Is It Necessary To Take An LSAT Prep Course?

Studying

A Quora questioner recently asked if an LSAT prep course is a requirement before taking the exam.

I wouldn’t say it’s a strict requirement. But for the vast majority of people, it’s wise to enroll in an LSAT prep course. If you’re serious about law school, the value proposition will likely eclipse the financial cost of attending.

Off the top of my head, here are some benefits of participating in an LSAT prep course:

Strategies

You’ll learn strategies for tackling the hardest questions on the exam. Everyone has a weak section, whether that’s reading comprehension, logic games, or logical reasoning. The test company’s job is to arm you with tactics to become more comfortable with particular questions that stump you.

Organized Practice Tests

Most test prep companies offer at least one simulated LSAT. While it isn’t perfect, this is one of the better ways to replicate the actual exam.

Accountability

By joining a course, you’ll have to keep up with your homework and the course’s study schedule. While you’ll naturally be motivated to study since the stakes are high, there’s something to be said about joining a group and feeling the subtle pressure to keep up with the pace of the program.

Community

It’s definitely a secondary benefit, but it can be helpful to meet other people who are going through this experience. And who knows: you may discover a unique study strategy when speaking with someone in class.

Now there are some people that don’t need to join a course. The test is simply intuitive to them or they’re able to hack together study strategies from Top Law Schools or other forums. But still, I think that most prospective law students would add a few points to their score by enrolling in an LSAT prep course.

There’s also the question of which company to use. I used Testmasters back in the day and it was fine. However, I don’t necessarily recommend Testmasters or any other company. You’ll have to do your own research to find the best test prep company for you.

Is "Aggression" Necessary In Legal Practice?

Confident attorney

There seems to be this misconception that successful attorneys are brash, aggressive, loud individuals who will stop at nothing to represent their clients. And yes, there are some successful attorneys like this. But it's definitely not necessary.

In fact, I’d say that confidence matters more than aggressiveness. Essentially, be more like James Comey and less like Ari Gold.

Confidence

There’s no way around it: confidence matters in the legal field.

It matters when you’re discussing a research project with a colleague in your firm. It matters when you’re trying to pitch your services to new clients. Hell, I’d argue it’s important when you’re simply socializing with colleagues or clients.

Law is a service business and the way that you carry yourself—even outside the office—is a subconscious tell on how you’ll handle problems presented to you by clients or your colleagues.

Confidence is especially crucial if you want to be a litigator. And it’s not only in the courtroom—although this is where it mostly comes to life. You’ll have to be on your game and confidently defend your client on conference calls with opposing counsel, during depositions, and yes, while arguing in front of a judge. Preparation is critical and you’ll need to be intimately familiar with your case law. And if you’re not truly feeling confident? Sometimes you need to fake it until you make it.

But as far as aggressiveness, you definitely don’t have to be the Ari Gold of the legal world to be successful. In fact, I’d argue that a calm, collected, and confident attorney is more effective than an aggressive attorney who, for example, strongarms opposing counsel or pushes ethical or legal boundaries on behalf of a client.

A Must Read Non-Fiction Book for Lawyers

Influence

I read my fair share of non-fiction books, most of them not directly related to the legal industry. If I had to recommend a book that would be insightful for lawyers and law students alike, I would suggest Influence by Robert Cialdini. While it’s a bit old, Cialdini provides a fascinating look at how humans are vulnerable to certain persuasion techniques.

He argues that in certain scenarios, humans behave in “mechanical, tape-activated ways.” This automatic behavior often occurs because it’s efficient. Simply put, we need shortcuts to get through the day, as we don’t have time to sit down and analyze every situation that we encounter.

The fact remains that these shortcuts can be exploited—for better or worse. And throughout the book, he touches on six “weapons of influence.” They are reciprocity, commitment and consistency, social proof, liking, authority, and scarcity. 

These six tools can be valuable in a wide range of scenarios. For instance, they’re valuable if you’re a lawyer trying to pitch your services to a new client or if you’re simply trying to convince your spouse to do something.

