I recently interviewed Ursula Furi-Perry, Esq., author of Law School Revealed, via email. Our discussion follows.
1. You write that one benefit of waiting before attending law school is that you can gain exposure to the legal field to determine whether or not you truly like the law. However, don’t most paralegals do mind-numbing busywork? If that’s the case, won’t the majority of paralegal applicants be discouraged through this exposure, even if this dislike of the law is unfounded? As a follow-up, what kind of meaningful and substantive experience can applicants get prior to law school?
Actually, paralegals serve a valuable function at many firms and often perform substantive legal tasks, such as legal research, writing, drafting, investigation, interviewing, and assisting attorneys with trial preparation. Those substantive tasks can introduce a future law student to legal concepts, process, and terminology, which can be helpful when trying to navigate, survive, and succeed during the first year of law school.
I believe that either a full-time position at a law firm or other legal employer or a part-time or volunteer position can provide prospective law students with valuable experience. Again, the benefit of working or volunteering in a legal setting isn’t just limited to substantive or practical knowledge: students can gain insight into different legal environments by working or volunteering in a legal position, which in turn can help them determine whether the law really is the right fit for them.
Having worked in the field before and during law school helped solidify my desire to become a lawyer. It also opened my eyes to the wide variety of career paths one can choose with a law degree, which is such a versatile and valuable degree.
2. You describe legal writing as being much different than undergrad-style writing. How does it differ, and what types of books/websites can prospective law students use to practice this writing style prior to law school?
In my opinion, successful legal writing has the following characteristics: clarity and precision; thorough and polished analysis; a clear identification and statement of the issue or thesis being addressed; good organization and flow; and overall readability, including attention to proofreading and editing. Those characteristics don’t differ all that much from other forms of good writing. What is different is the method. Legal writing requires students and lawyers alike to master a very precise analytical formula (whether using IRAC or one of its “sister” methods like TRAC or CRAC,) where the writer: states the (I)ssue; conveys his or her knowledge of the applicable (R)ule of law; (A)nalyzes the problem by applying the rule of law to the facts; and (C)oncludes on the call of the question and the issue. (Note: In the TRAC method, the writer states a thesis rather than a legal issue/question; in CRAC, the writer begins by stating a conclusion.) Because lawyers, judges, and legal professionals use this same method of analysis in practice, it is essential that law students learn it in school. Writing is the lawyer’s craft–so, polishing one’s analytical and writing skills as a law student is extremely important.
3. You devote a few pages to law school prep courses. What topics do law school prep courses cover, who (if anyone) “needs” one, and what books/websites would you recommend for someone who wants to self-study rather than take one?
Law school prep courses can serve as a valuable overview of what students can expect during the first year in law school. For example, I profiled the Law Preview course, which offers an overview of the subjects students will study, such as Torts and Contracts, as well as an overview of legal writing, study skills, case briefing, and outlining. I think most students benefit from a law school prep course, particularly those who know little about legal education and what to expect during the first year.
For those who choose to self-study, I recommend that they learn how to properly read and brief a case (I devote a large part of an entire chapter to this skill in my book) as well as put together a law school course outline (likewise.) There are a couple of books I recommend on honing legal writing skills: The Lawyer’s Craft by Glaser, Lieberman, Ruescher, and Boepple Su, and Just Writing by Enquist and Oates. I also recommend that you visit the National Jurist and PreLaw Magazine.
Along with three other law professor colleagues, I am putting together a comprehensive yet concise set of study materials for first-year law students. Please read our 1L BootCamp and Bar Exam BootCamp blogs for tips and advice on academic success in law school and on the bar exam, along with information about product release dates.
Finally, be sure to visit your prospective law schools’ websites for information on academic support, study skills, and recommended resources. Many schools provide invaluable help and links to resources online. Remember: the administrators at your law school are there to help you — use their help wisely!
4. What factors are important to consider when choosing a law school?
In my book, I pinpoint the following factors as the most important to consider when choosing a law school:
The school’s reputation with legal employers and the general legal community. A law degree will do you no good if you can’t find a job after graduation; so before you pick a school, consider the school’s reputation among lawyers, law firms, and other legal employers.
Alumni employment rates, bar pass rates, and career satisfaction. How well the school’s graduates do and how happy they report to be in their careers can be good indicators for what may await you if you graduate from the school. You can find some employment data through the National Association for Legal Professionals, to which many law schools report their statistics.
Rankings. Several sources rate U.S. law schools annually: the U.S. News & World Report’s Top 100 Law Schools [Ed: See today’s post on the new US News law school rankings – SS] and Ultimate Guide to Law Schools, and the ABA-LSAC Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools, to name a few. Focusing solely on the rankings may mean that you fail to consider other factors and end up at the school that may be the right ranking, but the wrong fit. Still, to some extent, a law school’s ranking, reputation, and job placement rates are all connected.
Location. Even if you think you couldn’t care less about where you spend the next three years as a law student, you should give your law school’s location some serious thought.
Faculty accessibility. Many law schools have a great reputation and are ranked high on the lists, yet their faculty may not be as accessible to students as faculty at other schools—simply because the faculty may be pulled in many different directions.
Cost. Most people can’t afford to pay the (often six-figure) price tag for law school in cash. So, at some point, you have to consider what law school will cost you, how you plan to finance your legal education, and how and when you can expect to see a return on your investment.
Admission requirements. You may have your sights set on a particular school, but if you can’t get in, you won’t go there.
5. Anything else you’d like to add?
Law school for me was an extremely rewarding experience. Though law school often gets a bad reputation as a stressful, competitive experience where you’ll barely survive, you can thrive and succeed as a law student. Be sure you approach law school for the right reason: because you’ve done your research and determined that the law degree is the right path for you, not because you’re lured by money or someone else is pushing you to go to law school. Also be sure to make the most of your law school experience: participate in activities, explore clinical and practical programs, consider internships and externships, look into academic concentrations, and check out opportunities for international legal study. Law schools today offer an incredible variety of exciting programs. Make your legal education your own!
Ursula Furi-Perry, Esq. is the author of more than 300 published articles and six books on legal topics, including Law School Revealed (Jist Publishing, 2009) and Your First Year as a Lawyer Revealed (Jist Publishing, forthcoming in 2010.) She is an adjunct professor of legal writing and analysis and the incoming Director of Academic Support at the Massachusetts School of Law at Andover.