Hello loyal readers! This is a post off my usual super interesting tax discussions that you have come to love. I received a nice email request from a linkedIn editor to write about my experience and opinions as a #LawGrad, and while I am way too old to know how to use a “hashtag” (that’s this “#” symbol for my non tweeting readers) law school complaints are definitely something I would enjoy writing a little rant about.
Was law school worth it? As anyone that knows me personally can attest, I do my utmost to advise aspiring lawyers NOT to attend law school, or to at least grant them a high octane unsolicited burst of knowledge on what it’s really about. Now law school may have been different for everyone, but in my circles I believe I am speaking for a decent sized group of now lawyers who say the experience#Sucked, see what I did there?
Many people go to law school based often on what they view of TV shows and Movies about both the schooling and the practice. They are prepared for a brutal workload, long hours and involved discussions based firmly in logic, enjoyable only to those who simply love to argue. In fact, many of us went to law school simply because someone somewhere at a young age said, “Whoa! You would make a GREAT lawyer.” Here is the thing though, law school is boring. It is tedious. It can be backstabbing (#gunners) and oftentimes the work and subject matter does not reflect what will make a good lawyer in the TV sense, but who will make a good nitpicker and mundane rule follower. Even worse is that fact that the bulk of the education you receive is in “legal theory”, laws and constructions that are so passed relevancy that you eject them from your brain the minute you pass the Bar. This means that newly minted lawyers know very little about the actual practice of law. Nor do they know which practice at which they will excel, it is the practice they “fall into” on the job.
I remember fondly an interview I had with a top tier law firm, the interviewing partner listened to my pitch on why I am the bestest lawyer ever, my experience as an accountant and private equity and how I had some real world chops I could bring to a variety of practices. I had been working the previous few months with the legal team taking a company for a public offering and was pretty well versed in the securities laws and the tax implications. Feeling pretty good about myself I flashed some legal knowledge to dazzle like the prettiest girl at the ball. He seemed intrigued, then proceeded to mull over my First Year transcript, and said very surprisingly, “I see here you did not do so hot in your first year Property class, I am sorry but our applicants really have to perform in each of their classes spectacularly.” Now, don’t get me started on Property, I can complain for hours about how my professor decided that 6 Rule against perpetuities questions on an exam was normal when every other class had maybe 1.
Mind you, I did not do poorly, I simply didn’t get an A, it can happen to the best of us, but it’s useless to defend it because someone must have gotten that A. My incredulous response to the Partner was to ask him what field he practiced. Luckily it was Real Estate, and I asked him whether his first year property class had ANYTHING to do with his current practice and if it translated at all. His paused response? “No, but that’s neither here nor there.” It didn’t matter that I knew more about a variety of real legal subjects, or that I may have more experience to hit the ground running on day one. Or even that my other grades were on the level, what mattered was the statistic for the firm. This is the problem, because as most lawyers will attest they knew NOTHING about the law they practice when they began at a firm, and they are most often trained on the dime of the client. They may have received an A in a class, but it literally translates into nearly nothing, and in fact that useless subject retention is the reason for legal accolades.
In my opinion this should change, and I believe it will as the world has come out of the golden age of law firms, into a world where clients do not want to pay to train a “know nothing” associate. So what should be done? Clinics, shadowing real firms, apprenticing, REAL WORLD experience of legal practice translated into grade format. Now I agree that some theory and legal construction needs to be absorbed, but it should not be the focal point.
You know why I do what I do? I practiced as a student attorney in a law school clinic in tax defense for a semester, defending impoverished taxpayers from being bullied by the IRS because they could not afford a decent attorney. Boom! I liked it, I thought I was good at it, I LEARNED how to do it, and I practiced it out of gate. If more focus was placed on teaching lawyers the ACTUAL practice of law while they were in school not within the controlled environment of Moot Court, but in the real world with real world consequences we would make better lawyers. Not only for those that can start work right away in the big bad top tier firms, but in the midsized, small, non profit and even single shingle worlds. We would not have the bane of unemployable lawyers who end up doing anything else but law because of a job market downturn. I have smart, talented and well graded friends who could not get a job, and on top of it all had no idea how to practice basic general practitioner law. What are they left with?
Worse yet, attorneys who are laid off in their early years are only well versed in a narrow subject matter of what they were read into within their firm. This means their job opportunities based on their experience are pretty narrow as they must work for another firm doing the exact same thing and needing the exact same person.
Every law student gets the same question from friends and family when they pass the bar, “Can you, make a will, file a lawsuit, write this contract for me?” More often than not the answer is NO for the first few years. Imagine if after law school lawyers could actually practice, that would, to me, make the $150,000 tuition bill seem more of an investment than purchasing a piece of paper for the back wall of my office. Each law student should come out of the gate knowing how to practice generally, and have the opportunity to have found their specialty within the confines of the law school system, not after.
So was law school worth it? Yes, I am a practicing lawyer making my own prosperity. In that sense it was worth it. However, I wish I had been more prepared to enter the practicing world, and had less of a blank stare on my face the first time I was asked to file a lawsuit.
Ladies and Gentlemen feel free to agree or disagree!
Benjamin Goldburd is an Associate at Goldburd McCone LLP a boutique tax law firm in New York City and Long Island.