9. It’s nothing like you thought it was: Law school in reality, and not movieland, is a perverse form of middle school masquerading as a graduate program. You’ve got your gunners (a technical LS term for supernerds, but exponentially more annoying), snipers, jocks and popular kids, environmental club kids, punks and hipsters. In your 1L year you spend all day, every day, with the same kids in your section, going from class to class. Class consists of sitting for hours, waiting to discuss the pages upon pages of material assigned and possibly never even touching on it. You say you love reading- tell me how much you love reading after you’ve gone over eight cases, seven of which occurred in the 1800s and have no bearing on the current common law. Tell me how much fun it is to dissect a 19th century justice’s rhetoric. Then tell me how great it is when after you read 80 pages of this dense material absolutely none of it gets discussed in class. Law school sessions are anything the professor wants them to be, including ridiculing student answers, spewing about unrelated policy, or scaring the shit out of kids by grilling them mercilessly for an hour and a half. It’s a never ending cycle of working and playing with the same people. And the cherry on top? We all carry our massive backpacks on the one school bus and head directly to our lockers in the morning. Anyone getting nostalgic yet?
Attending law school is like being part of the most sadistic, masochistic fraternity and going through a four month long pledge period. It’s the worst form of student group hazing I’ve ever seen or heard of, and that includes drinking pube milkshakes. If you can’t handle the hazing, you can’t hack it and don’t deserve the tag of Esq. If you can hack it, and somehow come out relatively unscathed, your grades might not be worthy of the uber-prestigious and incredulously demanding mega jobs. “Yes Mr. Cravath Swaine and Moore, I got a B+ in Contracts. I’m surprised the dean didn’t take me out back and put me out of my misery.” How I long for the days of undergrad, where students would celebrate over getting by with C’s. How stupid I was to think my summa cum laude would translate to equally high marks in law school. Law school is not an elongation of undergrad, a playground for intellectuals, or the golden ticket to employment- it’s a vocational school for people who want nothing else than to be attorneys.
8. The people: You’d think that law school is an intellectual sanctum filled with accepting individuals and devoid of popularity contests. You’d probably also like it to be completely free and guarantee you employment upon graduation. Sadly, you quickly come to the realization that your vision of a socratic wonderland is spoiled by smatterings of spoiled, narcissistic people. Oh, and it’s definitely not free.
There’s the always-exciting cafeteria politics. Everyone in the entire law school has lunch at the same time, so eating by yourself as you may have done in undergrad or real life is a social kiss of death. Your usual groups like jocks and gunners tend to stick together (unless they’re super gunners, then they sit by themselves and “study”). Then there’s the packed table of what seems like every single girl from your section besides you. Don’t worry, they won’t invite you to sit with them. And everyone leaves early so they can also go “study”. I can’t tell you how many times girls in my section said to me, “I’m skipping lunch so I can head to The Libs.” One, what kind of person ever skips a meal so nonchalantly? No wonder everyone at BC Law weighed 95 lbs dripping wet. Two, what in hell is a Libs? Do you mean the Library? I hate to break it to you, but inventing a non-clever nickname for the law library isn’t going to make it, or you, any cooler.
Also, don’t think just because everyone spends the majority of their time studying and nothing else means that you can look like a schlub. It doesn’t matter that you stayed up until 4 AM writing that memo; your classmates did too, and they’re going to look like they stepped out of a JCrew catalog in CivPro tomorrow. I went to school in the dead Northeast, complete with chilly autumns and freezing winters. Didn’t stop everyone from wearing sundresses and fancy shoes. I guess it didn’t help that I also went to one of the most preppy, white-bread universities in the country. But know this- if you plan on going to law school, don’t plan on rolling out in PJ pants like you did in college. You’ll get awkward and confused stares, and it’s not a fun time.
The worst possible example I can give of human interaction in law school is the burn blog. Soon after section assignment, most kids created Facebook groups for their respective classes. In their infinite wisdom, the “popular kids” (why are there popular kids in law school?) created a secret Facebook group from which they would decree the weekly parties, bar reviews and general drunken revelries. Problem is, we all know anything on Facebook never stays secret. Eventually a majority of the class finds out they’re not in the uber-exclusive social club, and they’ll be excluded from most events. Or they’ll find out about it minutes before it happens. I don’t know which is worse, but now, I’d have to say ignorance is bliss. Invites were few and far between. My friend Nelly and I ranted about how if we were invited to the group, we’d refuse. Of course, when push came to shove, we wanted to be accepted as much as the next 13 year-old and caved to peer pressure. We later found out that in addition to planning weekly parties and drinking binges, Section Fun leaders were quite busy “burning” every 1L on their burn group. I thought burn groups were for middle school cheerleaders and Hollywood movies, not first tier law schools. I’ll be the first person to admit that I can be catty, biting, and sarcastic, but I pride myself on only making fun of people who absolutely, positively deserve it. I truly believe that if you are a crappy person, it’s my job to crap on you, metaphorically speaking. I don’t think I could ever write a blog about who’s on a URM scholarship or who looks like they ate an entire pie at the BCLaw Piefest. I’m not that much of a bad person, and unfortunately I was wrong to think that people like that didn’t attend law school.
