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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

right job?

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

the Law.

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 school?

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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Deborah Schneider Author gives no-nonsense advice  
Deborah Schneider Author gives no-nonsense advice  

Deorah Schneider has worked in public interest law and political advocacy. She has served as Associate Director for Career Development at th...