Influence should be a mainstay not only in the libraries of lawyers and law students, but individuals who are curious about the way that humans influence each other.

Enjoying Law School But Not Enjoying Legal Practice

Lightbulb

I recently came across a post on Quora where a well-performing student at a top ten school claimed they enjoyed law school, but did not enjoy their prior legal internships. He or she is currently in a Big Law summer associate program and is hesitant about it as well.

It’s great that this student is doing this self-analysis now. He or she is clearly a hard-working, intelligent person, so they'll likely receive an offer at the end of your summer program. The question is how to proceed from there.

The fact is that Big Law firms actively try to sell themselves to summer associates. Being a summer associate is arguably the most fun time in Big Law. Therefore, the student's dissatisfaction is a telling sign. It’s also telling that they didn’t enjoy their earlier internships.

I’d first try to understand why they didn’t enjoy Big Law or their prior internships. When they said that the “[Big Law] environment is not the place for me,” I would ask what they exactly meant. Big Law can be stressful and there’s often a lack of feedback. Do they find it boring? And what was it about their prior internships that bothered them? Do they just envision yourself doing something else?

It’s hard to give individualized advice without answers to these questions. Perhaps they just got really unlucky and worked at offices with poor cultures.

Having said that, because they have great grades at a top ten school, they have options if they don’t want to practice after graduation.

At least at Penn, McKinsey visited campus and actively recruited 3Ls. Goldman Sachs also visited campus to recruit candidates for its wealth management division. I'd recommend that the student confirms whether there are similar opportunities at their school. I’m not a management consultant, but I’d guess that they may enjoy consulting if they enjoy law school.

This may also be a good time to reach out to the student's school’s career services office. They may get some good ideas if they explain their situation and the reasons why they're dissatisfied. I would do this sooner rather than later.

Why Quitting Is So Hard

Open road

I left my Big Law job in March 2017. It was an extremely difficult decision, and I can empathize with people who want to quit a job but are held back for various reasons.

Having said that, I think it's difficult to quit a job because of one simple idea: fear of the unknown.

It’s too easy to stay in a job we don’t truly enjoy, even if we desperately want to try something else. There’s safety in our current situation. We build routines and become comfortable in our day-to-day lives. It’s scary to venture out and try something new.

Change is often difficult to accept because the future is often uncertain. This fear of the unknown rises to the surface when we consider leaving a job. Further, loss aversion comes into play. It’s a real thing: some studies have shown that humans feel losses twice as powerfully as gains.

Granted, these fears may be well-founded, whether they are financial or something else. But often, these fears are created in our own minds. We may fear what our colleagues think of our decision. We may fear what our parents or friends will think if we leave a well-paying, prestigious job. We may fear failure in our new gig (or, in some cases, fear success).

When leaving my job, I definitely questioned my motives, but ultimately knew that it was the right time to take a risk. At some point, you just have to make a decision, notwithstanding your fears of what could happen.

I think this attitude can be encapsulated in one quote: feel the fear and do it anyway.

The Downsides of Big Law

Skyscraper

Big Law can be especially rewarding—both financially and otherwise. I worked with incredibly bright people on difficult, complex matters. Ultimately, I decided to move on because I had a burning desire to try starting my own company.

However, there are some downsides to life as a Big Law attorney. Some that immediately that come to mind are the following:

Lack of work-life balance

It’s a given that you will work long hours and will often work on the weekends. Everyone understands that when they start, but it really hits home when you’re feeling stressed and fatigued. Further, you often have to cancel plans with friends and family members.

Difficult work environment

Partners feel stress from clients, senior and mid-level associates feel stress from partners, and you, as a junior associate, will feel stress from nearly everyone. The stress rolls downhill. Clients are paying large fees for your services and you (and your bosses) want to deliver the best possible work. Even more difficult is the fact that you often have to deliver quality work product under short deadlines.

