Monday, April 11, 2011

Are You Thinking About Law School? Read This First.

It's that season of the year -- when many college graduates resign themselves to going to law school, and finalize their choices about which school to attend. And true to form, this is the time of the year when the Korean's actual email account starts swelling up with emails from all kinds of people -- younger alumni, distant relatives, friend of a friend of a friend -- who ask for law school advice. Over the years, the Korean distilled his advice down to three concise answers, and he will share them here for everyone who is potentially thinking about law school.

(What does this have to do with Korea? Nothing. It's the Korean's blog, and he will write about whatever the hell he damn well pleases. Quit whining.)

1.  The only reason to go to law school is to become an attorney.

Sounds really obvious, right? But here are the reasons not to go to law school: to become a politician; to become a businessperson; to become an activist; to become an environmentalist; to become a public policy person. And the absolute worst reason to go to law school: because you ran out of ideas.

The greatest lie sold by law schools to college graduates is this: law degree is a versatile degree. That is totally false. The only skill you learn after three years and over $200,000 worth of law school is being a lawyer. And regardless of what your dream was before you got into law school, the only way to pay off the $200,000 in student loan is ... being a lawyer! (Easier at a large law firm.)

To be sure, a desire to become an environmental lawyer (for example) is a good reason to go to law school. But even in that case, the Korean recommends spending a year or two being an environmentalist first, so that you can have a better sense of what to earn out of the law school experience. Again, law school does not teach you to be a politician, businessperson or activist. Spending those three years and $200,000 in politics, business or activism will make you a much better politician, businessperson or activist than spending them in a law school. Even at this stage when you are choosing law schools, it is not too late. Don't commit three precious years of your life earning a license you will not use.

2.  Go to a law school near a city you want to live for at least five years after graduation.

This is absolutely crucial advice that the Korean wishes someone had told him. The Korean decided on an East Coast law school, thinking that law school might be the last chance to live in some other part of the country, and he will be able to return his beloved, sunny California as soon as he graduated. BIG mistake. It has been four years since the Korean graduated from law school, and the move back to California does not appear to be in the cards for the foreseeable future. Instead, the Korean mutters curses of the damned East Coast weather 8 months out of the year.

Remember this point: easily 90 percent of law school graduates end up working in the large city near the law school. Important thing to note is this result is almost totally independent from the law school's rankings. Law is a local business. Except for the absolute top tier schools (no more than top 15, and more likely top 5,) law firms rarely hire outside of the region.

This point is worth reiterating: do NOT be fooled by the law school's rankings. Unless you are attending one of Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Stanford, NYU and Chicago, and maybe Michigan, Berkeley, U Penn, Virginia and Duke (and maaaaaaaybe Texas, Cornell, Northwestern, Georgetown and UCLA,) law school rankings do not matter. The Korean's former law firm in New York is a top-of-the-line place, and every year it hires a few people from lower ranked New York-area law schools like Seton Hall (ranked 61 in the most recent U.S. News & World Report), Brooklyn Law School (67) and Rutgers (84). In the three years that the Korean has been with the firm, he has never seen anyone getting hired from out-of-region (but undoubtedly excellent) law schools like Vanderbilt (16), USC (18) and Indiana (23).

Even if you end up at one of the top ranked law schools, don't think you can move to a place you want that easily. Life intervenes in the three years of law school. You develop friendships, and often dating relationships. Sometimes the dating relationship is such that if you moved away, you might end up losing someone dear. So you bite your tongue and deal with the shitty weather, desperately telling yourself that the loveless life in the sun is not nearly as good as a beloved life in the slushy, nasty snow... oh hi honey. Welcome home. What was I writing? Nothing. Just writing about how happy I am to be with you. Nothing about how I should have transferred to UCLA after my first year to hang out with aspiring Hollywood actresses in Beverly Hills. Nope, not at all.

3.  Once in law school, study hard.

Another advice that someone should have told the Korean. Hopefully this advice is more obvious now that the economy has gone to hell, but it is still worth telling. Obviously, your law school grades play a huge part in getting your first job after graduation. But even after that, your law school grades will follow you for a very long time. Don't relax in your second or third year just because you have a job already. You never know when you want to change jobs -- and a new employer will ask for your law school transcript for a good decade. You are in law school to study, and law schools usually have a lot of fun courses to offer. Don't slack off in your last year, and definitely don't start a blog that you can't quit in a few years even though you work 80 hours a week, just because you couldn't figure out what to do with your spare time in your third year of law school!

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.

17 comments:

  1. I've always thought being a politician was mostly about law. After all, aren't politicians the ones who make the laws? It would make sense for a law-maker to have a background in law and not something else, no?

