Advice

U.S. News will release its annual law school rankings next week. That means that a bunch of would-be law students will have another somewhat arbitrary look at which schools have the right to saddle them with lifelong debt, and which schools should be begging them to come with money.

So it’s time to fire up the ATL Decision Machine! You know how this works: you email us with the schools you are choosing between, we tell you what to do, you end up going to the highest-ranked school you got into anyway.

Usually, Lat and I give slightly competing reasons, but he’s on vacation right now, so mwahahaha. Today’s choice is interesting: two good schools, but only one is shelling out any money….

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Ed. note: This is the latest post by Anonymous Recruitment Director, who will offer an insider’s perspective on the world of law firm hiring.

Following the publication of my initial column, I received scores of emails from polite job-seekers with specific questions about their current employment situations. While I am not able to reply to all of the notes, I can offer some guidance to assist the majority of these job-seekers.

Insider tip: Biglaw firms tend to avoid hiring candidates who have strayed off of the traditional path to Biglaw firm employment. Such “rogue” candidates make the recruitment committee nervous, and any candidate who makes the committee nervous will not be advanced in the process. If you want to work in Biglaw, get a job in Biglaw during your 2L summer. If this is not possible (because you did not land a job in Biglaw or you have already graduated), get a job at a small- or medium-sized private firm in the exact practice area that you hope to work in when you make the jump after a few years to Biglaw. Clerkships are fine, but law firm experience in your desired practice area is the ideal. Also, of great importance, you MUST do well in all courses related to your practice area of choice. If you received a C in Securities Regulation, it will be a hard sell to land a job as a securities lawyer at a large firm.

What are some other factors that will make the recruitment committee uncomfortable?

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You learn a lot of lessons practicing in Biglaw. A big one is that you can never be prepared enough. There is always another opinion of your presiding judge to read, or a brief drafted by your opponent in an earlier case to review. Anyone who makes it more than a few years in Biglaw learns that lesson. But as much as preparation is valued, and pursued with fervor as an ideal onto itself, there is absolutely no way for even the most idealistic Biglaw recruit to fully appreciate what they are getting themselves into.

As many know, law school itself has little to teach about the realities of Biglaw, other than to idealize it as a fantasy land of big paychecks and “interesting work.” And everyone’s Biglaw experience is so unique that anecdotal tidbits are of limited utility. Does the professor, who so proudly includes on his resume a two year stint as a M&A associate at a white-shoe firm two decades ago, have much actionable advice to give a graduating 3L headed for a first-year post at even that same firm? Not really, except to perhaps suggest that the best type of relationship with that firm is one where it is your former employer….

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Keith Lee

To say that people want rewards without responsibility or effort is a trite observation. But often times it seems as though the problem is growing increasingly worse. For example:

Five days to fitness, to three minutes, down to six seconds. Of course, true fitness is a total lifestyle commitment that requires years of sustained effort involving discipline and sacrifice. But that’s an awful lot of work.

Far easier to blow $100 on some get-fit-quick scheme, haphazardly follow it for a few days, and then blow it off. Then you can blame your lack of fitness on the program. No need to take personal responsibility for your position in life….

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment of the ATL Interrogatories. This recurring feature will give notable law firm partners an opportunity to share insights and experiences about the legal profession and careers in law, as well as about their firms and themselves.

Paul Steven Singerman is Co-Chair of Berger Singerman and concentrates his practice in troubled loan workouts, insolvency matters, and commercial transactions. Paul is active throughout the United States in large and complex restructuring, insolvency, and bankruptcy cases. Although Paul is best known for his representation of debtors in complex restructuring cases, he is also experienced in representing creditors’ committees, lenders, large unsecured creditors, asset purchasers in § 363 sales and trustees. Much of his work has involved companies with international operations or European or Asian parties-in-interest.

1. What is the greatest challenge to the legal industry over the next 5 years?

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One of the questions I have been asked since leaving Biglaw is how I decided to join forces with my current partners. It is a good question, because over the years I have had the opportunity to work with many lawyers, both at my firm and at others. I have technically even had hundreds of “partners” between my two prior Biglaw firms. But other than my current partners, I can think of only a handful whom I would have considered opening a firm with.