Risk aversion

This is a big one. As a Big Law associate, you become more comfortable with your higher standard of living. This makes it more difficult to leave the firm and “downgrade” your lifestyle if you want to take a career risk. This is commonly known as the golden handcuffs syndrome and I wrote more about it here.

Less responsibility

Something that may surprise new junior associates is that, compared to other jobs, they likely won’t have as much initial responsibility as they envisioned. For example, if you’re looking for courtroom or deposition experience, you likely won’t make many substantive appearances until you’re a mid-level or senior associate. In the beginning, you’re often in a support role. And this makes sense because junior associates are still learning about the practicalities of legal practice. This also goes to my second point about clients paying large fees for your firm’s work: they would be uncomfortable giving so much responsibility to a young associate with little to no practical experience.

Depending on your interests, the actual work

Many law students pursue Big Law because of the compensation, prestige, and/or potential exit options. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with this. But just be aware that you accept the risk of not necessarily enjoying the work that you’re doing. The worry is being pigeonholed into a discrete area of law that you don’t enjoy. If that’s the case, you’ll have to speak out and make a change (the earlier, the better).

How it Feels to Attend Law School

Stressed worker

I think the best way to describe law school is through one word: stress. While the stress tends to decrease in your 2L and 3L years, it still exists.

At the most basic level, you’re entering an entirely new academic environment. It places a disproportionate emphasis on theory and you’ll be reading case law from the 19th century. You’ll essentially learn an entirely new language by studying unfamiliar terms in civil procedure, contracts, and your other 1L courses. Further, it can take some time to adjust to the Socratic Method.

Above all of this, you may be attending a law school in a different city or state. Therefore, you’ll need to adjust to the practicalities of uprooting your life and building your local network from the ground up.

But back to the academic front. You quickly recognize that law school involves a ton of work. You have to complete hundreds of pages of reading each night while being aware of the details in your case law. You know that your professors are going to ask you about these details, so you want to be prepared so that you don’t embarrass yourself in class.

The pressure ratchets up as you approach exams. All of your classmates are intelligent and they will work just as hard as you. Your 1L exam scores play a disproportionate impact on the types of internships (and ultimately full-time jobs) that you can obtain. When the pressure reaches its apex, it’s important to find ways to decompress, like developing a daily workout routine or simply taking breaks with friends.

I think it’s safe to say that a fair number of students question whether they should drop out and try something else. It’s not totally crazy: between the amount of work that you face in law school, you have to be super committed to survive. But if you stick with it, graduate, pass the bar exam, and find a job that you love, you really appreciate how much you’ve accomplished.

The Value of Clinical Education in Law School

Team meeting

When most people think about law school, they think of large classrooms where professors grill students on the nuances of case law. Law school is typically like this. However, there are other experiences beyond traditional classroom instruction.

Most notably, I'm talking about working in your law school's legal clinic. Under the guidance of your professor(s), you and your colleagues will work with real clients, attempting to solve the legal issues that they face.

Ultimately, I think that clinical experience can help you learn certain soft skills that you’ll use as a practicing attorney.

I joined Penn Law’s Entrepreneurship Legal Clinic during my 3L year. Compared to most clinics at Penn (and other law schools), the ELC was almost entirely focused on transactional work rather than litigation. I had one client all to myself and also worked with three other law students to represent another larger client.

Truthfully, it was one of the more difficult (and time-consuming) experiences I had in law school. But it was also one of the most rewarding.

I think the greatest benefit comes from the fact that you’re dealing with real clients. You learn soft skills that are nearly impossible to replicate in a normal classroom setting. I’m specifically thinking of things like managing client expectations, handling difficult conversations, and effectively representing your client at meetings with other lawyers. These are critical skills that you’ll need after law school.

I especially think that it’s useful to work in a transactional clinic simply because law school is so focused on litigation. In my time at the ELC, I negotiated contracts and worked with the Philadelphia city government on proposed legislation, among other things. This kind of experience adds to your repertoire even if you do ultimately become a litigator.

