Choosing law school is something many lawyers – or aspiring lawyers – do as an almost knee-jerk reaction to their vaguely formed opinions as to what it must be like to be Harvey Specter in “Suits”, or perhaps Ally McBeal.
However, the problem is that the right questions are frequently remaining unasked. The questions that REALLY determine whether you’re cut out for all that courtroom cut-and-thrust.
California lawyer Jill Switzer wrote for AbovetheLaw about some of the key assessment test issues that should – but are not – raised in a pre-law test that determines whether you’re ready for the profession, or simply wanting to put off making a decision about your career for another three years.
And here are 10 questions you may want to consider, based on the Switzer points:
1. Do you have a thick skin? If you don’t, then forget about law school and the practice of law. You may have been the smartest in college, but you won’t necessarily be at the top in law school. Get over yourself as the smartest person in the room. Be able to take criticism, both constructive and destructive, because you’ll get plenty of both.
2. Can you handle rejection? Rejection by the court when it denies your motion, rejection by the jury when its verdict goes the other way, rejection by the client when he substitutes you out and then refuses to pay the outstanding bill. If you have trouble with this concept, then ditch the idea of a legal career.
3. Can you detach from the emotion of your client’s case? It’s not your case, it’s hers, and the need for cool, unemotional, and rational responses is critical. Do you remain calm when everyone around you is freaking out? Can you deliver bad news as well as good?
4. Are you calm under pressure. This is a corollary to Number 3. Can you multi-task without going to pieces? What if a trial brief is due tomorrow? What if you just received notice of an ex parte hearing and you need to file a response before the hearing tomorrow afternoon? What if you have to prepare a witness later today for a deposition on another matter tomorrow and your associate is on vacation and a client needs the final draft of a document righthisminute? Can you handle all that coming down on your head at the same time?
5. Do you have a temper? This is a corollary to Number 4. Are you able to keep it in check or will your nastiness spill out at inappropriate times, such as in court? Do you frustrate easily? If the court asks you to mark and identify exhibits before showing them to a witness (which you should know how to do anyway), do you get exasperated with the court’s continually asking you to do what you should have known how to do anyway? Do you show that exasperation? How do you work with other people?
6. Do you have the ability to handle repetitive and often mind-numbing work for days, weeks, and even years on end? (I’m not just talking about doc review here.)
7. Do you have the ability to provide practical advice and not just spout the law? Can you see yourself giving a client advice that can be used immediately, or do you prefer to lay everything out in an esoteric memo replete with case citations that the client will not read and be enraged at having to pay for?
8. Do you like people? If not, and you’d rather spend your days disengaged from the world and people’s problems, then don’t even think about a career in law. Book smarts is one thing; emotional intelligence is another and is even more critical than abstract legal knowledge. If you can’t connect with people, your career is doomed.
9. Are you a high-maintenance person? If so, don’t bother. Law practice doesn’t have time for people who are needy and always seeking approval. You won’t get it, and so if you don’t have enough internal self-confidence, the law isn’t the place for you. You will rarely, if ever, get props from anyone, and if you doubt that, see numbers one and two.
10. Can you write? Do you know grammar, punctuation, and spelling? Do you write well? Do you like to write? Since the great bulk of the work that lawyers do (and the way they present themselves) is in the written work product, if you don’t like to write, then don’t bother. If you like to write but feel your writing skills need work, then do something about it.
So there they are.
Jill Switzer also suggests that you have passion for something other than money, as well as an ability to get by with little sleep (ie waking at 3am: “Did all the exhibits get tabbed”? and other similar concerns).