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Ask LawyerSlack: What Were Your Naive Expectations in Law School?

It’s time for another round of “Ask LawyerSlack!” I get a question from you, dear reader, and throw it to the wolves share it with the denizens in LawyerSlack. The folks in LawyerSlack then ridicule the question provide their thoughts on the reader’s question. Up this week: Naiveté.

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The text of the Tweet: “I hope all my Law School buds do lots of Justice this summer in their summer adventures 🙏 #lawschool ” Which was such a naive and optimistic Tweet, I knew the kid had to be a 1L. Everyone had a good laugh about it on Twitters and in LawyerSlack, so I threw a question to everyone: 

What were some naive assumptions you had about the practice of law when you were in law school, that were dashed into pieces upon your first couple of years in practice?

What assumptions did you make about the practice of law? And how did they hold up once the rubber met the road?

If you’re a optimistic student in law school, warning: some of these are brutal.

Lawyers Make Good Money!

  • That I could get a paying job that didn’t involve litigation…hah. I’m in court once a week at least. -KAF
  • That law school would actually prepare you to pass the bar or practice law. – CA
  • That “international law” was a thing that people did. -Tripp
  • I left law school and decided that it was time to grow up and leave behind childish notions of fairness and justice after exactly one trip to criminal district court. – JP
  • That I would make any fucking money. Period. -BB
  • That I would be able to pay off my six-figure debt in a few years, easily.
  • I thought I could get a job really easily. But for about 5 years I lived near poverty. – SB
  • That there was a job market.

Even Big Law Lawyers Have Naive Assumptions

  • Thinking I would be collaborating a bit more with my fellow attorneys. Most of my work is done solo. Not that bad, but definitely a bit different than I was expecting.
  • Believing that all lawyers understood that law firms are businesses. (most do, and we certainly do at my firm, but I’ve heard horror stories) Believing that BigLaw is the only place to be a “real lawyer.” Thankfully, working in a secondary market has been great for me, and my friends in BigLaw are already planning their exits. -PK
  • I assumed that law school would teach me a little about corporate law, but was surprised that (other than my secured transactions class), I had absolutely no practical knowledge of how corporate transactions worked. I started day 1 with practically zero knowledge.

“I’ll Make A Difference In The World! (Spoilers: You Won’t)

  • Going in knowing I would do patent law, I thought I’d get to see all the cool new tech. Instead, my first IP professor started class with “the best part of doing patent law is crushing people’s dreams when they think they’ve invented something that will change the world.” And now I write patent applications on boring, miniscule improvements and never even get to see the cool new products those improvements go into. ~CBS
  • “I wanted to make a difference”. This phrase is so wildly overused to the point that it has essentially lost its meaning. Making a difference is a point of perspective and relative to a particular goal and practice area. It takes a basket of knowledge, wisdom, experience, failure, and success in your own practice to know how you intend to make a difference. It could be as simple as one bucket list item or as complex as a multitude of goals. –Rossow
  • When I went to law school, I intended to be a prosecutor with the district attorney’s office. I thought that I would really be able to make an impact. One summer at the DA’s office was enough to dissuade me of that notion. I saw some truly atrocious things that summer, but what bothered me most was seeing the same people staying in the system, doing the same dumb stuff over the course of 30 or 40 years. So now I’m in civil defense litigation and just fuss with people about (other people’s) money all day – and I love it. – richterjw

Lawyers Are Professionals, And The Law is Fair!

  • That pleadings would be free of grammatical errors. Or that service of process was straightforward and free from any issues. – BS
  • That the practice of law would involve a lot of research, I was all hyped up on research memos and appellate moot court in law school and walked into my first law firm job and was promptly told “take this pleading from X case and change out the facts to match this case and have it filed. Don’t do anything creative/interesting with this assignment, do not try to recreate the wheel, do not pass ‘Go,’ do not collect $200.” (that last part may be hyperbole) – TFC
  • How little the law actually matters in dispute resolution. There’s what you’re entitled to, what you can actually recover, and how well a Court Order can actually be enforced. – GF
  • As someone with a rather large criminal defense practice, the concept of “Money or Time” in criminal law. I.E. the state wants your Money or your Time. This ends up meaning my wealthy clients get sweet deals pretty often with high financial consequences and everyone else gets the shaft. -YCL
  • Similar to the other posters, I had always thought Law School would prepare me to practice law! I was wrong. I’ve spent a significant portion of my three years in practice just poking around the dark and getting yelled at by senior counsel. After careful review of the constructive feedback, I’m not sure any of us know what we are really doing, even senior counsel. Hard to mete out justice when you’re not sure how to practice. -MLK

It’s Not Entirely Awful

  • Well, the first few years I thought that the practice of law would always suck and that everything was shit. But I later found out that that was wrong. There is good fulfilling work out there that you can make money off of. But it took me over 15 years to find it.
  • On a jaded note, even though by the time I graduated there was a lot being written about the collapsing legal job market, I was still surprised at how long and hard I would have to work just to get a salary that matched my pre-JD salary.
  • On a slightly more positive note, I had no idea how challenging being a lawyer would be on a day to day basis. There are no easy days – even five years in I find that I’m constantly being challenged to learn new things, come up with new ways to solve problems, and to really work hard. It isn’t always just grinding out hours, it’s a lot of stimulating and challenging work.
  • I thought I would burn out of biglaw by year 2-3 like the conventional wisdom says. Some people like biglaw. Including me.

There you have it. How dozens of lawyers lost their innocence upon entering the profession from law school. If you’re a new lawyer or still in law school, hopefully this helps you realize there is no hope for you you need to manage your expectations upon joining the profession.

Got a question for the hivemind? Shoot me a DM on Twitter: @associatesmind

Or if you absolutely must do it the old fashioned way, you can email me with the subject line “Ask LawyerSlack” at associatesmind@gmail.com.

  • Jim Lai

    I went in house very early in my career and I feel like my experience is so very different from many of the responses. My job is great. My clients like me because I give them a sanity check on the things that could get them into trouble, and I get to work with interesting technology. For being a geek who can’t program a computer to save his life this is a pretty good deal.

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