Granted, clinical experience will not totally prepare you for professional practice. Any law school or clinic that promises this is being disingenuous. But clinical experience can definitely complement the content that you learn in the classroom. You’ll get a head start on learning the soft skills that are vital to success in the legal field.

What It's Like Being a Law Student and Practicing Attorney

Firefighters putting out a fire

For those just thinking about law school, it can be difficult to get a sense of what law school and legal practice is actually like. The general question can be answered in countless ways. But I’ll just focus on one element: the varying degrees of pressure that you’ll face both as a law student and as a practicing lawyer. You're constantly putting out fires and new fires constantly emerge.

Law School

In law school, there’s the pressure to obtain great grades to maximize the odds of working in your dream office. Then there’s the pressure to pass your state’s bar exam so that you can actually become a practicing lawyer. These are all difficult tasks. You should be proud of yourself when you overcome these challenges.

Legal Practice

With that said, once you jump over these hurdles, the pressure changes. Where you were once essentially only accountable to yourself, you’ll now be accountable to others who are paying for your services (your clients). Your clients will be seeking the “best” outcome and it can be difficult to manage their expectations. Along with this, you’ll face pressure from senior lawyers in your office, who are expecting you to deliver solid work product even if you don’t really know what you’re doing.

Legal practice isn’t for the faint of heart. Having said that, it can be extremely rewarding—and potentially lucrative—so long as you understand (1) your motivations for pursuing law school and (2) the realities of legal practice. That’s why it’s so important to complete your diligence before you shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars to attend law school.

The Benefits of a Law Degree Beyond Legal Practice

TOols

Many pursue law school because of the supposed flexibility that a law degree offers. It's true that there are a good number of lawyers that leave the profession to try something else. In fact, this scenario is relevant to me. I graduated from law school in 2014 and practiced at a Big Law firm for two-and-a-half years. I recently left to start a startup in New York City.

Looking back, I'd argue that there are several benefits that come to mind if you ultimately leave legal practice to try something else. Some of those benefits are (1) the credibility of a law degree and (2) various skills that you pick up in law school and legal practice.

Credibility

As a starting point, a law degree provides some semblance of credibility.

While the legal industry does face its challenges, a law degree is still respected within American society. By introducing yourself as a lawyer (or ex-lawyer), you signal that you are an intelligent, hard-working person who can work under pressure. You also signal that you are a person who sticks with long-term commitments—like three years of law school and the bar exam.

That said, the “prestige” of a law degree may be less helpful if you’re trying to enter the startup world. A law degree often signals conservatism. Lawyers are naturally risk averse and it certainly helps if you are more of a perfectionist. This makes sense: as a client, you pay your lawyer to minimize risk. But perfectionism and intense risk aversion aren’t helpful if you’re creating (or working for) a startup. It doesn’t jive with the whole mantra of “moving fast and breaking things.”

Skills

As a former lawyer entering the business world, you can also leverage skills from your legal career.

By navigating law school and practicing law, you learn critical thinking skills and attention to detail. You’re able to juggle multiple perspectives and take an objective look at a discrete set of facts. You learn this in law school and you practice this skill on a daily basis.

One other skill that I’ve found especially helpful is attention to detail. In today’s world, there is a large emphasis on multitasking. There’s nothing inherently wrong with multitasking, but you often sacrifice accuracy in the process. As a former lawyer, attention to detail can be your competitive advantage.

Granted, attention to detail requires you to slow down. But you’ll be able to catch details that your colleagues (or competitors) miss. You can then leverage those details in whatever project or task that is in front of you.

Obviously, I wouldn’t say you should go to law school just to pick up these skills. But they will still be valuable if you do decide to leave the legal field.

Should You Take Time Off Before Attending Law School?

Flight for holiday

While it depends based on what you’ll exactly be doing after college, I’d seriously consider taking some time off to work or volunteer before law school. Some law schools have admitted that they actively prefer applicants with work experience. For example, Harvard Law School admitted this preference two years ago.

