With the rise of true-crime series and podcasts – I’m looking at you Making of a Murderer and Serial – some people may be applying to law school with stars in their eyes. While lawyers do have important jobs – criminal justice couldn’t run without them – there are some realities you should be aware of when you apply to law school.
1. Law is actually fairly tedious. By the time you finish reading International Shoe and annotating footnotes in your Civil Procedure textbook, you will figure out that, like many academic professions, law requires patience and the ability to sift through a large amount of detail.
2. The wheels of justice turn slowly. Being a lawyer means accepting that sometimes you can only nudge the needle a little bit at a time. I had a great law professor who told me that his initial goal was never to win, but rather to lose after some amount of consideration. It can take a long time to change laws using the courts.
3. Lawyers represent their clients. In some ways, being a lawyer is not a lot different from serving food at a restaurant – the client dictates the time and costs constraints as well as the result they want. A large part of being a lawyer in the real world is doing the best thing for your client, even if it’s not particularly advantageous to your career or your own desire to make a particular point. The actual people you represent have their own ideas about what is important.
4. Law applies to the real world. There’s a law school maxim that “bad facts make bad law.” It’s true in practice, too. Usually, the facts of the case – the who, what, when, where – matter more than the theory behind it. There’s always an underlying principle that legal decisions have to make some sense. Now, that’s something you can borrow for your moot court debate.
5. Sometimes, you lose. This happens to television lawyers as well, but it’s worth noting. If you are applying to law school hoping to rely on your ability to persuade anyone based on your excellent debate skills – well, believe it or not, sometimes justice isn’t on your side.
As an applicant, what should you do? Should you allow your television or podcast habits to influence your personal statement? Not really. Many people who apply to law school are idealists, like the defense lawyers in Making of a Murderer and want to make a difference in people’s lives. A better way to show your idealism and a mature, realistic understanding of the law is to emphasize your ability to think analytically as well as your ability see both sides of an issue.
Jessica Pishko graduated with a J.D. from Harvard Law School and received an M.F.A. from Columbia University. She spent two years guiding students through the medical school application process at Columbia’s PostBacc Program and teaches writing at all levels.