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Law Offices of Ronald W. Rutz
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September 21, 2004: Getting a Law Degree

Q. I want to be a lawyer. What do I do?

A. Oh my gosh! Don’t let your mama hear you talk like that. You might get your mouth washed out with soap. (Just kidding—at least for most mamas, I hope.)

In my opinion, earning a law degree is one of the last truly encyclopedic areas of study available. That piece of paper called a law degree can serve as your passport to many areas of professional adventure, such as courtroom work like Perry Mason or an "in office" practice where areas of concentration could include business, tax, domestic issues, real estate, government, or financial and estate planning, just to name a few.

But many lawyers never practice law, opting for careers in teaching, business, real estate, government, and yes, even journalism.

Although there are "pre-law majors" at the university level, traditionally any area of study can serve as a stepping stone to law school. The conventional wisdom that we used on the law school admission committee that I served on held that liberal arts and English majors made the best law students while students trained in the sciences had the harder time adjusting to law school. So in college take a wide variety of classes, not only to give you depth and insight into human nature and societal infrastructure, but if you find your true passion, do not hesitate to pursue it as opposed to law school.

Everything that you have heard about the first year of law school is true. Except for medical and vet students, probably you will (or should) work harder than in any other graduate school setting. Law school opportunities such as law review and even many future job interviews are for the most part based on those first year grades.

In order to be licensed as an attorney, I believe there are only two states remaining where you do not need to go to college or law school. "Reading law" in a law office and working with an attorney for a certain number of years still qualify a person to sit for the bar examine in those states.

Some law schools will accept an applicant with several years of college work but no undergraduate degree. But for the vast majority of would-be legal eagles, the process requires a college degree (traditionally four years) and a law degree (another three years). Thereafter, taking and passing the dreaded bar exam must be endured (along with getting that first job).

Picking a law school needs to be given some thought. As a bit of gratuitous advice, I suggest you decide on your initial life’s goal. If teaching at the law school level, or working for the government, or landing a business position with that top corporation, or working for a top law firm (or satisfying your ego) is the desired goal, attend a "top" law school. If practicing law is what you want to do, then pick a school in the desired state or region. Meeting classmates two years in front of you, in your class, and two years behind you can be invaluable in the future. Also learning the local rules and nuances of practice can be crucial for a young lawyer. If landing a non-traditional legal position is for you, then find the schools with such a program.

Do not go into law for "the money." It is my observation that most lawyers are comfortable but could be making much more money in other jobs and working a lot less.

Finally, it is never too late to go to law school. I know a number of 50 and 60-year-olds who could benefit from this kind of training but consider themselves too old to try. So if you do not go right after college, remember law school is always an option at a later date.

Now for the general reader of this column that has gotten this far, do not be saying to yourself, "Oh great, that’s all we need—another lawyer!" As you recall from a previous column, among all nations, the United States probably ranks around 25th for the number of per capita "lawyers" (people who have specialized legal training and use that training in a judicial or semi-judicial setting, or give legal advice).

So, mamas, it might not be so terrible to take Willie Nelson’s advice and let your babies grow up to be "lawyers and such."

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