Speaking from experience, I took one year off before starting law school. I’m happy with my decision and, in retrospect, should have considered taking another year off. I felt like I matured and was able to gain some solid life experience before returning to school.

While I don’t think it would massively hurt you if you went straight to law school, I think that there are clear benefits to working or volunteering before law school. First, you’ll gain some valuable life experience that you’ll leverage in the future. This is especially true if you haven’t yet held a full-time job. By working, you’ll gain some income that you can use to pay off college debt (if applicable). And who knows: you may actually find out that law school isn’t right for you.

Along with this, I’d recommend that you consider working in the legal industry prior to law school. Ideally, you’d work at your dream office, but it’s not the end of the world if you work in some other office in the legal industry. The ultimate goal is to gain a first-person view of what legal practice is actually like. Many law students don’t do this, and I think this lack of practical experience may lead to career dissatisfaction down the road. Expectations about the practice of law don’t match up with the realities.

The "Best" University to Attend Law School?

University

Many prospective law students are looking for an edge to increase their chances of attending their preferred law school. I get it. I was in the same boat when I was thinking about law school. You want to make choices that will set yourself up nicely if you do end up pursuing a legal career.

With that said, I’d say that there isn’t any particular university that will best prepare you for law school. I’d even argue that there isn’t even a specific major that will “best” prepare you. As you’ll discover, law students come from a wide range of schools and studied a wide range of subjects. There isn’t a combination of university and major that will automatically open the doors to law school.

Sure, law schools will likely be more impressed if you attend Harvard compared to a state school. Prestige matters in the legal community and one of the easiest proxies for prestige is the U.S. News college rankings. But it’s not going to break your application if you attend a “less prestigious” school because it’s more affordable or because you feel more comfortable there.

At this stage of your career, I wouldn’t necessarily base your choice on your ultimate goal of going to law school. Instead, consider the financial ramifications of your decision, where you think you’d most enjoy college, and (partly) the prestige of the university. Who knows: you may ultimately discover in college that you don’t want to go to law school.

How to Cope With Stress in Law School

Stressed person

Law school can be extremely stressful. Between exams, finding a job, and adjusting to a new environment, pressure is all around you. Unfortunately, because law school is a six figure investment, the stakes are high.

In order to deal with this pressure, you need to find ways of coping with stress. You'll be in a better position to succeed in your courses and be happier with your overall experience.

My Strategies

While everyone has their own methods of reducing stress, I’d highly recommend exercise. Studies have shown that virtually any form of exercise can act as a stress reliever. True, you have to make an effort to interrupt your study schedule in order to do this. But the benefits absolutely outweigh the costs.

Whether you are running, lifting weights, doing yoga, or participating in a weekly recreational league, it pays to be active. You’ll come back relaxed, refreshed and ready to attack your reading. You don’t necessarily have to work out every day, but I found it extremely beneficial, especially when stress increases before exams.

Along with exercise, I’d recommend some form of meditation or mindfulness. Again, you don’t have to go all-out and go on a silent retreat. But even spending just five or ten minutes alone to focus on your breathing can make a big difference. Mindfulness is becoming increasingly prevalent in the legal field. Firms are even holding mindfulness workshops for their attorneys. Like exercise, studies show that mindfulness reduces stress.

Finally, it’s helpful to just go out and socialize. It doesn’t necessarily have to be with your law school classmates. In fact, I’d argue that it’s important to find friends outside of law school so that you aren’t thinking about school 24 x 7. Just make sure to go out, make friends, and live your life. If you don’t do this, you’ll likely burn out.

Four Tips for Aspiring Lawyers

People sitting

I'm certainly not an expert attorney, but through my years in law school and as an associate at a Big Law firm, I've come across certain pieces of advice that I would give to aspiring lawyers. Below are four things you should think about if you want to ultimately become a practicing lawyer.

