Since it is top of mind for many right now, law students and lawyers alike, a discussion of the recently released rankings is likely due. This is something that I admittedly was interested in as I was applying to law school and has been something that my partner and I have been contacted about year after year since we graduated from our alma mater.
The reason we are contacted, though, is out of the sheer disbelief that two women from a Tier 2 law school (then Tier 3, and now Tier “not so sure”) could just walk out of law school and start a firm. It seems to be shocking that this could have occurred.
This is the part of the legal field where rankings matter a lot less than intelligence, perseverance, wit, and the plain-old willingness to roll up your sleeves and get to work to build your law practice…
The practical reality of American legal education is that not all of us are going to score in the high 160s or 170s on the LSAT. Since grades are not a golden ticket to getting into law school either if you are not in this score range, you may not be attending a Top 10 or Top 20 law school. If you are bad at standardized tests or perhaps were not as diligent as you should have been in your collegiate academic endeavors, this might be likely.
Yet, you will know this fairly early, so the best advice is to be good at life. Go get some experience in an interesting industry. Work at a bunch of different internships or diligently work for someone’s small practice. Start a blog. Build a website. Go to networking events and meet dynamic people. Cold call or email someone you admire and would love to learn from. Get skills to bring to the table that you will not learn at a Top 20 law school — or any law school for that matter.
Our firm continually brings on externs from our alma mater and other local law schools in San Francisco. We get many résumés every year, and we interview only a few people. The ones who stand out to us are the ones who have a diversity of experience or a passion about what it is we do. One of our clerks started his own blog where he discusses hot Internet law topics. Guess what, it is really good. The second clerk we ever hired is still with us because he is sharp, a hard worker, and a key part of the GAMA team.
The first associate we hired? Another alum from our law school who worked for us for two years. We have had some phenomenal writers and problem solvers come through our clerk program. Your hard work and talent, even if the company or firm cannot hire you permanently, will result in the willingness of supervisors to help and look out for you.
Being a good lawyer or working in some legal or policy capacity does not necessarily equate with where you attended law school. I know many talented legal professionals who went to schools you may never have heard of. This is not meant to mask the truth that you will need to work a little harder or use a some ingenuity in the process of finding a job, independent contractor position, or some other gig.
Every year, the new rankings frankly serve to validate what we already know about the Top 20 or so law schools and scare the crap out of those in the lower tiers. The rankings only define you if you let them.
Christina Gagnier leads the Intellectual Property, Internet & Technology practice at Gagnier Margossian LLP, with a specialization in social media, copyright and information privacy. She is also at the helm of REALPOLITECH, a digital public relations consultancy that provides a broad range of services, including crisis communications. She serves on the Board of Directors of Without My Consent, combating issues like revenge porn. If you ever need to find her, start with Twitter at @gagnier or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.