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Deborah Schneider Author gives no-nonsense advice [by Teresa Talerico] Too often, people commit to law school without the foggiest notion of what it means to be an attorney, said Deborah Schneider, co-author of Should You
Really Be a Lawyer? (Decision Books, 2004)
In fact, Schneider, who co-wrote the book
about law school?” Are you thinking about
students who have said they don’t have time
with journalist Gary Belsky, was guilty of that
law school because you have some real
to explore all these options. As a result, they
herself as a student at Washington University
knowledge about the legal profession and
might be likely to take whatever job comes
School of Law.
it’s something you’d enjoy doing? Or are you
along or follow the lead of their classmates. If
thinking about it as a default option?
they see all their classmates looking for law ﬁrm jobs, they might use that as a shortcut
“I began to realize there was a need for this book on my third day of law school, when I
Then look at the question of what the law
realized how little I knew about the legal pro-
school experience is all about. That includes
and just pursue those jobs.
fession and what it was to be a lawyer,” she
what the academic experience entails, what
Q: What can they do to ensure they ﬁnd the
said. “I saw how typical it was for students
the psychological experience is of being a law
to come into law school without ever having
student. And most importantly, how much
spoken to a lawyer or having worked in a
money is law school going to cost you? When
A: The key is starting as early as possible.
legal environment. That was very common
you take into account loans and interest
Ideally, you’d start to have informational
among my classmates.”
rates, what’s the total cost of your legal edu-
interviews, read some books about different
cation really going to be? I’ve met so many
types of career options in the law. Start that
law students who don’t actually do the math.
process before law school, before you get re-
political advocacy and has served as Associ-
The other question to look at is “What am I
started law school, using your law school’s
ate Director for Career Development at the
passing up to go to law school? Are there any
career services ofﬁce is very important. I’ve
University of California Hastings College of
other life experiences I want to have or other
met a lot of students who’ve never set foot
careers I want to explore?”
in there until the end of ﬁrst, second, third
Q: What are some of the worst reasons for
People often say, “I’m going to law school
ated. It’s so important to get in there early to
going to law school?
because I want to keep my options open.”
meet with a career counselor who can help
Usually that means “I don’t know what I want
you assess what your interests are and what
A: There’s a combination of people relying on
to do.” Okay, if you graduate from law school
type of work environment and job is going to
what we call rules of thumb. “I like to talk, so
with $90,000 in debt, are you going to feel like
be a good ﬁt for you. Read books and look at
I’ll be a good lawyer.” Or “I like to argue, so
you have more options or fewer options?
websites that have descriptions of different
Schneider graduated from law school in 1999.
ally busy with your coursework. Once you’ve
She has worked in public interest law and
year&nmdash;or even after they’ve gradu-
types of legal jobs and career paths. Use your
I’ll be a good litigator.” Or “I don’t know what I want to do, and I don’t want to look for a job,
Q: Do graduates often overlook all the options
so I’ll go to law school.” It’s a combination
within the law itself?
of reasons like that, but also not doing any research into what lawyers actually do.
school’s alumni network to set up informational interviews with lawyers in all types of jobs. That’s the most valuable source of
A: Unfortunately, yes, that does happen. If you
information&nmdash;talking to attorneys and
go into law school without some knowledge
going out and doing internships or getting
Q: What questions should prospective stu-
about the different types of legal options
some volunteer experience.
dents ask themselves before committing to
that are available, it’s easy once you’re a
law student to get so bogged down in your
Q: What advice do you have for practicing at-
coursework. The academic demands can be
torneys who have hit a slump?
A: The ﬁrst one is “Why am I really thinking
so time-consuming. I frequently encounter
continued on back
A: For attorneys who are questioning whether they’re in the right job or even in the right career, the ﬁrst step is to do an assessment of where you’re at. In your current job, what’s working and what’s not working for you? What do you like and dislike about it? That can give you a starting point to see if there’s a way to be happier in your current job. Is there another role you want to play within your organization, or is it time to look elsewhere? There are a lot of mental obstacles that come up when attorneys are thinking about changing jobs or careers. The biggest one is what we call the sunk-cost fallacy, which is “I’m not happy in this job, or I’m not happy in law; but I’ve invested so much time and money and energy that I don’t want to throw all that away.” The problem with that is you’re making decisions based on what you’ve done in the past as opposed to what will make you happy in the future. So another step is to look at those mental obstacles that might be keeping you stuck in a job or career that isn’t right for you.
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Deorah Schneider has worked in public interest law and political advocacy. She has served as Associate Director for Career Development at th...