So You Want to be a Lawyer?
Published: Thursday, September 20, 2012
Updated: Thursday, September 20, 2012 19:09
I’m thankful for the Maroon-News’s invitation to share a bit about my post-Colgate career path. Like many Colgate students, I went to law school and have been very happy with my career as a lawyer.
I had considered becoming a lawyer before college but didn’t seriously pursue it until I picked up a friend’s LSAT prep books the summer after sophomore year. I started educating myself about the profession and thought that the combination of frequent writing and making reasoned arguments would be up my alley.
I applied to several law schools and wound up attending a school that was not only well regarded by employers but also had a reputation as a small, collegial place where people avoided cutthroat competition. It wound up being a great experience, and I remain close friends with several of my law school classmates.
After law school, I spent two years as a law clerk to federal judges, first on a trial court, then on an appeals court. Some lawyers call clerking the best job in the legal profession, and while I enjoy my current job a lot, clerking is hard to beat.
As a law clerk, you spend time as an apprentice to a skilled, experienced lawyer, learning how judges make decisions while advising your boss on cases that come before the court, even helping to draft the opinions that set precedent for future cases. During a clerkship, you receive constant mentoring on your legal writing and reasoning; after the clerkship, you’ve gained a well-respected professional contact who will be a source of advice throughout your career.
I’m currently a trial attorney with the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. In the Antitrust Division, we evaluate the impact of mergers and business conduct on the country’s economy: is it likely to reduce competition and lead to consumer harm? In much of our work, we act as investigators. We interview customers and market participants, analyze data and read thousands of pages of documents. If we conclude that a business combination or practice harms competition, we can challenge it in court. There, we function as litigators: taking depositions, writing briefs to the court and building a case to present at trial. Right now, I’m involved in a major litigation against Apple and several publishers where we allege that those companies colluded to raise the prices of electronic books.
I majored in economics and German at Colgate, and I draw on my undergraduate training nearly every day. My economics degree helps me to evaluate the economic arguments that companies make to defend their practices, as well as to understand the analyses that our staff economists present us to help us make decisions. While I don’t speak German every day as part of my job, most companies today conduct business globally, and I’m sometimes called in to informally translate documents that were originally written in German.
Much has been written recently about the changing state of the legal market and the difficulty of securing a job straight out of law school. While it’s not impossible to find good employment as a new lawyer, you need to do two things to make it happen: make yourself as attractive a candidate as possible coming out of law school and ensure that you personally are absolutely convinced that you want to be a lawyer.
On the first point, it’s an unfortunate but true reality that the ranking or “prestige” of your law school still matters in the eyes of many employers. To that end, strive for a high undergraduate GPA and study to maximize your LSAT score; those remain the factors that are most important to law school admissions committees. While in law school, work hard to get good grades and apply for clerkships after you graduate. To enhance your chances, be open to where you will clerk – it’s only a year or two, and it’s a chance to see a new part of the country.
On the second point, keep in mind that you will invest a lot of money, time and emotional energy into going to law school, taking the bar exam and becoming a lawyer. Make sure it will absolutely be the right career for you twenty years from now. Find a lawyer (a family friend or Colgate alum), and ask to shadow that person for a couple days.
Being a lawyer, or even a litigator, is perhaps five percent “Perry Mason” moments, at most. See if you’d also find satisfaction in the day-to-day routine of researching the law, drafting documents, negotiating deals or discovery requests and interacting with clients.
I have found working as a lawyer to be very intellectually satisfying – there is a new puzzle to solve almost every day. I wish the best of luck to Colgate students who are considering joining the profession.