31 July 2014

Two-year law school graduation countdown: what then?

Two years ago, I started my law school journey (there have been a few twists along the way). Just this week, thousands of law school graduates endured the dreaded bar exam. Assuming all goes to plan, two years from now I'll be among those graduates and among those who endure the dreaded bar exam. Then what?

From the day I began law school, people have asked me: What are you going to do after you graduate? Or, what kind of law do you want to practice? Good questions. My first answer has always been that I have a reasonably reliable and well-paying job right now, so I am in no rush to quit. Short of a big city-style big law job working 70-80+ hours a week (a job I would not likely take at this point in my life anyways), there are precious few (if any) entry level jobs for law school graduates that would compensate me as well as my current job. So now, as then, I'm not planning on quitting my job anytime soon or accepting blind offers from Bendini, Lambert and Locke.

On the other hand, I'm not going to law school "just because." Although I am very happily accumulating zero student loan debt to the very generous Post-9/11 GI Bill, law school has (and continues) to consume an enormous chunk of my time. I don't plan to work in my current job forever. At some point, I'd like to actually be, you know, a lawyer.

On top of all of this, the job market for lawyers has been pretty shitty the last few years. No one is banging down my door offering me the moon (although if you want to consider me for a job, my resume is available and a number of writing samples are linked here!). I will not be a 20-something law school grad. I'll be 40 years old with a family. That being said, I have done pretty well academically, I made law review. Supposedly I'm a pretty decent writer. I write Plain English posts that have turned out to be reasonably popular. I think I will have some options available to me around the time I graduate.

Being a part-time student complicates things. Many full-time students will have obtained a summer internship between their second and third years of law school that usually lead to a full-time job offer after graduation. These internships are sought after precisely because they do often lead to job offers. I can't exactly take off the summer to do that. It is true that I have a considerable amount of work experience (almost 9 years in the Navy and six years since then) that your average law school graduate doesn't have. But that work experience only goes so far. As far as I'm concerned, my previous experience (while personally valuable to me) is unlikely to mean much to a law firm hiring partner. I'd be better off considering myself in the same boat as everyone else. I'd be happy to be wrong about this.

So, what do I want to do?

I've told people this before, but long-term I'd really like to be a judge. If I had my druthers (which I don't), I'd really like to be a federal appellate judge. There are probably 99 (or more) reasons why that might never happen. But there is one reason why it might: because it is what I want to do. That's not enough to make it happen, but it is enough to make it a goal. So off in the distance, that has been my long-term goal for a while now.

But what about now? Or two years from now? A judicial clerkship, maybe. I'm not sure the geography would work. I'm not sure I could take the salary hit for a year. But maybe, just maybe, it would be the path to take. In case you were wondering, some judges begin accepting applications for federal clerkship jobs for the 2016-17 year as early as tomorrow. Tomorrow, as in two years in advance. Yikes.

I have taken a serious interest in appellate work. I'm taking another appellate writing class. And this next academic year, I will be working in the law school's Appellate Advocacy Clinic representing convicted defendants on appeal in the Maryland Court of Special Appeals as a Rule 16 student attorney. This means that I can practice law under the supervision of another lawyer. This is really, really exciting for me. If all goes as planned, I would be very interested in pursuing full-time appellate work after graduation.

Teaching is something that's always been in the back of my mind, but I was particularly happy when one of my professors encouraged me to pursue it as an option. I've been cautioned by several people about the job market for law professors. Yes, I know, it doesn't look good. There are precious few jobs. Many of them would require me to uproot. All of that might seem somewhat discouraging, but I'm not going to let it get me down. As in all things, I am neither an optimist or a pessimist but a realist. That being said, why not me?

I try not to close any doors or burn any bridges. Who knows what might happen a year or two from now. Who knows what may come of the people I might meet or the judges I will argue in front of. I may have specific end goals in mine, but that won't stop me from casting a wide net.

For the next two years I will keep my head down, working hard to be a better legal writer. As a student attorney, I will strive to give my clients the best representation that I am capable of giving. I will seek out the guidance of professors, lawyers, judges, friends and family. I will rely on my considerable support structure and people like you to help me along the way (yes, if you've read this far, I think I deserve to put some trust in your opinion). I will practice hundreds of bar exam review questions and labor through painful essays about legal hypotheticals.

What then? Who knows. But I'm still looking forward to it.
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