be a law student and what it’s like to be a lawyer. Hopefully you’ll gain some insight on your law school decision.

Curmudgeon’s Guide To Practicing Law

The Paper Chase

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