Law school is often said to teach people how to "think like a lawyer
." The phrase is rarely detailed any further. People tell you that you're going to be reprogrammed
, but they don't tell you exactly how.
Here's what happens, explained (like everything in law school) through anecdote.
One day, about a month and a half into our 1L career, we were given a case in criminal law class. The defendant was in his house one night knocking back a few beers and getting gloriously shitfaced when, all of a sudden, the po-po came a-knockin'. They wanted to search the defendant's house. The defendant obliged, and the police conned him into walking out of his house to the side of the street. An altercation ensued, and the defendant was arrested on charges of public drunkenness. It was a scenario right out of Ron White's stand-up routine.
In the state in question, "public drunkenness" was defined as "appearing on a public highway in a state of intoxication," or something similar. After a month and a half of dissecting statutes, everyone in the class was ready to argue whether the street was a "public highway," and whether the defendant actually "appeared" there, and what the definition of "intoxication" would be.
The debate over these points raged in our little lecture hall for something like an hour and a half.
Finally, the professor gave up and shouted, "Have you all lost your fucking minds? Do you not see that this is just totally WRONG? The text doesn't matter if the act is WRONG on its FACE!"
And that's how it goes. We poke through the intricacies of dead white people's writing, hour after hour, distinguishing holdings from dicta, looking up the terms of a statute in a dictionary until the pages start to fall out, and after a while, we forget what the point of it all was in the first place.
Anyway, the next time you hear a lawyer say something that makes no sense at all, you'll know where they got it from. They got it from reading into something far more than any sane person ever should. And that's what law school teaches people to do, for better or for worse.
Another thing to be said about law school: Which law school you go to really, really matters.
One of my friends, a student at a second-tier law school (that is, in the 50-100 ranking), got a summer job at a major law firm in Tokyo. It was the only interview he got after sending resumes to every firm in the city. He was surprised to get a callback, and even more surprised when he was hired over the phone. Then again, law students with his level of Japanese are very rare.
Once he got to Tokyo, he was working with kids from Harvard, NYU, and Penn, schools in the top echelons. He asked how they were recruited. Turns out that the firm had wined and dined them, pooh-poohed the other big firms, did everything it could to win them over. They were being sold to; they didn't have to do any selling.
Once you get below the top 25 or so, the on-campus recruiting situation isn't nearly as pretty. The employers who recruit at the lower-ranked schools are almost always local: the district attorney and public defender offices for surrounding counties, some local legal aid groups, and a small handful of private firms with offices in the region. The private firms—the only place where there's real money to be made right out of law school—always want the top tenth or quarter or third of the class, without exceptions. They want the kids who are on Law Review (invariably, these are the people in the top tenth/quarter/third anyway). Some will disqualify anyone with a C on their transcript. It's a picky world.
So if you're at a lower-tier school and you want a real job, you have to go around and beg. Whereas if you're at a top 25 school and you want a real job, you have to wait for it to come to you. Big difference... one that will be hit home to you if you screw up your 1L year, as many law students do, overcome by the great rat race.
Another dirty little secret of law school: Top-ranked schools have major grade inflation. Many follow a B or B+ curve, while the second tier usually has a C+ curve.
The moral: When you're applying, aim high. If you can slip in to any of the cream-of-the-crop schools, you've got it made. A law degree from Yale or Stanford or Columbia will take you anywhere in the world. If you don't get into that top tier, you still have a shot, but your chances are much slimmer, and you really have to bust your butt to push through to the top.