At Lawyer for Profit today Michael Sherman posts, riffing on this post by Susan Cartier Liebel at Build a Solo Practice, LLC, about law schools’ failure to teach students how to hang a shingle.
Susan quotes Ryan Alexander, a Harvard law grad who started his own practice:
I hope HLS will eventually offer a seminar in running your own practice to open up students’ eyes to the possibility. HLS students are too risk averse for their own good – there is a lot of demand for services that you can provide for people. Many students go to BigLaw against their conscience or interests and hate lawyering, because they are not true to themselves. There is another path. It is exciting, liberating and uniquely fulfilling to have your own practice. You can prepare for it and be ready.
The following might surprise lots of future law students. It might surprise some current and past Harvard Law School students (if you think that the first tier of law schools is the be-all and end-all of legal education, prepare for a revelation):
If you want to work for yourself, go to a second- or third-tier law school in the city in which you want to practice. If you have the native intelligence and/or the work ethic to get into Harvard, you don’t have to go to Harvard to succeed. If you go downtier, you may not be as well educated as if you had gone to Harvard, but you’ll be better prepared, better connected, probably better trained, and most likely in less debt. Biglaw pays big money for the prestige of having wage slaves from the “top” law schools. But the paying clients? The ones that might hire a first-year lawyer to do their legal work? They don’t give a damn whether you went to Yale or TSU. And rightly so.
While you might say, “he went to Harvard. He’s got it easier,” I would have to disagree. Fear is fear. Not following one’s own desires and personality and terror at breaking free from the herd is not unique to Harvard Law graduates. This mentality is instilled in all law students, the mantra, “you can’t do it. Who would hire you? You’re a malpractice case waiting to happen” is drummed into your head from day one wherever you go to school. He just paid more for the brainwashing.
I would take it farther. First-tier law grads, I think, have it harder when it comes to starting their own practices than many do. Students at South Texas College of Law don’t have this negative brainwashing drummed into their heads. Students at TSU don’t (if they survive the brutal first-year cut). Students at my alma mater, University of Houston Law Center, weren’t steeped in this negativism when I went there (but that was a long time ago, before the Richard Alderman regime, when the Dean tried to turn UHLC into Nebraska).
One of the keys, I think, is that more students at these law schools see self-employment as a necessary option. Because a higher proportion of students from these schools will hang out their own shingles, the curricula at these schools are more geared toward preparing them to do so. Why doesn’t Harvard prepare students to hang out a shingle? Because it doesn’t need to.
Another key is that students have opportunities to work or otherwise participate in the local legal community during law school. A lawyer who wants to make a living in Houston will be better off if she knows and is known by the local bar. An internship at the DA’s office, or a job as a runner for a criminal-defense lawyer, provides an entree into a criminal defense practice.
A third key is that alumni are clustered around the schools. Alumni want to see law students from their school succeed, and will often be more helpful to students there. Of course, my opinions are formed by practicing in Houston, and this may be a Texas thing (graduates of lower-tier law schools in other states, did you feel prepared to practice on your own when you got out?), an urban thing (Baylor grads, how about you?) or a Texas urban thing (UT grads?).
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