Monday, July 20, 2009

The Answer to Surviving Law School is Scented Oils?

I recently came across a letter to Cary Tennis the advice columnist for (A tap of the gavel to the Most Strongly Supported Blog). The daughter of an attorney, "Terrified" questions whether her lifelong pursuit of a law career is the right choice. Like a nervous bride on the eve of her wedding, she is now having doubts about entering law school in the Fall. Already one hundred thousand dollars in debt, she muses that in her heart she has always wanted to be a writer. More importantly, she does not want to sacrifice her nightclub lifestyle, her friends and her boyfriend (whom I assume is a guy named Corey who enjoys wearing his trucker cap sideways....don't ask me why.) The problems presented by "Terrified" are shared by many who enter the hallowed ivy covered halls of our nation's law schools. Law school can be quite an undertaking. So what kind of advice should "Terrified" get?'s advice columnist Cary Tennis suggests the cold footed bride use the next two months to prepare emotionally and mentally for school. Try out law school. If you don't like it, just quit. I disagree. Law school shouldn't be something you "try out" like sushi or home surgery. Like marriage, the study of law should be a long term commitment. If you have serious reservations about becoming a lawyer, defer your acceptance for a year and research what your getting into. Get more information on the practice of law. Don't waste your time, the law school's time and don't take an admissions spot from someone who truly wants to practice law. Tennis approaches his advice to "Terrified" with a "Legally Blonde" version of law school. In reality, it is a mixture of the Paper Chase and Nightmare on Elm Street. My advice to "Terrified" would be to talk to students and lawyers about what law school is like. Sit in on a class. "Terrified" has a father who is a lawyer. Don't be afraid to ask him about the ups and downs of practice. I am sure her father would rather have her tell him now that she does not want to be a lawyer. Better than telling him later when the contents of his pockets have lessened considerably due to tuition payments. Use the opportunity of time off to work for a lawyer. If you are having doubts, research the career that you will undoubtedly hold onto for the rest of your life. In my own law practice, our founding partner Leon Podorowsky was writing motions on his death bed. In New Britain Superior Court, there is a judge who is over 100 years old. The practice of law is like the mafia. Once you are in, you're in for life. Judging by this prospective student's concerns (I can't party as much, I don't want to lose my boyfriend), it appears she has a little growing up to do before entering law school. Quitting after you start can be rather difficult. At that point you have prepared for the LSAT, filled out countless applications and have eventually garnered a spot in an incoming class among a select few of thousands of prospective students. You have paid your first semester's tuition. You have put countless hours in studying while alienating friends and family. You have missed weddings and birthdays. It is an emotional, financial, and intellectual commitment. After such a commitment, simply quitting is not so easy. Yes, quitting is an option. But it is easier said than done.'s next round of advice was to (1) create a vision for your ideal career and (2) put together a survival kit for times of crisis. I liked suggestion number one, the vision quest. The advice columnist tells "Terrified" to imagine your future life as a happy lawyer where you can see where you live, what time you will get up and whether your clients are painters, writers or pilots. Tennis suggests picturing a "sunny office filled with plants" Are you rolling your eyes? I am. Let's be realistic "Terrified". Your clients will probably not be painters or writers. Artists usually don't have money for a lawyer. Instead, your clients might be corporate bigwigs with chips on their shoulders, angry unpaid contractors, drunk driving frat boys, cheating housewives, sticky fingered old ladies who steal and curmudgeonly old men who complain about kids on their lawn. You will encounter the best and worst of humanity. Each client will have a problem and they have come to you to solve it. And your sunny office with plants. Chances are it will be a windowless cubicle with a dead ficus because you didn't have time to water it. Tennis paints a picture of an ideal lawyer life and suggests writing down your ideal future i.e. "I am sitting in my office enjoying the view; I am walking to my office now through a leafy, bohemian neighborhood; I smell Indian food cooking and hear children's voices. Or, today at 10 I will meet with a musician from Ghana who is raising money to start small farms through a micro-loan program in his country. Or, today I will have lunch with my favorite rock star, who needs legal work on his divorce." Does this resemble your life? Are you rolling your eyes again? I am too. Tennis suggests that "terrified" buy a little box that she can fill with things for times of crisis including scented oils, pebbles, a feather, a picture of you as a kid, and poetry. She is then instructed to write a letter to her future law student self with words of encouragement. Finally, some worthwhile advice. Ironically, I did this as a first year law student. Here is a text of my letter.
  • Dear Me: Hey champ. You smell nice. Are those scented oils? Are you ready to spend the rest of your life in a career that is basically listening to people bitch? Great, but first I need you to spend your early 20s studying your brains out while your college friends enjoy life. Don’t worry about the added debt of a law school education. Debt is the “in” thing these days. In the grand scheme of things it won’t matter. Every day you’ll die a little inside when you see another lawyer’s face on tv asking if you’ve ever been injured in an auto accident. Almost forgot the poetry. There once was a man from Nantucket…..
Tennis makes a few valid points. He reasons that "law school is a grueling intellectual challenge. It is a process of changing your fundamental habits of thinking. You will resist it in certain ways. The resistance will come from the feeling that law school is murdering something in your soul -- your innocence, your frivolity, your childlike enjoyment of life. You do not want to kill your delight in life. " I agree that you need to remain centered when approaching law studies. You cannot let them consume you. Of course "your childlike enjoyment of life" usually dies around the time you learn about the rule of perpetuities. Joking aside, the practice of law is an honorable and rewarding profession. You have the ability to help people in times of crisis. It is an admirable pursuit. Just make sure you know what your getting into. Scented oils probably won't help you through law school. Preparation and lots of coffee will.


Anonymous said...

Most people don't understand the commitment law school requires.

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