By Genevieve Antono • July 08, 2015•Careers, Law School, Pre-Law, Choosing a Career and Landing a Job, Internships and Clerkships
As the president of the pre-law society at my university, I frequently get questions from friends and underclassmen about how my “LSAT prep” is going. I tell them, quite honestly, that I don't even know what's on the test.
I've deliberately tried to avoid thinking about the question, “How do I get into law school?” I have no idea which law schools are ranked in the T14 (although I can probably hazard a guess) and frankly, for now, I don't really care.
Instead, I've spent the last two years focused on trying to learn as much as I can about the legal profession, and to figure out whether and why I even want to be a lawyer.
I've spent many days watching arraignments at 100 Centre Street in Manhattan. I've set up informational interviews with judges, and had tea and biscuits in their chambers. I've gatecrashed Ms. JD, ATL and Global Law Week events at multiple law firms (including Freshfields, Proskauer, S&C and Wachtell); I even gatecrashed (and competed in) a MoFo-sponsored public speaking competition for (actual) law students!
I've also completed internships at the New York State Unified Court System, the New York State Attorney General's Office, Columbia Law School, Clifford Chance LLP and the legal department of a Fortune 500 company.
I realize that the above sounds a little like overkill. Yet, it has taken me two whole years and all of these experiences combined, before I've been able to say with certainty that I want to become a lawyer. (And that it therefore wouldn’t be a terrible idea to go to law school.)
It was only through interacting with (actual) lawyers that I discovered that not all of them are grumpy and frustrated. There are plenty of them who are genuinely interested in and fulfilled by their work — and these are the ones you want to spend time with and draw inspiration from.
It was only through going through 1000-page PDFs of scanned search warrant evidence and doing word-by-word comparisons of thick Framework Agreements that I realized that although I’m more excited by the big-picture of a deal or case, I'm OCD enough to secretly enjoy document-heavy tasks.
It was only through the sum of my internships that I’ve realized that a good lawyer understands their clients, and doesn’t drown them in legalese but gives straightforward advice that meets their needs. And — although this is perhaps quite obvious — that if you want to be a transactional lawyer who works with corporate clients, you’ll need a solid understanding of business too.
Undergraduates are often advised to avoid doing “legal” internships for reasons such as “they won't help you get into law school” and “you won't get to do any real work anyway.”
I think this is terrible advice. It doesn’t matter if an undergraduate legal internship helps you get into law school. Undergrads should be doing them anyway, to decide if they should apply to law school in the first place!
Two years ago, I had zero “legal” internship experience and zero “legal” connections. No one in my family is a lawyer or knows one, and getting my first, unpaid internship seemed impossibly difficult. I spent many months sending cold emails to legal organizations, and I’m extremely grateful to my supervisor at the New York State Unified Court System for taking a chance and giving me my first internship.
What I’ve found, however, is that once you’re able to get a foot in a(ny) door, and are able to get someone to vouch for your work ethic and abilities, getting each subsequent internship becomes significantly easier.
The work that you’re assigned, too, will become increasingly challenging and rewarding. (If anything, I’ve gone from stuffing envelopes and sorting out filing cabinets, to doing research on LexisNexis and doing first drafts of various legal documents.)
This Fall, our pre-law society will be holding a panel discussion for incoming first-year students, where current board members will share tips and advice with new members on succeeding as a “pre-law” student. I plan to say to them what I always tell all my other pre-law peers:
Be shamelessly proactive. Talk to every lawyer who’ll talk to you. Reach out on LinkedIn and Twitter if you don’t know any in real life. And test your interest in the profession by doing law-related internships — before you start obsessing over how to get into law school!
Genevieve Antono is an undergraduate at Columbia University in the City of New York (Class of 2017) and the 2014-2016 President of the Columbia Pre-Law Society.
Check out her LinkedIn at: www.linkedin.com/in/genevieveantono