By Laura Bladow • June 07, 2014•Law School, Pre-Law
I had the privilege of sitting down with Julie Silverbrook, a Ms. JD Board Member and the Executive Director of The Constitutional Sources Project (ConSource) to talk with her about law school. Julie shared such a fantastic wealth of information with me that I've broken her interview into two blog posts. If you're pre-law or in law school and are curious about a certain career path or have questions about law school, I'd encourage you to set up some informational interviews. Nothing beats getting your most pressing questions answered by an expert! Enjoy Part I and stay tuned for Part II!
LB: Why did you decide to go to law school directly from undergrad?
JS: I decided I wanted to become a lawyer at age five, and committed myself to going straight through from first grade to law school graduate, and I did just that. In hindsight, I think I would have taken time off between college and law school. Although, I did not do this myself, I do recommend graduating from college, working in the so-called “real world” for a year or more, saving money, and then making the financial and time investment involved with law school. I knew I wanted to go into the non-profit sector after graduation, and so chose a highly respected but lower-priced law school, where I received a merit scholarship.
LB: What did you think you wanted to do with your law degree when you entered law school? Did that change through your law school experiences?
JS: I worked for ConSource in college and stayed involved with the non-profit during law school, so I always had in mind that I would return to the organization at some point in my career. The timing of things worked out really well – as I was entering my third year of law school, the organization was in need of a new Executive Director, and so I was very fortunate to begin leading the organization in a full-time capacity immediately (as in the very next day) after graduation. If I didn’t have the opportunity to lead ConSource or become involved with another Constitution-related non-profit, I would have pursued a legislative attorney position with the American Law Division of the Congressional Research Service, where I worked during my second summer of law school.
LB: Do you thing there's too much emphasis placed on law school rankings?
JS: I think many people would agree that prospective students tend to put far too much stock in the US News & World Report Rankings. I will candidly admit that Harvard and Yale are always going to be Harvard and Yale, and, if you can get into and afford to attend a top-10 law school, there are many professional benefits to doing so. BUT, there are not enough seats at those law schools for everyone to attend, and, even still, not everyone can afford to attend those schools, and so prospective students need to look at other factors and make savvy choices. If you read the news today, you’re bound to come across a story about the crushing burden of student debt.
Cost absolutely needs to be a major factor for prospective students – what can you afford now, how will you manage your debt after law school, etc. If you have a sense of what you’d like to specialize in before you go to law school, do some research first. You may find that the best program for your specialty is not in the top 10 or 20 schools. Other factors you may want to consider – geography and quality of life. Before you make your deposit and take your seat, make sure you’ve made the best choice for your life, career and future financial stability.
LB: Do you think there's a specific personality type that makes someone successful in law school?
JS: I’m sure someone has done a study of which personality-types do well in law school. I don’t have the expertise, so will just offer my own sense of what I believe is the appropriate mindset for success in law school. Law school is really the start of your career, and so you need to be cognizant of that when you begin. Think of how you are being perceived by your peers, as they will ultimately become your colleagues after graduation. It takes a lifetime to build your reputation and just a brief moment to damage or destroy it. Moral of the story – take things seriously, study hard, and don’t do anything that will get you on Above the Law. Before you go to a party or do something a bit crazy, ask yourself this: “Would David Lat want to write about this on Above the Law?” If the answer is even plausibly yes, then you need to return to your home or the library and study instead!
Before you go to law school (or even while you’re there), learn how to manage stress. As difficult as you think law school is, legal practice is harder. You cannot fall apart every time there’s a deadline or you’re critiqued. My friends and I had a saying in law school, “There’s no crying in law school” (an adaptation of the famous line from “A League of Their Own”). Women need to be especially careful about publicly displaying their emotions. Unfortunately, emotions (particularly crying) are associated with weakness, and so, if you can, try to reserve your emotional release for moments when you’re behind closed doors or in the company of close friends.
Another important thing to remember – Only 10% of all law students can be in the top 10% of the class, and so 90% of law students will not be. That can be a hard pill to swallow for a bunch of overachievers (AKA everyone who applies to and attends law school). All is not lost if you are not in the top 10%. Law school is a terrific opportunity to grow your professional network. If you don’t get the job you want through an On-Campus-Interview your second year, then pound the pavement in your job market of choice until a compelling professional opportunity presents itself. It’s a tough economy, so you may need to think outside of the box and take the unbeaten path.
LB: If you could go back and do it all over again is there anything you would change?
JS: As I mentioned before, I probably would have worked between college and law school rather than going straight through. I’m a saver by nature. I take a percentage of each paycheck and put it into savings. If I had worked for two or three years, I would have saved a nice amount of money before I began accruing additional debt.
I’ll use this question as another opportunity to discuss the importance of making sound financial choices. A percentage of student loans can be used to cover living expenses. Unfortunately, some students view these additional funds as their disposable income (money to use for shopping and other luxuries). Just remember that every dollar of that money you spend at a bar or clothing store is one you will have to pay back plus interest.
After law school, there’s a certain amount of pressure to maintain a certain kind of lifestyle – nice clothes, luxury car, etc. Take your monthly loan payments into account before you make a major purchase. My motto is this – save now, pay your debt down, and have a better quality of life in the long run.
Stay tuned for Part II!
About the Author: Laura Bladow is Ms. JD's Programs Manager in addition to being a passionate pre-law woman. Have questions about law school or pursuing a career with a JD? Leave a comment below or tweet @msjdtweets & @laurabladow with the hashtag #msjdprelaw and engage with our community! Looking for more pre-law resources? Check out Ms. JD's Pre-Law Prep Guide as well as the pre-law section of our blog!