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The Law School Success System if You Should Go to Law School

published February 06, 2013

By CEO and Founder - BCG Attorney Search left

( 44 votes, average: 4.2 out of 5)

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Let's address a very legitimate question many of you may have; should you go to law school? Of course, that's a question only you can answer, but I can help you do so by telling you in basic terms what a law degree can do for you.

First—forgive the apparent truism—it will let you practice law. Although it is still possible in a few states to be admitted to the bar by virtue of work experience, this is not a realistic possibility. If you wish to practice law, you must have a degree. This implies an even more basic question; Do you want to practice law?

My answer to this is to tell you about the rewards and drawbacks of the various types of legal practice in this country. A second question to consider is; what kind of law school can you realistically expect to get into, and how will that affect your future career plans?
Click Here to Read BCG Attorney Search’s Guide to Corporate and Finance Job Search Categories for More Information.

If you wish to pursue the field, here is a system that will catapult you to the head of your profession. It's quite simple. The Law School Success System is a method for:
  • Gathering information from class notes, digests of court cases (called "briefs"), and notes from outside of class.
  • Creating a single master outline for each course.
  • Using this outline and several other short lists in a very structured way to prepare yourself for the final exam.
  • Taking the exam according to a highly effective method of analysis.
  • Preparing class papers.

It involves a lot of work, yes. But the results will be well worth the effort.

After we look at school selection and the law school admission process in the next several s, we'll tackle the stages in the Law School Success System:
  • Law School Success System I—classroom techniques
  • Law School Success System II—briefing cases
  • Law School Success System III—preparing a course outline
  • Law School Success System IV—preparing for and taking exams
  • Law School Success System V—preparing a course paper

Welcome to the world of legal study! The next three years will be like none other in your life.

A Brief Overview about Litigation in Wall Street Firms

The name "Wall Street"—that very short avenue in Manhattan—is used not out of any geographic chauvinism, but rather because throughout the profession the term "Wall Street-type firm" has come to mean a large, more or less prestigious law firm representing major U.S. and foreign corporations, whether on LaSaUe Street in Chicago, Market Street in San Francisco, or any other street in a city's financial district. These firms are usually very large—while most of them employ around 200 attorneys, some have more than 600.

They specialize in the most sophisticated legal services available anywhere in the world, and currently charge their clients up to $1,000 an hour for their services (and even more for specialized work).

The litigation handled by these firms is often massive. Huge corporate lawsuits may last seven, eight, even nine years from the time the suit is originally filed until the date it is ultimately resolved. On the non-litigation side of the business, these firms represent their clients in multimillion-dollar business transactions, orchestrating corporate acquisitions and takeovers, issuing stocks and bonds, or lending billions of dollars.

The Wall Street firm is segmented into specialty groups: litigation, corporate, real estate, trusts and estates, and sometimes such specialties as antitrust, entertainment, labor, admiralty, aviation, and food and drug law. A partnership is the usual business structure of these firms (as opposed to, say, a corporation), which means that there are a number of owners (the "partners"), who both manage the firm and are responsible to the clients for the legal work.

The employed attorneys are called "associates." Associates spend most of their first year or so doing research for partners or senior associates on a wide variety of legal questions, often rotating from one department to another. They also write simple legal documents or—more likely—small portions of very complicated documents, proof¬read, carry partners' files for them on business trips, oversee the mechanical aspects of getting documents in proper form, and in general serve as assistants whenever needed.

Is the work interesting?

It can be, especially if you like the challenge of library research or the excitement of being a part of a multimillion-dollar international business transaction. In the whole, however, much of an associate's work can be dreadfully dull. And the hours can be excruciating—an associate may have to work through the night, 24 hours straight, on occasion. But there are compensations. First, you won't be enduring drudgery for long. In a few years, you'll be doing small deals of your own.

Second—I suspect you guessed this one—you'll be paid a great deal of money. This year, first-year associates in Manhattan were making about $160,000. And if you're at all capable, that figure will rise appreciably every year. It used to be that an attorney would be hired either out of law school or from another firm and after about eight years' experience he or she would be evaluated by the partners with an eye toward inviting that attorney to join the firm; being named partner has been the ultimate goal of most attorneys seeking work in a large firm. Attorneys who were "passed over" by the partnership (i.e., not invited to become a "member of the firm") would generally leave the firm.

While this procedure is still generally true, changes in the economy and in the mentality of firms have given rise to different systems. Many people—particularly working parents who enjoy practicing law do not want the responsibility or the hours required to become and to remain a partner, and firms are finding that they must be creative in developing alternative working environments if they want to retain talented attorneys. Sometimes, if an associate is not asked to become partner, that attorney is given the option of staying on as a permanent associate. Some firms are experimenting with a tiered partnership arrangement, which confers varying rights and responsibilities on different levels of partners. Some attorneys are hired with the understanding that they are not interested in competing for a partnership slot.

The formula for making partner is complicated and largely unwritten. Among the factors tossed into the hopper are:
  • legal knowledge and experience
  • compatibility with fellow partners
  • area of specialty
  • ability to bring business into the firm
  • relationship with clients
  • certain social graces (although firms may deny using this criterion

If you do make it to partner, you'll very likely find yourself in a job that will pay you well over $300,000 a year and will get you home by seven or eight every evening, leaving some—although not all—weekends free. (The present economic climate, however, has kept even senior partners scurrying about looking for new clients and maintaining their own billable hours to keep revenue pouring into the firm coffers.)

Wall Street-type firms have also been a breeding ground for politicians. If you have your eye on the White House or Capitol Hill, it can do you no harm to start making contacts through a major law firm.

Small Urban Firms

Wall Street-type firms represent the major corporations and banks in this country. But many corporations and individuals can't afford their services and don't need their high-power legal talent. It is the small law firms located in or near cities that service such clients.

The nature of the work is similar to that of the larger firms—mostly corporate law and litigation—although small urban firms tend not to do much of the large antitrust, tender offer (a type of corporate acquisition), and financing work of the larger firms. But the principles are the same; only the scope is smaller. Like the large firms, these have partners and associates (generally between 20 and 100 attorneys altogether). Your chances for becoming a partner will probably be somewhat better at a smaller firm because there is more room to expand. In many smaller firms, hours tend to be shorter, but the pay is less than at the large firms. And you won't have the abundant support staff and technology (computers, libraries, and continuing education programs, for instance) that large firms provide.

These smaller firms tend to offer more personal or individual legal services (wills, trusts, divorces, personal injury advice and litigation, and house and condo closings, for instance) than larger firms. If you wish to specialize in one of these areas, a smaller urban firm might be for you.

Alternative Summary

Harrison is the founder of BCG Attorney Search and several companies in the legal employment space that collectively gets thousands of attorneys jobs each year. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placement attract millions of reads each year. Harrison is widely considered the most successful recruiter in the United States and personally places multiple attorneys most weeks. His articles on legal search and placement are read by attorneys, law students and others millions of times per year.

More about Harrison

About LawCrossing

LawCrossing has received tens of thousands of attorneys jobs and has been the leading legal job board in the United States for almost two decades. LawCrossing helps attorneys dramatically improve their careers by locating every legal job opening in the market. Unlike other job sites, LawCrossing consolidates every job in the legal market and posts jobs regardless of whether or not an employer is paying. LawCrossing takes your legal career seriously and understands the legal profession. For more information, please visit
( 44 votes, average: 4.2 out of 5)
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