Reflections on 15 Years as “Law School Expert”
It’s been 15 years since I started Law School Expert. 15 years.
People often ask me how I got started and this seems like a good opportunity to reflect and to share. If you visit the blog for law school admission advice, this may not be the post for you. But it’s possible there will be some worthy life advice, some relatable moments, and – perhaps – some humor.
The story really begins in 1999 – 20 years ago. That’s when I graduated from law school. I’d had all the requisite BigLaw summer clerkships, the clinics and internships with Legal Aid, and was in the sought-after top 10% of my law school class, on law review, etc. Yet, when I graduated from law school, I had only one job offer – Army JAG Corps. The idea of being shipped off to South Korea when I had only been overseas once in my life at that point (to Israel) was terrifying. And the pay was really horrific – $35,000 if memory serves. I didn’t seriously consider it as an option. Especially because I was married and my husband at the time had taken a job in Denver. So, off to Denver I went. (In hindsight, I should’ve joined JAG).
The University of Denver College of Law was hiring a Director of Career Services. I was not at all qualified.What I had working for me was a lot of experience in student leadership, both as an undergraduate and in law school. So, I applied. I got an interview, and from that interview the Dean of Students decided to create a position for me as Director of Student Services. Thus began my career in higher education.
I got divorced later that year and took a job in California as Director of Admissions for California Western School of Law. I really loved this work! I loved reading people’s stories, recruiting students, building a law school class. I met Brent and we moved to Los Angeles where I became Director of Admissions at Loyola Law School.
Later, Brent was transferred to his firm’s office in Santa Barbara and we jumped at the chance to leave LA. But that also meant practicing law since there was no accredited law school to work for in Santa Barbara. So, I practiced law. I loved this work, too – interesting clients, taking depositions, learning something new every day. My boss at the boutique business law firm became my mentor, a father figure. He came to our wedding. Then it was time for my one-year review.
“Ann, you’re doing good work and you’re billing beautifully. You deserve to make one third of your billable hours, which would be $110,000 per year. But I feel like you’re going to ‘Mommy Track’ soon, so I’m only going to pay you $95,000.”
Yes, that’s an actual quote. The warning bells went off, of course. I knew that if I’d been a man, he probably would’ve paid me $115,000 to help me support my growing family. But I felt powerless. I said nothing. I regret that.
Later, I actually did have a baby. And when she was eight days old, I was billing again, knowing how my boss felt about me “Mommy Tracking.” I was back in the office, baby with me, within a couple of weeks.
When she was four months old, I was told my services were no longer needed. I had prepared for this moment and asked, “Well, what do you think is fair in this situation?” He paused and said he’d pay me a month’s severance. He said, “Your husband just got a new job.” I said, yes, he’d just started a new job and it was still precarious. I wish I’d told him that was irrelevant. (BTW, in the end, the check he sent was less than what he promised.) A friend told me to register for unemployment, so I did.
I pounded the pavement trying to find another job, but this is a small town. Everyone knew I’d just had a baby. One morning, I was pushing the stroller on a walk with my best friend who was also a lawyer (whose employer offered six months maternity leave) and I said the fateful words:
“Maybe I should go back to law school admissions, but this time help applicants through the process.”
I went home and researched the following:
- How do I start a business?
- How do I get a business phone?
- How do I get a website?
- How do I get insurance? (required by my husband, an insurance defense attorney)
- How would I get clients?
At the end of the week, I told my husband I thought it would cost $1,400 to start the company. He asked whether I might get away with $700 ($1,400 was the exact amount of my month’s unemployment check). I said, no, it was going to be $1,400. We dove in. I learned everything from scratch – how to advertise, how to create a template website, how to accept payments, etc. And every time the phone rang (before cell phones!), I put the baby down and RAN to the bedroom to take the call.
I made $1,500 in the first three weeks and never looked back. Law School Expert has changed my life: I do something I love, something I’m good at, something that helps launch people who are going on to create their own careers.
