This column is going to be a little different from the usual fare I serve up on a weekly basis. For one, its not going to have the populist slant found in my previous scribbling.
Rather, its a little advice for those law school graduates who have matriculated during December, and are getting ready to take the bar exam in February. Why is this my audience during this fine, holiday season? Because Im one of them.
Graduating from law school is quite an accomplishment. However, its kind of a sad thing to do it at the end of the year, a full semester ahead of the rest of your classmates. One day youre in finals, the next few days its your holiday celebration and the next day youre in bar review class. Literally.
I finished my last final on Dec. 18 and found myself in a dark classroom in the middle of the evening on Dec. 27. You really dont even have time to enjoy what youve done its just wham, bam right back into class for the most stressful two days of your entire life.
In retrospect, I really didnt mind law school. Aside from the winner-take-all exams (and a few questionable professors), I found it to be an exhilarating intellectual challenge. You could spend your entire law school career just discussing the law and what makes society tick with a bunch of pretty intelligent people with a whole bunch of opposing viewpoints and different shades of perspective. Aside from the price tag, its not a bad way to spend three or four years.
The bar exam, however, is a completely different beast.
The exam itself is two days of approximately seven hours per day of testing. The essays on day one are complicated and the multiple choice questions on day two are diabolical. Some of the questions take at least 15 minutes to read, let alone reading and then answering. People faint, throw up and run screaming from the room during the exam, and there are more tears than cheers throughout the entire experience. There is no question that those two days in February were the worst days of my life.
However, getting out of law school proves one thing: you were good at getting out of law school.
Passing the bar exam proves a similar corollary: you were great at taking the bar exam. However, these two incidents in isolation do not mean you will be a great, or even a good, lawyer. Why, I myself as a pup had no idea how to file a replevin action. Or how to file a complaint in District Court. Or how to drat discovery and conduct depositions. Or even how to ethically serve clients. These things take some time, experience and effort to figure out. And some employers especially small to mid-size firms (ones most lawyers will end up at, unless they went to Harvard or Yale) dont care much for on the job training.
So what do you do?
The absolute best thing for you to do is to intern in a small- to medium-size law firm. In that way, youll have some experience with the courts and filing, as well as achieve a more than passing familiarity with the documents that are used to get the legal ball rolling, so to speak. This is crucial, as it will make you much more desirable to employers, and you can tell potential employers in your interviews how you have actively solved thorny legal problems.
Interning at the big firms will teach you a little about how to do research, take long lunches at expensive restaurants and the nightlife of whatever city the firm wants you to go to. Plus, if you do continue on at the big law firm, all youll really be able to do is research and how to do document classification for a couple of years. Certainly not the practice of law as you envisioned it on your first day of law school.
Plus, youll always have a better chance at getting hired at these smaller firms. In fact, its a great experience to have. In these environments, you will learn a ton. This way, in case something surprising or shocking happens in your career, you will be able to throw out your own shingle, and are able not only to survive, but thrive.
Christopher L. Markham is a general practice attorney based in Frederick. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.