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Legal Education & Careers

Law As a Career
Think you'd like to be a lawyer? Or a paralegal? Are you finishing your education and looking for a legal or law-related position?

October 2009: Ok, we're going to editorialize here in hopes that it does a bit of good. If you're reading this page, you're probably investigating going into law.

In 2009 and beyond, you need to investigate such a decision, and the cost of such a decision, more than ever before. Anything you read about the prospects for law graduates and lawyers dated before fall of 2008 is likely seriously out of date.

Not only did a "legal recession" hit, with painful consequences for many graduating law students and new lawyers but the legal profession and the delivery of legal services generally are undergoing significant changes - changes for which few law schools seem to be preparing their graduates - changes for which many in legal education and legal services delivery may have no easy answers.

Before anyone goes to law school these days, he or she might read Richard Susskind's The End of Lawyers? (Oxford U. Press 2008). Or Thomas D. Morgan's The Vanishing American Lawyer (Oxford U. Press 2010). (Or any of of many very cynical blogs about being a new lawyer today or the state of legal employment opportunities). At a minimum, they are food for thought.

Be sure to ask your prospective schools to specifically describe how they are going to prepare you for the future, not the past. And try your own hand at a cost-benefit analysis of going to law school vs. alternatives.

May 2011 update: More editorializing. Before acting, investigate claims that many law school post-graduation employment statistics are not what you might have expected. And investigate the odds that any merit scholarship money you may be offered may evaporate midstream due to failure to maintain the minimum GPA. You'll need to know how grading on a curve may make it impossible for many first year merit scholarship recipients to continue legal education without taking out loans they did not plan to take out.

Key point: take a hard, hard look before you leap. Seriously. The law biz ain't what it used to be imagined to be, a so called "golden ticket" to upward mobility. Talk to some disillusioned law graduates who wish they'd never gone to law school, along with everyone else. Go to law school only if you know it's right for you and you have a sensible plan for how you will be successful, and pay off your loans, after graduation. The world needs more talented, innovative, practically-trained lawyers. But not so many generic lawyers who went to law school because they didn't know what else to do or have unrealistic ideas about what law practice is actually like.

Resources in this category:
   Are You Fit to Be a Lawyer? by Minnesota State Bar Association Life and the Law Committee (Judith Rush Attorney at Law, P.C.)
Informational brochure for law students. 2 pages.
   Occupational Outlook Handbook: Lawyers (U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics)
   A Beginner's Guide to Legal Education (Professor James R. Elkins, College of Law, West Virginia University)
Collection of articles about preparing for law school, law school rankings, and law as a career.
   An Introduction to the American Legal Profession in the Year 2000 (January 1, 2000) (NELLCO)
Author: Gerard J. Clark, Suffolk University Law School , Boston, Massachusetts. Citation: 33 Suff L. Rev. 293 (2000). Abstract: The American legal profession is so large and so diverse that it is difficult to describe. This article looks at a variety of practice settings, investigates the economics of the profession, discusses a number of institutional issues including interstate practice, multi-disciplinary practice and the role of bar associations, and concludes with inquiry about the future of the profession.
   Balanced Lives: Changing the Culture of Legal Practice (American Bar Association Commission on Women in the Profession)
An "overview of the challenges posed in accommodating lawyers' personal and professional commitments, along with recommendations for change and sample policies on alternative work schedules and family leaves."

Excerpt: "It took the increased participation of women in our profession to awaken a consciousness regarding issues of work and family balance. This is fairly disheartening because our fundamental responsibility to family and community should not be gender-specific, nor should any of the issues raised in this manual be considered "women's issues".

   What Is a Paralegal? (March 1, 1987) (National Federation of Paralegal Associations)
"As defined by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations, paralegal is a person qualified through education, training or work experience to perform substantive legal work that requires knowledge of legal concepts and is customarily, but not exclusively, performed by a lawyer."
   Research Guide: Researching Careers in International Law (University of Minnesota Law Library)
   Research Guide: Researching Careers in Law (University of Minnesota Law Library)

See also:
  • Minnesota Lawyers
  • Lawyers and Regulation of Lawyers
  • Similar resources in our Wisconsin Legal Reference Library
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