7. A lesson in “life isn’t fair”: This kid sat next to me in two classes. Answered any professor’s questions well enough, though most of them seemed to be softballs. He drove me crazy because instead of taking notes assiduously like half the section, he sat on his computer all day and played Texas Hold ‘Em, Mine Sweeper, and online Backgammon. He also stayed out all night, drinking and doing God knows what because he smelled like wet dog and farts every morning. Best part is, after all the partying and game-playing and skipping classes, rumor has it he managed to score two A’s and an A-, and probably the highest GPA in the section, if not the Class of 2014. I sat in the library on weekends, nights, MY BIRTHDAY, and I only managed an A, A-, B+. The work you put in does not equal your output, kiddies. Don’t tell this story to the kids studying in the library until 3 AM, because they might jump out of the fourth floor window.
Another “life isn’t fair”- girl in my section graduated from Harvard. Wasn’t really sure why she was in law school; she didn’t seem to like it much and she probably could have gotten a job easily out of undergrad. She was the kind of bitch who made it known to the whole student body that she rented out an entire club for the night, yet handed out the wrong address when “undesirables” wanted an invite. When asked why she thought it was okay to skip every single Torts class when it was costing her hundreds of dollars a session, she responded, “It’s not costing me anything. Thanks, Mom!”
You really wanna hang out with these jerks?
6. Career services: In addition to getting perfect grades, you’re solely responsible for finding two summers’ worth of employment before you leave the comforts of law school and enter the real world. Career Services broadcasted that 96% of last year’s class all got jobs. The other 4%? “They were out having babies, fighting for our country!” Sure they were. Basically, unless you want to perform free slave labor for a non-profit who will pay you a pittance after you graduate, there are few “summer” positions to be had. 1Ls were warned that 95% of any legal intern positions offered in the United States would be unpaid. Every law student I knew who was actually interested in helping people got scholarships and stipends like they were candy. Anyone who eventually wanted a firm job and had no experience or inclination to any public service work found it hard to score an interview. Nelly, who scored one of the highest GPA’s in our class in addition to a summa cum laude degree in Economics, still hasn’t found a position. It’s like The Hunger Games of legal employment- forced lottery, everyone plays, no one wins.
I’ll never forget my first mandatory meeting with career services. The counselor gave me the same prepared speech about the resources at my disposal (computer, job book, Symplicity). She grabbed my resume out of my hands and stared at it with a magnifying glass. It had already been dissected and revised by two other members of the career services staff, so I thought I wouldn’t have to make any more changes. From the explosion of red pen marks on the paper I was clearly wrong. The counselor informed me that half of my experience, what she dubbed “theatrical experience”, wasn’t resume worthy. I logged hundreds, if not thousands of hours managing massive pieces of technical equipment, bossing people around, and putting on fantastic (If I say so myself) stage productions. Essentially, because I didn’t sit in front of a computer and wear a fancy suit, it wasn’t resume worthy. I grinned and took it, thinking that I didn’t give a crap what this lady said and I’d put whatever I damn well wanted on my resume. After dumping all over my life experience, the counselor asked me two generic questions: where I wanted to live, and if I wanted to work in the public or private sectors. She didn’t care about the area of the law I was interested in, what my eventual career goals were, or even if I knew what the hell I was doing. I was a number, a statistic. My blood, sweat, and tears made her look good. At the end of the meeting she gave me a list of websites I could use to search for jobs: Google, Simply Hired, Career Builder. I thanked her profusely, because I had never heard of any of these sites before on the interwebs.
Funny enough, Career Services informed us that if we couldn’t find suitable legal employment for the summer they’d be happy to offer us a position as a research assistant. Non-paying, of course, and by offer a position they meant force a position. If you didn’t take it and remained unemployed, you’d be negatively affecting their stats, and they can’t have that. US News & World Report won’t let them.
5. Student Government and Junk: Almost everyone at law school is a self-important tool with an agenda. Student government kids at law school are the lowest of the low.
The section popularity scheme is perpetuated by electing representatives for student groups. Some students go to group meetings with a legitimate interest in that area of law and a desire to become involved. Most go for the free pizza, and even more come when they have a real gourmet spread like Chipotle. Every organization elects general 1L representatives, saying they want involvement but mostly just wanting a mouthpiece to clog up everyone’s inboxes. It’s always the same ten people that run and win for everything.These kids probably don’t even know or care what they’re running for, much less have the desire to be a model spokesperson for the organization. After sometimes passionate and often too lengthy and unnecessary speeches, we vote. The complex voting system involved us putting our heads down, hands up, seven up style. At least this way we know there’s no chads. If you can get ten friends to stay after the free food is gone, you can win yourself a nice little resume booster. Someone who openly admitted to not being able to balance her checkbook was elected Treasurer of the Sports and Entertainment Law Society. I’m sure it was because of her interest and experience, and not her low cut top.