Your Reasons for Attending Law School

While you don’t need to have every single answer right now, you should have a fairly clear idea of why you want to go to law school. And no, I wouldn’t recommend going to law school because a close relative or friend is pressuring you to attend, because law school “is a good backup plan,” because a law degree is “versatile” in society, or because they don’t know what else to do. True, some lawyers transition into business or politics and you may choose that path after law school. That said, I’d highly recommend attending law school solely because you want to be a lawyer. This question wisely assumes that starting point, but there are many future law students who attend for the reasons above. This is a dangerous starting point and can often lead to career unhappiness.

The Financial Ramifications of Law School

Law school continues to be expensive in the U.S. Unless law school is being financed by friends/family or through a scholarship, you will most likely have debt after graduation. You’ll be paying off this debt for years, even if you take advantage of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program or any other program to ease your loan payments. Just understand that even if you obtain a Big Law job, you most likely will be making loan payments for the foreseeable future. As an aside, you also have to consider the opportunity costs of law school, which amount to three years of lost income and work experience.

The Importance of Experience in the Legal Industry

This is something that can play a major part in helping you determine whether legal practice is right for you. It’s too easy to imagine what legal practice is like without getting up close and personal with the reality. Legal practice is often boring and it’s unlike what you observe in films and television. By finding a summer internship or full-time position in the legal industry (ideally, at your dream office), you’ll be able to observe practicing attorneys as they go about their day-to-day business. Ultimately, working in the industry before law school is a low-risk way of doing some market research and getting a better sense of whether you’ll actually enjoy being a lawyer.

Accounting for Law Schools' Prestige

There’s no way around it: prestige matters within the legal field. Where you attend law school—along with your 1L grades—will play a large part in the first job you obtain after graduation. Prestige is often measured by the top schools in the U.S. News & World Report law school rankings. Having said that, the U.S. News rankings focus on national prestige. Local prestige also exists and you’ll need to consider this if you want to practice in a smaller market. Regardless of where you practice, your law schools’ prestige will make it easier (or harder) to find your ideal job after graduation.

Is Getting Accepted to Law School Harder Than Law School Itself?

Competition

A Quora questioner recently asked whether being admitted to law school is actually harder than law school itself. For me, it's easy: I’d argue that law school itself is harder than being accepted to law school.

Sure, the LSAT is a difficult exam and you’ll have to study hard to obtain a high score. Your undergraduate courses may also be difficult, depending on your major and course selection.

With that said, law school is more difficult for a number of reasons.

First, the structure of law school itself makes life difficult. While you may be able to leverage your classmates’ knowledge by participating in a study group, you will be competing against your classmates on exams. This is because law school courses are graded on a curve. You and your classmates will be gunning for the limited number of As in each course.

Along with this, 1L grades play a large part in finding your first job after graduation (especially positions at so-called “Big Law” firms). Half the class will receive grades below the median in a particular course. This certainly could be you.

Second, the quality of the student body makes it more challenging to obtain solid grades. Most, if not all, law students excelled in their undergraduate courses. All of your classmates will be intelligent and hardworking. They’ll apply this same work ethic to their law school courses.

Third, law school is challenging in that you are learning new topics in an unfamiliar environment. It can be difficult to learn the LSAT, but the task becomes much bigger when you’re essentially learning an entirely different language and a new way of thinking. The Socratic Method itself can be stressful and you may simultaneously be adjusting to life in a new city or state. You need to learn how to adapt quickly to maximize your chances of success.

Any Regrets In Attending Law School?

Penn Law School

While there are a good number of individuals who regret attending law school, I don't regret my decision. I was very fortunate in the way that things played out.

My Story

Law school itself was as difficult as I thought. It’s essentially a tournament where you and your intelligent, hard-working classmates are competing for a finite number of good grades. Luckily, Penn is known for its collegiality, and I found all of my classmates to be good-natured, kind people.

