Many students enter law school thinking all the glitz and glamour is real, and although for some it may be, most will not enter lives resembling that of Reese Witherspoon's character, Elle Woods. Even if they do, it certainly won't happen as easily or as quickly.
In the film, Elle lives a life that law students might fantasize about, but in reality, law school is anything but glamorous. Long nights of studying, grueling coursework, and stressful class sessions await eager would-be attorneys hoping to graduate to lives of money and prestige.
A recent article in The Wall Street Journal
discussed the pitfalls of students' expectations of life after law school. The article, entitled "Hard Case: Job Market Wanes for U.S. Lawyers," discussed the difficulties of today's law job market and drew attention to some realities about law school that many choose to ignore.
"People go to law school with these huge expectations that can't be met," says Alisha Tomasino, an attorney at Rubin, Weisman, Colasanti, Kajko & Stein in Massachusetts. Tomasino had a clerkship in a probate court, so she was able to network and eventually work her way into a medium-sized firm, where she still works today. She explains that most students don't understand the reality of the job market these days.
"Movies like Legally Blonde
give you a completely opposite view of what law school is," Tomasino says. "You have to work your way up. [Life after graduation] is about who you know and what you've done."
Tomasino even jokes that there should be a class before law school to prepare students for what their futures will consist of. Many law students acquire thousands of dollars in debt and find it hard to believe they can't find jobs that allow them to easily repay the loans they've had to take out.
According to NALP, the National Association for Law Placement, the "majority of Class of 2006 law school graduates—90.7% of those for whom employment status was known—were employed as of February 15, 2007."
However, this statistic does not mean these graduates landed high-paying jobs at large firms. NALP adds, "A strong employment market does not mean that every new graduate started work at a large firm at one of the much publicized $135,000 or $145,000 salaries. In fact, just 14% of salaries were either $135,000 or $145,000. Far more, 42%, were $55,000 or less."
Many law school graduates do not receive the jobs of their dreams—at least not right away. There is some work to be done first.
"Far more graduates started work in small firms of 50 or fewer lawyers or in non-firm settings (71% of those employed) than at firms of more than 100 lawyers (just 20% of those employed)," according to NALP.
What does this indicate? Students need to explore all of their options, even if that means starting out in a desk job for a few years or working at a smaller firm to gain experience.
"Law school makes [students a] little snobby with these misconceptions," Tomasino says. "Just because you don't start out in a great large firm, it doesn't mean anything. You learn by the experiences you receive."
Your class ranking and the school from which you graduate do make a difference, though. If you graduate from Harvard Law, your chances of making an impressive salary at a large firm are greater than they would be if you were to obtain a degree from a not-so-well-known institution, even if you graduated at the top of your class. However, do not despair if you are not attending Harvard or another big-name school; hope is still alive, at least at small and medium-sized firms where you can work your way up the career ladder to success.
"At our firm we look for somebody who will work hard, had good grades, but the school [he or she attended] is not as relevant; however, it helps to have somebody in the firm have a connection within the same school," Tomasino explains. "It's great to know somebody because you can do recommendations. It's about networking. Nobody looked at my grades, and [generally] you need to be pretty smart to get into law schools anyway."
Donna Skibbe, director of career services at Concord Law School, says graduates are becoming more and more competitive.
"Students are starting out at a lot less [in the law industry]," she says. "Most law grads are starting out close to the $60,000 range for their salary, and they come out with a substantial amount of debt, so it prohibits them from going into public service jobs, etc., because of it."
Skibbe says that the debt students accumulate during law school needs to be paid off, and many graduates do not make enough to do this comfortably until they have years of experience and have obtained high-paying positions.
There are more affordable options, though. At Concord Law School, students can take part-time courses via the Internet. Although non-traditional, the program is relatively inexpensive. Tuition costs about $9,000 per year, adding up to $36,000 for four years—about as much as one might pay for a year of schooling at a traditional law school.
These statistics and cautions shouldn't scare law students, but they do present a realistic view of how law school graduates need to attack the job market.
Tomasino says that her firm looks for common sense and the ability to speak and demonstrate intelligence; communication and writing skills are also important. She stresses once again that students can start out at the bottom and network to the top.
"Law [isn't perfect] like shows like Law & Order
...that make it look flawless," Tomasino says. Mistakes happen, she explains, and beginning attorneys have a lot to learn. However, once you get through the long journey ahead, your Legally Blonde
dreams can still become realities.
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