My professional ambition was never to open a boutique. I very much enjoyed my time in Biglaw, and always thought that I would stay in Biglaw for the remainder of my career. Did that mean that I expected to remain at the same firm for my entire career? Of course not, no matter how appealing that idea sounded. The fraying of the Biglaw social contract as a result of the 2008 recession sealed that deal. But it was a big leap from knowing that my career could involve some moves within Biglaw to leaving Biglaw altogether.

Finding the right compatriots was a critical element of that decision. How did it come about?

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Recently, a group of Harvard Law professors released the results of their survey of 124 attorneys from 11 large firms, asking what courses Harvard students ought to take to prepare for Biglaw practice. Overall, financial courses such as accounting, financial reporting, and corporate finance, topped the list, as noted by Will Baude over at the Volokh Conspiracy. But the study got me thinking: what courses should lawyers interested in starting a practice — either directly after law school or a few years down the road — study in law school?

If you ask this question of solos or consultants, most will argue that law schools need to teach business-type classes like how to write a business plan or how to market a law practice. And while law schools should certainly make those classes available to interested students, I don’t view them as imperative. Let’s face it, most of this material isn’t rocket-science (high school dropouts open successful businesses, after all), and the web offers a bottomless treasure trove of this type of information. (As an aside, one of my personal faves is Canvarise, a one-page template that pulls together all of the elements of a traditional business plan).

Nor do I believe that substantive courses — bankruptcy, family law, immigration, copyright — are all that important. Substantive law is state-specific, so it’s tough to teach and it’s always changing. What you learn as a second-year law student may no longer be valid a few years down the road. Plus, it’s not difficult to pick up the basics of a new practice area on the fly. Think about it: most students studying for the bar gain a quick understanding of as many as 25 different substantive practice areas in a summer. No reason the same isn’t true in practice.

In my view, law students should focus on studying and acquiring the kinds of skills that aren’t easily found or readily mastered in practice. With that as a guide, here’s my top five list of classes that will help prepare students for solo practice…

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It’s so hard to judge yourself.

Deep in your soul you know that people who criticize you are idiots, and people who praise you are wise and sagacious.

How can you possibly tell if you’re any good at what you do?

I have the answer for you! I’ve created a litigators’ self-assessment test! Now you’ll know if you’re any good!

Here’s how it works: Take out the last brief you filed.

Do it. Now. You won’t learn anything if you don’t follow the rules.

Look at the first sentence of your brief. For about ten percent of the people reading this column, the first sentence of your brief says (and I quote) . . . .

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I think we’ve all noticed how invested the legal academy is in telling us that they produce “practice ready” graduates. But there is scant research on what actually makes one “practice ready” versus “effectively useless.” Some law deans tell us that clinics and “experiential learning” are particularly important. But are they? Or is that just a nice line you can use to fleece prospective law students who don’t know any better?

A new Harvard study takes a look at what law school classes actually helped graduates once they got into Biglaw. I know, I know, every school outside of the top 20 is now screaming about how “there’s more than BIGLAW, stupid Elie.” But if there are schools that just want to ADMIT that they’re not preparing their students for Biglaw jobs that they’re never going to get, please feel free to ignore the lessons of this study. For everybody else who wants to pretend that their students have a reasonable chance at taking the jobs with the highest salaries, there’s some interesting stuff here…

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Ed note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, Ann K. Levine, a law school admission consultant and owner of LawSchoolExpert.com, offers helpful tips for law school applicants.

Law schools have been increasing their scholarship opportunities in order to lure applicants. Why? Because law school applicants are in demand. Applications are down yet again, and law schools are scrambling to fill their seats. (See TaxProf Blog for exact numbers and trends, year over year.)

As law schools compete for qualified applicants with better scholarships, it may be easier to consider criteria like debt alongside rank and prestige when choosing a law school. As part of this new trend, law schools are adding on scholarship programs to make attending law school more affordable. Villanova Law recently announced an initiative to add 50 full-tuition scholarships for three years, and in-state students at Penn State are being offered $20,000 per year as part of a new scholarship program.

Continue reading at the ATL Career Center…

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