We’ll have to learn all over again (and that’s okay)

 July 12, 2012

By  Casey Berman

I was on a Twitter chat on Tuesday run by Alison Monahan with a number of thought leaders in the field (Jennifer Alvey, Heather Jarvis, Katie Slater, Ms. JD and others) discussing the topic of whether in today’s economy law school is still worth the investment of time and money.

Through the wide ranging conversation, we began to discuss what skills it takes to make it in the workplace, either in law or outside of law, and Katie Slater (former BigLaw finance lawyer and now coach who helps lawyers discover the next level in their careers) reiterated a great point:  Law school is not necessarily a place of skill acquisition.  Rather this is done by actually practicing law in the workplace.

It can be easy for us to expound on the skills we learned in law school:  Analytical skills, issue spotting, writing skills, persuasion, interview abilities, and on and on.  But we all know that we were not able to apply these with any regularity or professional focus until we actually began working as lawyers.  And once we began working, we learned so much more than law school ever came close to touching on.

The same goes for leaving the law.  While much of what you have learned and can do now as a lawyer is transferable to “alternative†legal jobs or new, non-legal jobs, there is still so much to learn and become good at.

Exploring your unique genius and aligning it with focused babysteps, expansive networking, and targeted informational interviews will likely get your foot in the door to a new position that you enjoy and can excel at.  Then the real learning begins (all over again).

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  1. Casey,

    I always love getting to my desk in the morning to see your poignant and inspiring posts sitting in my inbox waiting for me. After reading today’s post, I wish I could have made that twitter chat to capture the entire conversation. I am (usually) nearly 100% in agreement in what you write, though I had to respond to this topic.

    With regards to whether law school is “worth” the investment of time and money, while I agree that the act of earning one’s degree is not what uniquely develops the skillsets that we all so commonly reference, I take issue that the answer is as simple as “they develop as we work.” It’s not that I disagree with the statement; quite the contrary. But I assert that it is too simplified because that is true of virtually every other trade or service any of us could have followed as well. Ask any entrepreneur and I am sure they will tell you, there simply is no substitute for real world experience. It seems to me that that this would be the focus of Katie’s comment, except you push off beginning those real world learning experiences for three years while in school (generalized and oversimplified, I realize).

    While I believe that this question is applicable across the breadth of today’s higher education system, I would ask instead whether or not the LEVEL of investment (today’s investments versus 30 years’ ago) in law school is worthwhile when compared to what the cost (time, experience and money, inclusive) of alternate opportunities would have been for us individually.

    I wrestle constantly with this question when I look back and wonder where would I be, what would I be doing, if I hadn’t dedicated three years and $150k to the pursuit of something that I didn’t fully understand or appreciate when I was 22 years old. For example, I grew up working in construction and always loved the creativity and ability to work with my hands. I’ve always loved architecture. But would pursuing a career in architecture at the age of 22 left me in an appreciably better position than I am today?

    For all my doubts about my previous decisions regarding my path, I have to objectively admit that I really have NO idea. It is the eternal conundrum, the struggle with hindsight.

    Ultimately, I feel like this is an intimately personal topic that each person really needs to answer for themselves. While I will still default to believing that, for myself, my investment (all inclusive) in law school was not worth the price, that may not ring true for others if they dust off the introspective toolset and dig deep.

    1. Hi Jason

      Thanks so much for the comment, I really appreciate it. Yes, you are completely right: in every field, there is no substitute for real world experience.

      And I agree that the better question is around the level of investment. That is why it is so important for potential law students to not just blindly apply and go to law school (because that is the thing you just do, because it’s the one way to make money, because it’s the path for professional success), but to think critically about this step. As you pointed out, it’s three years and $150k+.

      I also wanted to point out that in the same way we law students needed to learn real life skills in order to become capable lawyers, so to we need to learn (more, different) real life skills when deciding to leave the law. Some skills are transferable, but there is so much more to learn. This can be daunting, but it is a good, exciting thing. And as lawyers, we’ve already seen what it is like to learn skills on the job, so we have that experience.

      Thanks again!

  2. Jason –
    It’s so funny that you mention architecture as a possible alternate career path, since that’s actually what I did at 22 (having NO idea what I was getting into). Oddly enough, even though I never practiced, the skills I learned in architecture school are relevant to what I do now, and what I did as a lawyer. You just never really know how it’s all going to come together in the end.

    Oh, and if you’d like to see the chat transcript, you can check it out here: http://storify.com/GirlsGuidetoLS/1ltools-chat-july-10-2012

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