Friday, June 3, 2016

Coffee + Conversations: Law School


It is very difficult for me to believe that I graduated from law school Four (4) years ago. That means I could have done it all over again by now. And when people ask me how I liked law school, I gladly say, "I would do it again in a heartbeat." That response throws me into a very small population of weirdos, unless of course others are closeted when it comes to their fond memories of law school. The day I graduated, I was so glad I did it. And I've been glad every day since I left. If you want to talk someone out of going to law school, I can give you a long list of names of folks with whom to chat. If you want to talk someone into it, I'd recommend you talk to me. Let's rewind a bit, shall we?

When I was a wee lass (around 11 or so), I decided I wanted to go to law school because I liked writing and researching facts to draw a conclusion. It didn't feel like work to me. In fact, we had this Encarta CD-Rom (you remember??) that I would use to look up topics or laws. As a freshman in high school, my partner and I debated the unpopular opinion that smoking should be allowed in public places. It was the first time I understood the concept of arguing a position with which I may not agree. And we won.

I remember sitting in 1L orientation listening to deans and professors speak candidly about what we should expect. We shouldn't have a job outside of law school the first year. We should study x-number of hours outside of the classroom. C's might be our new normal...even if all we'd ever received were A's. Well let me be candid with you - I made B's and C's before law school (thanks, MATH). That might have been beneficial because I didn't have any streak of perfection to protect. I had just graduated from Rhodes College with a degree in Political Science (reaaaaaal original). We had advisors that suggested folks take some time between undergraduate and law school. They'd tell us to go to Washington D.C., or some other journey. I knew what I wanted to do, and I do not regret going to law school straight out of college. BUT, I would be remiss if I didn't admit that most of the folks who did best had some work experience under their belts before enrolling. They knew what it was like to treat school like a job, especially because many were also taking out loans to pay for it. Those two things can be a tremendous advantage when it comes to motivation and focus. I, on the other hand, thought I knew how to study. My liberal arts education was wonderful for acclimating me to heavy reading and writing, but I never had to study in any traditional sense. I was turning in large papers at the end of most semesters that showcased that I had learned something, but the level of detail, diligence, and thoroughness required to ace a law school exam is another level altogether. I can look back at my first semester outlines and laugh because I thought I knew what I was doing, and they were pathetic and unhelpful. I was that girl the first semester to pulled blah grades. And I cried because I thought I'd nailed those exams. I was sure I did. Hashtag humbled.

Do me a favor...if you are about to enter law school and get the opportunity to look at an A-caliber exam, do it. If you get the opportunity (and are allowed) to look at an outline from a former successful student, do it. If you don't know how high the bar is set, you'll have no barometer that first semester with which to gauge where you need to be. Next thing you know, you've done dead-average in your first semester and can't write-on for Law Review due to GPA requirements. Don't lament. You're going to anyway, but take heart...there's life outside of Law Review (unless your dreams look like a big firm and six figs...mine never were). If you don't choose or are ineligible for that path, I would recommend Mock Trial or Moot Court, both treasured experiences of mine.

My grades improved every single semester as I got the hang of how to study. I enjoyed organizing my notes and devising a system of book-briefing when I was too lazy to type them out. I had a highlighter color-coding system. I enjoyed all of my professors...they have the type of intelligence that makes you feel lucky to be in their presence. And contrary to the lore, most of them want you to succeed. I will always cherish my professors. Always.

Long story short, one of my internships was at AutoZone, and I had always hoped to be back there someday. After 10 months of practicing in residential real estate, I learned of an opening in Human Resources at AutoZone. Sure, it didn't require a law degree, but I had never put any pressure on myself to practice law. I knew I'd like to at some point, but I firmly believed that my education could be leveraged in nontraditional ways. I did that role for 2 years before moving on to Internal Audit in the Finance department. Although I only stayed six months, I had such a wonderful experience assisting with compliance. Folks made me feel like I could bring something unique to the table. It has only been since January that I transitioned into the legal department...an opportunity I'd been hoping might come my way at some point. So, here I am...practicing law in-house at the same as company in which I interned during law school. I took a unique path to get here. It didn't require a 4.0 or law review. It required some open-mindedness, a willingness to keep learning and an ability build relationships with people who could advocate for my abilities.

I don't know my next move, and I don't need to know it right now. I might be using my degree in the most literal sense today, but I have benefited from my law school experience from the moment I walked out of the building and into the great big world of the poor legal job market. If it makes financial sense for you and you have interest, I'd say GO! Give it your best! You get out of it what you put into it, for sure. Yes, the market is saturated with attorneys. But there's no rule that you have to practice. Maybe you want to start your own business, go into politics or become a compliance manager at a Fortune 500 company. Your law degree will help with all of that.

So, go. Be organized. When you think you've grasped how much to study, multiply that by some factor of ten and study that much. Figure out who you can trust. If you're not sure, study alone. Utilize your professors. They are your best resources. Build a network at your internships because it really is who you know most of the time. Stay organized. Treat it like a job. If you've never had a job, treat it way more seriously than your hardest college course. There will be people who just get it with seemingly little effort, but they are unicorns. Don't take up smoking. Do take up coffee. You can still sleep at night if you have any time management skills whatsoever, but many prefer to carry on the facade that there aren't enough hours in the day. There are,  I assure you. Learn to work smarter, not longer...a lesson I learned in later semesters. Most of all, try to have fun. It goes by very quickly and it is a privilege to attend law school and earn your degree. People will try to demean attorneys or tell you there's too many of us. They will tell you don't do it. Stay in charge of your own narrative. I've never regretted it. I miss it most days, but I think I'll always be a student in some capacity. It keeps me sharp and humble. I try to honor my profession by keeping a positive attitude and healthy reverence for the legal field.

My name is Jordan, and I heart law school, but the first step is admitting you have a problem.

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