As far as career opportunities, I was again lucky in that many recruiters visited Penn. Penn has a robust on-campus recruiting program which makes it easier for students to find jobs, especially at so-called “Big Law” firms. While I had to be a bit creative in my search, I received an offer to become a summer associate at a Big Law firm. After graduation, I became a full-time litigation associate at that same firm. I practiced at that firm for about two-and-a-half years before deciding to take a risk and start a company in New York City.

Common Regrets

You’re right, however, that many people do regret attending law school. Often these regrets come from the fact that law school grads (1) can’t find a job in the legal industry; (2) are burdened with excessive debt that they cannot pay off; or (3) don’t enjoy legal practice.

A combination of (1) and (2) is deadly, and this is where you hear some horror stories (like law school grads becoming baristas at Starbucks). The best way to mitigate the risk of (1) is to attend a “prestigious” law school, especially one of the top 14 schools in the U.S. News & World Report law school rankings. You’ll be presented with more job opportunities and will have a greater chance of finding a job that inspired you to pursue law school in the first place.

As far as (2), debt is simply going to be a reality unless you obtain a scholarship and/or have financial backing from friends or family. The exact amount of debt will vary. That said, you’ll likely be paying off your loans for the foreseeable future. There are some programs that can help you—like the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program—but you’ll still have to account for your debt years after law school.

Finally, one of the best ways to avoid (3) is to work in the legal industry before law school. Whether it’s an internship or a full-time position, you’ll get a better sense of whether you’re actually interested in legal practice. It’s not a comprehensive solution, but it’s better than nothing.

Should You Have A "Plan B" Before Attending Law School?

Plan A or Plan B

Many ambitious students, when considering law school, often consider other career options. They may even think about whether they should obtain their MBA or another graduate degree. One Quora reader recently asked whether they should create a "Plan B" if they aren't accepted to any law schools.

This is an interesting question and it segues into the larger point about reasons for wanting to attend law school.

I don’t think there’s a black and white answer to the question. Backup plans are all well and good. All of us need to at least consider next steps if our initial plans don’t work.

With that said, I hesitate with the fact that the questioner is imagining another graduate program as a backup plan. I don’t like making assumptions with incomplete information, but it seems pretty clear that the questioner wants to attend some type of graduate school in the near future. Notwithstanding this, it’s unclear how passionate they are about law school and legal practice.

Through my experiences, I’ve found that the most successful lawyers are essentially “all-in” and can’t imagine doing anything else. That’s not saying they absolutely didn’t have a Plan B, but they were dedicated (almost obsessed) to being the best lawyers that they could be.

It’s a dangerous proposition if someone is going to law school because they don’t know what else to do or because they think that a law degree provides “versatility” later in life. Law school is a six-figure investment and everyone has to evaluate three years of opportunity costs.

So for this questioner, I’d suggest taking some time to think about why they are attracted to law school or business school. And if they haven’t already, I’d recommend taking some time to work in the legal industry to observe the realities of legal practice. It may change their current perspective.

An entirely separate point is whether they should attend one of the schools where they are admitted. A law school's prestige will play a large part in the jobs that they can find after graduation. But I’d suggest crossing that bridge when (or if) they consider which school to attend.

Memorization and Legal Practice

Elephant

For those people not familiar with law school and legal practice, there seems to be this assumption that memorization skills are critical in order to be a successful lawyer. It's somewhat easy to think this when hearing lawyers reference particular details and nuances in statutes and case law.

Contrary to what you may think, lawyers aren’t intimately familiar with every statute, regulation, or case. They often need to consult Westlaw, LexisNexis, or other electronic sources to determine how certain laws will affect their clients.

What comes to mind are some of Elon Musk’s comments on technology. We’re essentially all cyborgs now. We have access to so much information through our computers and smartphones, and we consult these devices hundreds of times per day. So there’s less of a pressing need to memorize each and every statute, regulation, and case in your practice area.