4. The curve: We’ve all been blessed or screwed by a curve at some point in our academic careers, but the law school curve is the most twisted of them all. Curves are assigned to schools mostly by rank, meaning the better school you go to, the higher your curve will be set. Harvard Law? Their funky pass, high pass, whatever system avoids the pitfalls of a nasty curve and makes their graduates even more desirable, unfortunately for the rest of us. If you manage to get into a third-tier law school, you’ll have to make it to the top 10% of your class to even be sniffed at by Biglaw firms. I was told by many, many students that yes- you will get B’s. You will get B’s because no matter how brilliant your answer was, only 20 kids out of 90 can get an A or an A-, so it’s more likely than not that you’ll eventually fall short. You will get B’s like everyone else, and you’ll be relegated to the middle of the pack unless you can squeak out an A somewhere along the line. Admitted, I’m one of those jerks who never got anything lower than an A- in undergrad (the one time I got a B is story-worthy, and it’s coming). Still, someone please tell me in what psycho-parallel universe a B+ is a bad grade?! Anyone?? According to the law school gods, it’s only halfway decent. To get interviewed by Biglaw, you have to be on some sort of review. In order to make any type of review, you need to have a stellar GPA. In order to have a stellar GPA, you have to do outstandingly better than everyone in your section, in each class. Half of them are from ivy league undergrads, and the other half of them are willing to study longer and harder than you do. Good luck!
Not every law student is interested in Biglaw. But thanks to the wonderfully pleasant economy, all the public interest do-gooders are also burdened with having to excel or die. As much as it hurts to admit this, even public interest employers are turned on by pedigree. Kids from highly ranked law schools who somehow couldn’t score a Biglaw job often snatch public interest jobs out from under people who are truly interested in making a difference instead of making a paycheck. Them’s the brakes, kid.
3. The Stuffed Bear: Right before I left for law school my friend Patches gave me an article from the New York Times. It was about the epic scam of law school: how schools were fudging employment information to make themselves more attractive during desperate economic times. The article compared attending law school to attending a carnival- everyone wants to play the game to win the stuffed bear, but not everyone gets it. In fact, significantly more people fail at getting the bear than ever capturing the prize. Maybe getting a cushy job after law school used to be a sure thing decades ago, but no more.
2. Money, stupid!: The average legal student graduates with about $75,000 in debt, according to some site on Google. Add that to any outstanding debt from undergrad, measure that against a modest public interest salary ($35-47,000, because Biglaw salaries are few and far in between), and you’ll have a blast paying those loans off for the next few years, especially if you live in a market like New York City. Forget about throwing a huge wedding or buying a home, unless you want to completely bury yourself in debt. One BC Law student famously wrote the interim dean, asking to forgive his loans in exchange for his JD. Someone hated the prospect of being an attorney so much that he was willing to forego his tedious labors of the past three years just to avoid getting a job in a saturated profession.
1. Your life: This is my least snarky and most sincere reason. If you don’t believe that law school will truly change your life, then you’re in for a world of hurt.
Draining as it is, the great part about having a nine to five is that you don’t have to bring your work home with you. Law school is you, home, and work combined in a devilish three-way. If you’re not doing work, you’re thinking about it, and if you’re not thinking about it, you’re doing something wrong. My daily schedule went a little something like this: Wake, eat (Maybe. no time for cereal, only granola bars. No granola bars? No eat.), try to look somewhat decent, ride bus to school, study, class, class, lunch, study, class, study, study, dinner, study, walk home, study, fall asleep to the TV. Repeat. Weekends? Same, starting an hour later, but walk to school instead of taking the bus, because there is no bus.
I hated how I’d fall asleep when talking to relatives on the phone, or act like I didn’t have to help out around the house during break because “I’d worked so hard.” Yeah, I worked hard. So what? Who was I to walk around acting like I was better than the general population? I worked at a law office for seven years, and I interacted with a lot of lawyers. Nine out of ten are stone cold idiots. Why did I think I was so special? The excuse, “You don’t understand, I’m in law school,” gets really old. Use it enough and your friends and family will start to think you’re a giant douchebag.
What eventually brought it home for me was when my LRRW professor snapped at us the first day of class, second semester: “Come on, people, wake up! You’ll be writing legal memos for the first five years of your career, so you’d better get used to it..” I woke up. Two and a half more years of school, and at least seven more years of writing uncreative, monotonous, and all-around horrible memos. This is what I had to look forward to? My writing was already suffering because I was forcing myself to type out bland and tedious sentences. I went to law school because I wanted to change the legal world, and I found out, almost too late, that law school was changing me.
My advice? Think, really think about what you’re doing. If you think law school is the only path to your destination, you’re probably wrong. Wanna be a politician? Go work in politics! Wanna be a financial wizard? Get an MBA and go work in finance! Because unemployment is rampant in our country it’s no longer a possibility to get a law degree and see what happens. You need a job, and believe me- career services will force you to get one.
If I haven’t convinced you otherwise, and you sincerely want to be an attorney, then I truly and honestly wish you the best in your legal education. People like you make the best lawyers and people like me are better off doing something else. Anything else.