CONSIDERING YOUR OPTIONS
-- PREPARING FOR LIFE AFTER LAW SCHOOL
CLASS OUTLINE AND SYLLABUS
I. PREPARATORY WORK
To prepare the class, prior to the first day of classes:
A. Assign all class members to five to six person study groups.
[If study groups have already been assigned to the students, assign different ones for this class.]
B. Syllabus, Textbooks.
Encourage each study group to divide the suggested textbooks up and to share the texts with the other members (that way instead of each student buying all six texts, four or five will buy one each and at most one student will buy two -- saving money and practicing sharing resources -- and getting practice in working as a group).
The proposed textbooks are:
C. Syllabus, Essays (photocopies).
The Syllabus should contain the following essays:
II. SUBSTANTIVE LESSONS, NON-LAW
A. Time Management (cf Making Partner, review the chapter on time management, lead discussion on the time requirements of different legal alternatives -- also refer to Changing Jobs and the descriptions there of time requirements of different alternatives).
B. Task Management (how to organize and do work).
C. Group Politics (how a group works, how to avoid trouble). Half of success in a job is avoiding trouble from political matters.
D. Individual Politics (verbal violence, career advancement, cf Elgin and Making Partner).
E. Survival (cf Selected Essays).
A. Small office practice/solo practice.
Consider these points:
If your litigation group leaves and has only a 20% overhead (after moving, with the dead weight pruned out), how much can you drop your hourly rate and still have the same net income?
What if you no longer transfer some of the money to partners? If you've been a senior litigation associate doing insurance defense for the same adjusters/company for the last ten years, who will they hire? The old firm at $240 an hour or you -- their real lawyer the last ten years -- at $120 an hour. When layoffs are coming and senior associates find themselves targeted, what choices do you have? Run the numbers.
Consider alternatives as well.
B. Civil Service.
Legal (prosecutor, legal service corporation, etc. Federal Resumes).
Non-Legal (diplomatic corps, INS, Forest Service, etc.).
Many civil service programs acknowledge that legal training provides employees with a definite edge. Many law schools will have one or two students a year who have no intention of practicing law, but who want the benefits of a legal education in their civil service career. Further, many civil service jobs have rigid point systems and tests that determine who is hired and who is promoted -- and a doctorate is a definite plus rather than a minus.
C. Traditional Firms. As a lawyer. As a paralegal ($35,000.00/year).
Many paralegals make more than the average lawyer. Consider if your law degree wouldn't be better hidden behind a paralegal certificate. Case & White might not even have the time to snub you as a lawyer, but they might hire you as a paralegal.
D. Judicial Clerkships as a transition to practice, and as a career.
Staff attorneys or briefing attorneys for many courts are now full-time career track positions paying $40,000.00 a year or better. Pools of staff attorneys serve most federal courts and most state supreme courts.
This means not only the few law school positions, but teaching at Junior Colleges, High Schools, etc. Your children's school teachers average $41,000.00 a year. Often high schools pay their teachers better than colleges do and they average a good deal more than many attorneys.
F. Starting over.
It is becoming difficult for many law graduates to find a place practicing law after they pass the bar. While the national statistics differ on a state by state basis, Texas is illustrative.
In Texas there are three thousand new lawyers a year and employment for only five hundred of them. (cf An Alarming Equation, Texas Lawyer November 27, 1995). The bottom 84% has to start over either in small/solo practice (which is really the traditional way of practicing law) or in quasi- or non- law areas. You may want to ask yourself if you want to start over after your first semester grades come back or if you want to wait until you've spent an additional two and a half year's time and money.
Your options include becoming a Physicians Assistant (usually called a P.A). (27 semester hours, two years, paid for part of it, $50,000.00/year to start), becoming an R.N. (two years, average pay over $40,000.00), becoming a counselor (an extremely overcrowded career field), business (a previous Vice President of the Bank of America was a law school graduate), government (legislative aide, etc.), banking, investments, etc.
G. Quasi-Legal Employment.
Court clerks, paralegal (see above, below), legal secretary, bankruptcy paralegal (this is a specific, statute defined service), hearing officers, parole officers, police officers, FBI, CIA, probation officers, Child Protective Services, etc. all are employment in the legal area without being attorneys.
Often a year of law school will provide you with a valuable edge in understanding and succeeding in such a position.
IV. PRACTICAL SKILLS
These are the skills you need to survive in a small office. These skills are to be reprised again, and again, and again.
A. Reading [i.e. research]. Checking a citation, reading the case, not just the notes, how to find and appreciate real law.
B. Writing [i.e. briefing]. Review HotDocs, ProDocs and O'Conner's as well as the Texas State Bar forms. Explain that the law is more than forms and that rote reliance on forms can really destroy an attorney's reputation.
C. Arithmetic [i.e. time sheets and time management]. Review Making Partner, Changing Jobs, Survival Skills and How to Start and Build A Law Practice. (The students will have reviewed this material earlier, in weeks one and two, but it needs to be revisited again). Prepare for substantial discussion.
V. OTHER NOTES
A. Interviewing skills/dress for success.
Dark blue or charcoal suits, white shirts, conservative ties, short hair. Practice the interview process to overcome your twirks, quirks and weaknesses. Practice makes perfect.
B. Facing reality.
Current placement statistics for the law school and current placement statistics for law schools generally by geographic area. Is it a sellers market (Texas in 1998) or a place where no one can find a job (Texas in 1996).
The entire placement picture is on an uneven trend. The elite institutions are a few years behind the top 40 when their are declines, and the top 40 are following the trend established by the middle deciles. Relative statistics reflect not so much what you can expect as where your placement efforts sit on the scale of top to bottom.
C. Second chances -- they do exist.
--As a lawyer.
--As something else. An MBA, a Physician's Assistant, a Nurse Practitioner, INS employee (or other bureaucrat). See above.
D. Law and another career at the same time.
I have given the elements of this syllabus a great deal of thought, much of it while giving younger graduates advice on what they can do and how to do it. I consider what is happening to some young lawyers to be one of the great tragedies of our time.
Literally thousands of young people (2,500 a year in Texas alone) are graduating, passing the bar and then finding themselves without an understanding of their useful skills (they do have them) and difficult employment choices in their chosen field. At the same time they have crushing levels of educational debt. They have often expanded all of their emotional and mental reserves.
Yet all of these students can have rich and rewarding professional lives, many in law, some outside of it, if they are properly prepared. This syllabus is part of a class developed with the goal of preparing law students to succeed after they have graduated regardless of their place in the graduating class.
Copyright 1995-1998 Stephen R. Marsh
All Rights Reserved