Having said that, lawyers do need to be able to deliver competent legal advice on a time sensitive basis. For example, a client may ask you a question that you haven’t necessarily thought about. Delivering advice here is more often a product of experience rather than pure memorization. Through prior matters, you get an intuitive grasp of the most important laws and regulations and thus rely on this foundation to answer difficult questions. And you can always tell a client that you (or a colleague) will research a particular law or statute and revert an answer at a later date.

The situation is a bit trickier if you’re being grilled by a judge. There, you won’t have an opportunity to research case law; you’ll have to respond immediately. Here, preparation does pay off, and that preparation may include a thorough analysis of statutes and case law. However, even here, I’d argue that it’s less about pure memorization and more about having a deep understanding of the relevant law and how it applies to your facts.

As an aside, one of my favorite books about memory is Joshua Foer’s Moonwalking With Einstein. It’s a fascinating book on how you can create “memory palaces” to remember discrete pieces of information. I’d highly recommend it.

One Valuable Thing That You Learn in Law School

Bald eagle

Most people think that law school, above all, teaches critical thinking skills, and that these skills are the most important things that law students learn. And it’s true: the purpose of law school is to make students “think like lawyers” so that they can solve their clients’ problems. This is all well and good.

However, I’d argue that there is another important skill that you pick up while in law school. That is attention to detail.

In law school, you quickly learn that you need to sweat the details. If you brush over your reading or try to finish it as quickly as possible, you’ll be doing yourself a disservice. Professors will be grilling you about the details in individual cases. They’ll be able to tell if you haven’t paid close attention to your reading.

Attention to detail will be critical on exams. Before exams, you and your classmates will be well-versed in the case law. In fact, most of you will likely have a similar outline that you use on the exam. The key thing that’ll separate you from your classmates is your attention to the facts provided and how case law applies to those facts. You’ll need to pay attention to all of the details in the prompt, regardless of how small or irrelevant you think they are. But by doing this, you’ll increase the likelihood of doing well on your exams.

Attention to detail becomes even more important when you enter professional practice. Clients pay you to notice the details—whether you’re a transactional attorney or litigator. They don’t want to deal with the legal nuances within a pending deal or lawsuit. That’s your job.

One word in a contract may make the difference between a successful transaction and a potential lawsuit. One document that you find in a document review may make a huge difference in the advice that you deliver to a client under investigation.

You’ll need to have an eagle eye in professional practice. Lucky for you, you begin building this habit throughout law school.

Adam's Law School Experience

Penn Law School

For me, law school was a challenging, yet fulfilling experience.

It’s much different than college in that the law school environment is much more professional. You and your classmates realize that you’re there to do well in your courses and to secure a job after graduation. The stakes are high because law school is extremely expensive.

1L year was especially challenging. My classmates and I entered an unfamiliar environment containing a new language and demanding professors. Often, I was concerned about whether I was adequately preparing for class. But I got better day by day and eventually worked through the confusion. Ultimately, you learn to crawl before you learn to walk or run.

One hard reality for me was that hard work won’t necessarily pay off. Your colleagues are both intelligent and hardworking, so you need to work smarter to maximize your odds of success on exams. Further, I realized it’s critical to apply the law to the facts on exams. Since everyone will know the case law, writing an answer that digs deep into the facts is the best way to distinguish yourself from your peers.

2L and 3L years were slightly easier, mostly because I was more familiar with the language of legal practice and the way that law school works. I had more control over my course selection and could select courses that interested me. I also knew where I would be working at the start of my 3L year, so the intense pressure somewhat faded.

Besides the academic experience, I enjoyed my internships and summer work. I was an intern in Philadelphia criminal court the summer after my 1L year and a summer associate at a Big Law firm the summer after my 2L year. If you’re interested in learning how to become a Big Law summer associate, I’ve written an essay which you can access here.

The bar exam was difficult (as it is for everyone). I’d have to admit, however, that I enjoyed my work experience more than law school. I liked solving real problems for clients and was more interested in the practical aspects of law rather than legal theory.