SOS – Solo Out of School

Make voyages! – Attempt them! – there’s nothing else… (Tennessee Williams)

So, you are thinking of going solo right of school – great! Here’s some things to keep in mind:

  • If you can pass the bar exam, you are (or at least yourState Bar thinks you are) competent to practice law. Period, end of discussion. So never doubt that you are sufficiently prepared to go out there and commit random acts of lawyerism. That nagging doubt, that fear that sneaks up in the quite hours of the night does not feed on your lack of competence, it feeds on your lack of experience. The good news is that there’s a cure for that – time. Continue reading

Solo Practice University: Mentorship For The Rural Lawyer

The harsh reality is that law school only teaches theory and, until recently, learning the actual practice of law was taught by that harsh task-master experience. For the new associate just entering an established law firm, experience’s lessons are tempered by the older and wiser partners, however for those of us who march to our own drumbeat as solo practitioners finding mentors can be a daunting task. On March 20th, 2009, this changes with the opening of Solo Practice University.

Solo Practice University is the brain child of Susan Cartier Liebel and stems from her frustration with the inability of law schools to cover the innumerable variables that are unique to the actual solo practice of law. Solo Practice University is an on-line community bringing law students and solo practitioners together with an  experienced, nationally recognized faculty. Continue reading

Thinking About Law School – Part 3: Your First Year

Yes, you do have to read it all. However, the faster you can get up to speed with the proper way to read a case, the easier your life will be. Your goal when reading a case is simple, eliminate the fluff and isolate the critical facts the court used, the issue the court decided, and the rule/ruling made. The cool thing is that these are the same skills you’ll need when taking an exam. The shorthand for this is IRAC (issue rule analysis and conclusion). The only real difference between reading a case and taking an exam is that the exam requires you to do your own RAC — your professor will take care of hiding the issue and critical facts among the extraneous fluff.

Commercial outlines, case briefs and nutshell guides are useful, but are no substitutes for doing the reading. These commercial products are the law school version of Cliff Notes. Don’t ever make the mistake of thinking that you can get away with using them in class as a substitute for having read the case. Better to admit you are unprepared than to start playing “stump the chump” with the professor. First, there is no way a one page summary is sufficiently comprehensive to provide enough information to satisfy a detailed probing by a motivated professor.  Second, commercial products are notorious for getting the names of the plaintiff and defendant reversed at random locations through out a brief and there’s no surer way to set yourself up for a game of “stump the chump” than not being able to present a coherent summary of a case. Use the commercial products to fill in holes in your notes, but don’t rely on them as substitutes for actually reading the material.

Statistics show that your performance during your first year in law school is predictive of your success on the bar exam – if you can manage a C+ average by the end of your first year, you’ll have no problem passing the bar.  The catch is: the pace of law school does not allow for “being a little lost”. If you even suspect you might be a little behind, aren’t quite sure of the material, or might have missed something in class don’t wait any longer before you get a tutor, find an academic coach, or get help from the professor. If I were to do it all over again, I would set up a standing weekly appointment with a tutor the moment I set foot on campus and I would keep that appointment religiously.

The hardest part about your first year is realizing that, for the first time in your academic career, you may get a C. Don’t fret. Law schools take the cream of the academic crop each year (the average GPA for my first year class was 3.75). All that a C means is that you are an average over-achiever. C’s get degrees and, more importantly, C’s get jobs too.

Thinking About Law School – Part 2: The Positive

The good news is that if you have been accepted to law school, you bring with you all the basic skills needed to succeed. You may have to fine tune some of them, but you do know how to do it all.

You are going to be inundated with tips, tricks, shortcuts, and sure fire schemes through out law school and all of them are going to promise you better grades, better comprehension, wealth, fame, fortune, and possibly increased sexual potency. However, the real key to law school success is free, all you have to do is ask.

Ask questions, ask for help, ask early, ask often, ask intelligent questions, ask stupid questions, ask silly questions, ask really probing questions, ask, ask, ask! The simple fact is that you are spending tens of dollars for minute you are sitting in class. You are paying thousands of dollars to understand this material. Get your money’s worth, use the resources you’ve all ready paid for: the professors, the tutors, the librarians, etc. Pay no attention to the guy sitting next to you with that bored look on his face. Odds are he doesn’t understand the material any better than you, so don’t be inhibited by his ennui — if you don’t understand something ask a question, ask it now and keep asking until either you do understand it or the professor suggests meeting him during his office hours to discuss it further (go to the meeting & ask questions). Let the bored guy get the C, you are shooting for better.

Thinking About Law School – Part 1: The Downside

Law School will consume you. It will eat into your free time, social life, relationships, and your wallet. It is stressful, exhausting, frustrating, and devastating. To survive, you are going to have to be very good at time management and sufficiently disciplined to religiously apply those skills.

I went through law school on a part-time basis being loath to give up the benefits that came with my full time job. Over the course of a week I would, on average, put in 40 hours at my job, 12 hours in class and 36 hours studying. Leaving 80 hours for eating, sleeping, commuting, shopping, and all the other myriad of things one does in one’s life. You can do it all, but you really have to prioritize.

You are going to invest a large sum of money, in most cases the equivalent of a modest 3 bedroom house, into your law school education and end up competing for a job with a starting salary in the neighborhood of $50,000 unless you are among the lucky 5% that find employment with BIG LAW and a its big salaries and 70+ hour work weeks.

I went into law school knowing that my first job would entail a pay cut. In my naivete, I had assumed it would be something on the order of 10-20% and that by my third year of practice I’d have passed my  old salary by. It was a rude awakening when reality stuck its head in and my envisioned 20% was really 50% and that it would be 5-7 years before I’d catch up. These were not comforting number. My best advice, don’t see law school as a means to big money that road leads to disappointment and disillusionment. Treat is as an end in itself and let the future come in its own time