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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Thinking about law school? Think again

    On Saturday, hundreds of the UA’s best and brightest poured into test centers across the city to take the Law School Admissions Test – the dreaded LSAT. Anyone who has ever completed this exercise can tell you that spending five hours on an early weekend morning trying to determine which colored dog belongs in which numbered kennel is not exactly a pleasurable experience.

    Why do people put themselves through this? Why do people take the LSAT? And why do people want to attend law school? Unfortunately, the vast majority of those who have taken the test ð- indeed, the vast majority of those who have made it across Speedway Boulevard to the James E. Rogers College of Law – cannot answer these questions. In fact, the mindset that encourages students to take the LSAT is a pretty good prelude to the mindset that persists in law school: Most people have no real idea why they are there, but they figure it is a step in the right direction.

    To be fair, people go to law school for all sorts of reasons. Some go because they knew they wanted to be lawyers from the moment their dad dressed them in a Stanford Law baby bodysuit. Others go because they did well on the LSATs, because they enjoy watching “”Law and Order”” and because lawyers make a decent living. But most people end up in law school because they want to do something productive while buying time to figure out exactly what it is they want to do with their lives.

    If you’re considering law school and fall into either of the last two categories (and maybe even the first), it might be time to reevaluate your motives.

    Law school is a professional school meant to train lawyers; it should not be a laboratory for the vocationally undecided. If you have ever thought about attending law school, you should think deeply about a legal career path and about what it means to be a lawyer. If every time you see a puddle in a supermarket you think, “”Latent tort, baby, Safeway is definitely solvent,”” then law school just may be for you. But, if the idea of filing massive discovery motions and pouring over complex statutes does not appeal to you, then maybe you should think again.

    Those who enter law school often do so with romantic ideas of what the practice of law is all about, envisioning themselves as environmental law or human rights litigators. However, they’re often discouraged from pursuing those ambitions.

    In order to attend law school, most students take on a great deal of debt. Come graduation, old dreams of becoming a prosecutor look a little romanticized when faced with the prospect of financing $1,000 a month worth of student loans. As third-year student Jared Hautamaki bluntly put the issue, “”I wish I would have realized I would be living in poverty again as a 38-year-old student.””

    A change in mindset also compels changed ambitions. Law school, like many things in life, can be a game. And ambitious students, particularly the most ambitious, want to win that game. For many, winning in law school means securing the highest paid job at the biggest, most prestigious firm. That mindset, sadly, is contagious. One law blogger for Slate magazine described this thinking this way: “”Not since the days of the Tonka backhoe and Malibu Skipper will you have so lunged for stuff in which you have no real interest, just because everyone else is lunging.””

    Those who took the LSAT on Saturday have already taken the first lunge. Before taking another, these students would be wise to stop and sincerely think about whether law school and the practice of law is right for them.

    If you come to the conclusion that it is, I offer some advice, gathered from this year’s 3L class, so that you are not lunging in lockstep from the first day of Contracts.

    Don’t expect to learn how to practice the law from your classes. “”Look for meaningful learning and work experiences while you’re a student. … That will make you a better practicing attorney.”” (Hat tip: Julia Kim).

    Ignore grades. Grading in law school is the strangest, most arbitrary value system you will ever encounter. (Hat tip: Anonymous).

    Remember to lead a balanced life. Don’t spend all your time studying; get out, exercise and socialize. (Hat tip: Jacob Shuler).

    I’ll add this: Don’t get sucked into the game. Don’t feel pressured to practice at a big firm, and don’t do it for the money. If you want to practice environmental law, find a way to do it. If you want to prosecute criminals, get out there and prosecute them.

    The law is a fascinating field, and practicing law can be a valuable and rewarding career. Think hard about that career path, take some of this advice and 15 years from now, when you’re old and balding, you won’t wonder how products liability became your life’s work, or at least you’ll be glad that it did.

    Jon Riches is a third-year law student. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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