After my post yesterday, I received a well-considered response from one of my clients. I think she raises some wonderful points and wanted to share them with my readers:
True, working as a legal assistant did require long hours and tedious work. However, after my experience, I have a much more realistic view of the legal profession and am entering this profession with a better idea of the career path that I wish to take (or avoid). I feel that a lot of my peers envision themselves challenging injustice or saving the world as lawyers. Although some of them will have the opportunity to do just that, the majority of them will end up at a big law firm working 100+ hours a week doing the same tedious work that legal assistants do.
I have come across so many disillusioned first-years who cannot believe that, after three years of law school, they have been assigned to reviewing lien search results or creating signature pages. In fact, after a year as a legal assistant, I found myself coordinating and training these first-years myself. I think everyone should work as a legal assistant before they commit to law school and spend $150,000. In my class of 12 entering legal assistants, only about four of us are committing to a legal career and the rest are pursuing some really neat career paths. One of my former co-workers is now pursuing a degree in medicine at Columbia, one was hired by a client of ours in banking, another is applying to graduate school for communications and public policy, and another is at Georgetown studying terrorism and security. How miserable would they have been if they had gone through three years of law school and then realized that they do not enjoy their work?
My suggestion to those contemplating what they should do with their time off would be to work in an environment where they think they would be interested in working after law school. It is certainly better to realize that the legal profession is not for you before heading into law school. I think that is why the legal field has such a low retention rate. Too many young people enter into the legal field without conducting the necessary research. I do agree with you, though, that they should take the time off to find their passion as well. In that respect, I suggest volunteering or maybe taking a couple of months off before law school to travel and explore. I just know that, due to my experience at a law firm, I will not be among those first-years who complain about the long hours or tedious assignments at my first job out of law school, because I would already know what to expect and what is expected of me. – Y.
I want to thank Y. for her comments. To be honest, I agree with everything she is saying. I also happen to know her, and to know that her specific situation as a legal assistant is not the same as many others who take on these positions. If you’re considering taking on a position in a law firm for the year off, make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons.
It’s not good if you look at it as a paycheck, a way to fluff-up your law school applications, or a way to obtain letters of recommendation from attorneys. The experience will not be rewarding.
However, if you approach your job as I know Y. has approached hers – to delve into the law and observe and contribute, happy to do so in even the smallest ways and willing to go the extra mile in every task (no matter how trivial it may seem) – you will gain valuable insight into whether you are choosing the right path.
One more comment – just because a “biglaw” job doesn’t appeal to you, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t practice law. There are many, many ways to practice law just as there are many kinds of lawyers. After all, not all lawyers have the same personalities or skills. It’s a degree that can be applied in many ways. So, my point is that you shouldn’t end your exploration of a career over one bad experience at one job.
While in law school, I tried everything: family law, public interest, employment law, big firm corporate litigation, school district attorney’s office – before finding a small, boutique litigation firm that taught me that the most important thing to me in a law job was the ability to take depositions regularly. You will have the opportunity to explore your niche in law school if you take advantage of the opportunities presented to you.
I do welcome comments on this topic, and I want to thank Y. for agreeing to share her thoughts with my readers.