I had lunch yesterday with DXL, one of the antitrust litigation associates I met at last week’s lawyers’ luncheon in San Francisco. Here are some questions I asked him along with his responses.
10 Questions for the Pre-First Year Law Student
1. Do you recommend taking Law Preview?
Find out how reputable the company is. If it’s a national company like Princeton Review or Kaplan, it might be worth the $1000. If it’s a San Francisco- or California-only company, it’s probably not worth it. Any advantage you gain before law school, however marginal, will benefit you. And a series of marginal advantages can add up to a big advantage later on.
2. I intend to transfer to a higher-ranked school after my first year of law school. This means that I probably won’t be able to participate in law review. What is the best alternative?
Let me start by saying that transferring is tough. If you go to a second tier school, you generally have to be within the top 10 percent of your class to be considered for admission to a top 25 school. So don’t bank on it, and pick a school where you would be happy graduating from, in an area you’d be happy to practice in.
That said, try to publish in the next most prestigious journal at the law school you transfer into. You need to start applying for publication in these journals during summer after first year. You write for the journal during second year. You will also apply for an editorial staff position for that journal your second year, and ideally, you will be on the editorial board your third year.
3. How many papers am I expected to publish in any of these law journals?
One during your entire law school career. But it’s a rigorous, selective process; your paper will be about 20 pages long and analyzed line by line by the editorial staff.
4. What other important extracurriculars should I do during law school?
If you want to be competitive in this economic climate, you also need to participate in moot court. There’s a lot of writing involved; you will have to write briefs, and if you win a brief competition, you will be just as competitive as someone who is on the editorial staff for the law review.
5. What if I don’t publish anything in the law journals or participate in moot court?
At that point, clinic is a good option. It’s a more time-consuming activity than law review or moot court. In fact, it’s a full-time activity during third year–almost like a job–which you get school credit for. Clinic is a good safety net for those who haven’t published or done moot court.
6. How did you decide which type of law to go into?
The general distinction you should be aware of is litigation versus transaction. Litigation is heavily debate-centered; you will go to court and do a lot of public speaking. Transaction is more back-end and finance- and business-centric; you’re writing contracts, and while public speaking isn’t necessarily involved, you will still collaborate a lot with other lawyers.
I knew I wanted to be a litigator during law school because I have years of debating experience going back to high school. And I love to debate. I’m not afraid of getting a little confrontational when I argue.
7. What are the most important things that large- or medium-size firms look for?
Grades, law review, and an open mind. Large firms prefer applicants who are undecided after their first year because it shows flexibility.
8. I’m considering three second-tier schools in disparate geographic locations at the moment. Which do you recommend I go to?
Outside the top 25 schools, medium- and large-size firms prefer to recruit from schools within the state. I noticed, when I was applying from the University of Iowa, that California firms seemed more partial to UC Hastings students, even though Hastings was ranked significantly lower than Iowa. This is because firms assume that you will be emotionally attached to a location near your law school and more likely to stick around.
Of course, there are many exceptions, and you should ultimately go to the school you feel you will do best in because grades are all-important.
9. What kind of salary should I expect if I get a job after graduation?
Salaries vary with geographic region. San Francisco and New York City salaries are comparable. Chicago salaries are 5 percent lower. In San Francisco and New York, associates start out at 120k. Below the associates are the staff attorneys, who get paid half as much as associates do because they’re working part-time. Staff attorney is not a partner-track position, and a lot of mothers and older people choose this option because they have other priorities. They usually earn 60-80k, maybe 120-150k tops. The next level down is contract attorneys, who charge $50/hour and earn 75k/year tops. And they’re constantly on the job hunt.
District attorneys earn 120-160k, and defense attorneys earn 100-120k doing basically the same thing but on the defense end.
When you get into non-profit and government work, you’re looking at some cringe-worthy numbers, probably 35-60k. You can live on it, but considering how much you spent on law school, it’s probably not the best option.
10. Can you recommend websites where I can find out more information about law school and employment?