I was on my own running Law School Expert until 2006, when I hired someone who helped me design my first real website and taught me about blogging. The Law School Expert blog might be the longest continuing law school admissions related blog in history. Perhaps. (I’m sure you’ll let me know if it isn’t!)
The next year, I hired someone to take charge of my marketing and advertising, and the year after that I hired my very first assistant. All of this let me spend more time working with clients and to focus on the things I was really an expert on (which does not include bookkeeping, SEO, or Google AdWords). In 2009, I wrote the first edition of The Law School Admission Game: Play Like an Expert. In 2013, I re-wrote it and released it as the second edition. And in 2017, I re-wrote and released the third edition. In 2011, I wrote The Law School Decision Game. It’s really outdated at this point, but since it involved interviewing 300 lawyers, it’s a daunting endeavor to try to re-do it. Maybe in 2021?
Really, all these years later, Law School Expert is the same. I have an assistant and a bookkeeper and a small handful of proofreaders. I’m still doing all the work with clients on their applications personally. I still have my cell phone on the website. I still work from home. I turn things around just as quickly and my clients are still getting great results and doing impressive and meaningful things.
I’ve met amazing people from all walks of life and I’ve made some fabulous friends. My clients span the spectrum of humanity. Many are American, but quite a few are international students. Many of my clients are young and embarking on their first careers, while many others are members of the military, police officers, immigrants, the children of immigrants, people of – literally – every religion, people with political leanings both left and right, people who were in the foster care system, people who came here illegally, DREAM-ers, people who overcame addiction, investment bankers, sexual assault survivors, actors, musicians, ballet dancers, philanthropists, people who identify everywhere along the LGBTQ scale, or some combination of all of these things.
And it’s incredibly gratifying to see these individuals launch their careers – after all, my first set of clients have now been practicing law for over a decade. It’s great fun for me to see them out there in the world (mostly thanks to Facebook) – many are doing the things they always intended to do. Some found new areas of interest during law school. This has turned out to be an incredibly meaningful and impactful 15 years, and not only for my clients.
I’ve had the privilege to meet up with them during and after law school to discuss their experiences. I’ve been invited to three weddings and several law school graduations and the ensuing parties. I now know I have friends to meet up with pretty much everywhere in the country, and in many places around the world – from Saudi Arabia to Dubai, China, South Korea, Turkey, Egypt, and all the way to Guam.
I didn’t cultivate all of this without help. First, of course, the support of my husband. Even though he was building his own legal career as an associate and then partner and later equity partner, he always stepped up and took care of whatever needed doing – laundry, kitchen clean-up, etc. (Except diapers, but he swears if we’d had boys he would’ve taken that on as well – alas we had two girls). Brent took Law School Expert seriously and saw its potential even before I did.
I decided to embrace being a mom and living a life. Instead of hiding it, I wanted to be an example for how others could find a way to engage in challenging and gratifying careers. Opening myself up to clients on Facebook and to readers on my blog enriched our relationships and helped us interact personally. We became even more invested in each other. Of course, when you put yourself out there on the Internet, you benefit from attracting good attention, but also not-so-good attention. Before we knew to call them “trolls,” people commented on my blogs and made fun of me for (1) being young; (2) being a young woman; (3) being a young/attractive woman; and (4) having a big nose. One called me “ingratiating” – which I had to look up but then decided to take as a compliment. I decided that I am who I am. If you don’t like me, you don’t have to work with me. But I refused to change at my core.
Of course, in the end, I did change at my core. Not in “essentials” as Elizabeth Bennett would say, but in what I felt myself capable of doing. My clients inspired me. They inspired me to travel internationally. They inspired me to become a foster parent. They inspired me to support certain political candidates, movements, and organizations. And they inspired me to run three half marathons in the past year. I know that technically I’m providing a “service” as a law school admission consultant, but it sometimes becomes a two-way street. My clients open my eyes to the world, teach me about their professions, their cultures, and how they see the world. I feel very fortunate to have the privilege to do this work.
I truly hope to do it for another 15 years.