The Big Picture

Most of the people who read this page have already decided to apply to law school; their primary questions are about how and when to apply, not whether to.

However, some people start by looking for help in deciding whether law is the right career for them. Dean Edward Tom of Berkeley Law School addresses some aspects of this question.  The remarks made at a swearing-in ceremony and preserved under “Saints and Superheroes” address some of the broader ethical standards required in the legal profession. 

A few of you will return to this question at the end of your application process; you'll consider how hard the process of taking the LSAT, writing essays, choosing schools and applying was; you'll see how much time you needed to bring your writing and reasoning skills up to standard; you'll look at the average salaries and the debt load, and you'll want to reconsider this enormous decision.

If you find yourself giving serious thought to whether you should be here at all, congratulations!  Law school isn't for dilettantes.  It's far better to give this decision the depth it deserves before you invest over $100,000 than after – or worse, in the middle.

How Lawyers Act

After the LA Forum one year, we had drinks with an admissions officer who told us that she has a serious problem making offers of admission or scholarship to applicants whose e-mail addresses and phone messages reflect a high level of immaturity.  She said that if she goes to e-mail an offer of a seat at her school and sees "sexygirl," someone else is going to get that seat, and if she calls to offer a scholarship and hears "whazzup dude," she hangs up without saying a word.  

When one of my students got a job clerking for a Federal judge, the first thing the senior clerks did was take him out to buy a better suit, better shirts, better ties. They told him when his jacket needed to be buttoned, (or more importantly, when it couldn't be unbuttoned), what to order at a restaurant, how early to show up at work and how early he could leave.

It's amazing how many admissions officers think that lawyers are supposed to be responsible adults, and furthermore, that responsible adults do not have pierced eyebrows or tongues, blue hair or mohawks, or spandex business attire.  And how will they know if you allow yourself these small expressions of counterculture?  They will go online and look at your facebook profile.  They will Google your name, read your posts on law.discussion.org, and check out your favorite quotes from Eminem or photos of Mr. Weiner. 

The 2011 NAPLA (Pre-Law Advisors') Conference discussed "social media" in three different contexts -- one was for the use of law schools to stay in touch with applicants; one was for deciding how to limit the use of social media in the classroom -- including a ban on the use of laptops. And the third was cruising through facebook and twitter to eliminate applicants for seats, and often for scholarships. So those of you who identify as the "pre-adult" generation may feel that you don't have to meet the rules of an adult society, but the people who decide whether you can be a lawyer seem to disagree.

So if you want to go to law school, you have to pay the price:  clean up your phone messages and web pages, censor your public comments, and at least pretend to be a person who knows how adults behave.

What Lawyers Do

One thing this web page won't do is tell you “what lawyers do.”  If you need help stretching your imagination beyond Judge Judy or taxes and wills, you might want to read More Than 300 Things You Can Do With a Law Degree, by Hindi Greenberg.

If prayer is one of your decisionmaking methods, don't be shy about using it now. It's as valid a way to decide this question as any other about your future.

Or you might want to ponder the words of my client Oleg at the end of his first semester at Duke:

"What they don't tell you is that you are about to sign up for more than just classes, or even interaction with the professors who teach them — you sign up to become part of an environment which will continuously shape and mold your thinking — even construct the parameters for your perception of self as a student, intellectual, and individual. The discussions and debates I have had with my peers at Duke have been perhaps more instructive than the classes which fueled those discussions. This is not the education one can gain from books, but rather is a transformative experience which one gains partly from the interaction with peers."

Finally, you can consider a few of my own favorite questions, which I often use in my Intro to Law School class:

  • Why are telephone calls on land lines protected by the Fourth Amendment, but calls on cell phones not?
  • Why can women jog topless in New York?
  • When a homeless man you occasionally feed shows up at your door and tells you he just killed somebody, can you turn him away?
  • Is Gangsta Rap political speech?

If discussions like those sound like a great way to spend an evening, keep on reading!

The rest of this web page will help you answer the more procedural questions — when and how to apply.  Start by looking at the calendars in this section.  Each one is linked to the sections that address the relevant subject matter

Since the process of applying to law school can easily take more than a year, you may reread some sections several times.  As you follow links from one topic to another, you'll eventually get lost.  When that happens, try these tips:

  • Each section is color-coded.  If a link takes you to a page with a side bar of a different color, you've entered a new topic.  The “back” button on your browser will return you to your jumping-off point more easily than the links at the bottom of the page.
  • If you're not sure why the link took you where it did, try using the “Home Page” link at the bottom of the page;  by looking for the color to which you were transported, you can see where in the grander scheme your question fits.
  • Any time the process seems confusing,take a peek at the navigation map.  The process is so immense that it IS confusing, and re-orienting yourself every now and then is a good idea.

Ready?  Good.  Head over to the Calendars and find the schedule that works best for you.


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