Friday, October 23, 2009

If law school is rough, what will change with being an attorney

Hopefully everything.

A small group gathered for lunch recently. The discussion began like this.

S: I can't get everything done that I need to do. (Pause and a weird look) What the hell am I going to do when I am actually a lawyer?

E: Crap, don't think about it.

And the subject was changed.

But in that question is one that haunts many law students. If we are so freakin' busy now, what happens afterwards? Every attorney who brings this up says "Wait until you are actually in practice." That's supposed to be helpful. Or calming?

To stop worrying so much, I asked a few lawyers how things are different and how to prepare or at least have the right mind-set. Hear is a summary of what they said:

1. Start becoming organized NOW. Even if it's the last month of your third year work on creating an organizational scheme that works for you.

2. Related - do only what works for you. I specifically sought out an ADHD attorney to discuss this, in particular. Basically, you can't shoehorn yourself into another person's organizational scheme. So if the tips from one book fail you, keep looking. And look for what you have done right in the past. For me, it's complete silence. No music, nothing. And, unfortunately, it's also taking my medication everyday like clockwork (I forget).

3. As much as I don't want to admit it, exercise, nutrition, and down time are all very important. I don't want to admit it because I would rather eat MickyD's, never take another stair as long as I live, and work until I drop. But this year I have decided that this is not working for me.

4. Realize that being an attorney is different. I know that sounds like a stupid, duh statement, but many law students have no real clue what they will be doing on a day to day basis. Instead of reading cases for class, you have to find only a couple on point and hope you haven't missed something big. Also, you are much more time limited. Some even said to take advantage of Westlaw and Lexis training seminars on effective research. One quote: "I don't care how on point a case is if it took the associate 15 hours to find it. That's time I can't possibly bill to the client."

5. Stop listening to the attorneys that babble on and on about how being an attorney is harder than being a law student. Many of the associates I spoke with said these folks are just in that mindset of wanting to go back to when the work didn't matter. Working 60-80 hours a week for a grade is a lot less terrifying than working 60-80 hours a week knowing that your mistake could cost people their money or, worse, their freedom. Dramatic, yes. True, yes.

So the next time you are sitting around talking about the workload and hoping you aren't going to drown think of (1) you are still in school, so stop it; and (2) as one professor put it "stop worrying. I mean really, look at all the idiots out there in practice, you'll be fine."*

So there.

* That is a quote from a professor, NOT MY WORDS.

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