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  2. Won Tae// There's Political Science for that

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  3. Won Tae, since when have politicians known anything about law? Just look at some of these bills in congress. XD

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  4. East coast rocks!

    hey, I've had friends able to move from NYC law jobs to Cali or Vancouver.... it is possible my friend. one of them went to Brooklyn Law school to be w/ his honey who was in a different school in NYC, then after graduation, they moved back together to southern Cali, got married, had a baby and live happily every after. But I won't tell your wife that. ha ha.

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  5. You could change the words Law School to Accountancy (CPA/ACA/ACCA/CIMA) and it would probably ring just as true as well.

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  6. I don't really know about the fact saying "if you're going to law univeristy, it's in order to become an attorney": in my current school, you have different "way", which means that you don't necesseraly become an attorney, but maybe you can you specialize in economics, or international relationship, business in enterprise...after, it may depend on your university

    And about the grades, I just so agree with The Korean! honestly, I've been in law university for 2 years now, and I will may have the opportunity to follow some classes thanks to my grades.
    WORK HARD, not because you want to show off, but because thanks to your grade, doors will may open easier

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  7. I would add #4: the legal job market is very weak with too much competition for too few jobs.

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  8. @Won Tae and I46kok

    Poli Sci trains you to be a politicians as much as Economics trains you to be a business tycoon.

    Good luck with that ;)

    (Two kids sitting next to me are talking about becoming environmental lawyer--how fitting.)

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  9. I agree with you on point #3. I am not qualified to make a comment about #2 but it sounds about right. I disagree with #1, at least the way you have it phrased. If you are emphasizing that it is important to know the reasons one chooses to go to law school, then I am in total agreement. As you said, it is an absolutely huge commitment both in financial terms and timewise. When one makes such an important decision, one has to carefully consider all the pros and cons of the decision. That said, law school does not provide you the skill to be a lawyer just as much as business school does not prepare you to be a CEO.

    I think there is a contradiction between your #1 and one of your previous post about college admission. In your earlier blog, you talk about learning outside the classroom because education should not prepare a student for life but it should mimic life. In that saying, there is a lot of learning away from textbooks and classrooms such as social interaction, maturity, etc. Similarly, law school, business school, or whatever school you go to, learning occurs beyond content or specific skill set. During the process of education, you can learn a new perspective, change the way you think, grow appreciation for something that you had overlooked, etc. as well as becoming more informed.

    So does law school help you become an attorney? Certainly. Virtually all lawyers in the United States graduated from some law school and most graduates from law school go on and become an attorney. Does law school help you ONLY become an attorney? Absolutely not. But just like any big decision, you have to know and consider all the possible consequences of your decision.

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  10. I agree with all of the Korean points on law school. Also the only way to get rid of the students loans is to pay it off or death. You can't get rid of it by bankruptcy. A lot of law schools charge big $$ even the 3rd and 4th tier schools. There is no guarantee of a job in the law field. For what its worth, I believe there are too many law schools, especially when there are not that many jobs to begin with. There are many blogs that deal with this subject.

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  11. Technically you can discharge student loans in bankruptcy, but it is very difficult. You have to demonstrate a very severe level of hardship, so severe that almost nobody is actually able to do it.

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  12. I see, so being $200,000 and no job or a low paying job is not severe enough hardship? Good thing I'm not going to law school, unless i have a full ride scholarship. BTW how much hardship does one need to prove in order to discharge the debt?

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  13. Good advice, some of this I know already from my convos with TK but its sensible. My friend went to Rice and then UCLA Law and I assumed she'd come back to Texas for a living but she's still on the West Coast. It makes sense that you would get accustomed to your area. Then, BAM you're there for the next 10 years.

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  14. TK, I'm a legal counsel myself from an Asean country, and I've always been intrigued with how law students or lawyers are portrayed in (what else) Korean dramas/movies. Everyone seems to be in awe of Korean lawyers. Fact or fiction?

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  15. Hello Korean, I've been reading your blog on-and-off since 2009. I got rerouted while searching for Kpop blogs, and I stayed for the interesting pieces. Just got off of my first year of law school (I live in the Philippines, so I guess there are differences), and I must say that your advice rings true even where I'm from. :)

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  16. If anyone is still reading this, I will add one more point. Don't take tough classes (for me, it was tax law and sales and secured transactions which brought down my GPA) because you think it will help you on the bar exam. Bar Bri and other prep courses cover what you need to know. You will end up just getting a bad grade and no one will care you took the class unless you actually specialize in that area of law. So just take fluffy courses for good grades (like dispute resolution and law and religion in my school).

    I am 15 years out of law school and would put myself in the category of didn't know what else to do. I stuck with it but can't say that I am happy with my career choice.

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  17. In my opinion, being a lawyer is not all about being a politician nor being an activist or a businessperson. It can be for you to be familiarize in law that you can also use in future need. If you really want to become a lawyer in manila or around anywhere, just do it without doubt.

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