[Thanks to Camille for sharing her informational interview report on being a lawyer.]
Until taking a career/life planning class I had never seriously considered potentially entering the field of law. However, results from various career surveys have provided me with some confidence that I would excel in this field, and so I decided to interview a lawyer for an informational interview. The lawyer I chose is my roommate’s father. Before I contacted him I asked his daughter to plant the seed for me so to speak and tell him that I would like to interview him for a class project. Through several e-mails we decided that an e-mail “interview” would be the best plan of action, seeing that he was going out of town in a few days and lives in northern California, while I reside in southern California.
For the information interview I wanted to focus on law school and how he decided to get involved in that field because those are two issues I have the most questions about.
Here is all the Q & A:
What did you major in as an undergrad, and where did you go?
I went to Stanford, majored in history, and graduated with a B.A. My law school classmates majored in all kinds of things including English, poli sci, anthropology, sociology, math, science, you name it.
What made you decide you wanted to study law, and at what point in your life did you make this decision?
I didn’t decide on a career in law until I took the LSAT, did well, and graduated with nothing else to do. I loved history but in those days it would have been hard to get a job teaching at the college level, and I didn’t want to teach high school or junior high. I never saw a career counselor. I spoke to one or two lawyers. To be honest, I didn’t think creatively about other options. No one did. We were focused on bigger issues, not how to get a good job. In those days, Watergate was a big influence on us. The “bigger issues” included things like how to change the world, and how to forge better politics, and law was very much a means to that end for the most political of law students if not for me. I guess we assumed that we’d have decent careers no matter what. Nowadays career planning starts much sooner and is more comprehensive.
How long did you prepare for the LSAT?
I did nothing to prepare for the LSAT. Went to bed early.
How did you decide which law schools to apply to, and ultimately how did you pick the one you went to?
I applied to the Univ. of Michigan, USC, UC Berkeley (Boalt Hall), Hastings and Stanford. I got into all of them except Stanford, which I wanted most of all. I chose them because they were top rated, had excellent faculty and a good student-faculty ratio, had clinical programs, and were in places where I’d like to live. I chose Boalt because I wanted to stay in the Bay Area, I liked the UC affiliation, and it ranked at the top.
What was law school like? Was it harder than you predicted?
I hated it. There were large classes of 70 to 100 students but they weren’t lecture classes, they were Socratic method classes. You were supposed to read the cases overnight and be ready to explain them if you got picked on in class. Volunteering or opting out was not an option. Some of the professors were ruthless, and some of the students too. They were all brilliant. I felt like an idiot, but I suppose most of my classmates did too. In the end, it taught me to think analytically, support my opinions, and deal with adversity, so it’s a good thing I stuck it out.
How did you choose what field of law to specialize in?
I chose a specialty with a little more foresight than my choice to go to law school. I ultimately chose criminal law because I got my best grades in Criminal Law, Crim Pro and in Evidence, and because I thought it would be the best way to avoid boredom. Most new lawyers work in civil firms and are given the least interesting tasks, but criminal lawyers are the showmen and their practice is never boring. I liked it for 8 years, then left when it became routine and I began to suspect that I wasn’t serving my clients well. I then made a careful choice to specialize in medical malpractice because I knew I’d like the medicine. I respect my clients, I understand them, and I can empathize with them even when they make mistakes. That’s important. You’ve got to believe in your clients, but be objective and don’t necessarily believe your clients. Tell them when they’re wrong. Doctors don’t like to be lied to or patronized.
Do you have any advice for anyone interested in going to law school?
Ask lots of questions before you commit to law school. Find out as much as you can about the practice of law. Have a plan of what to do after law school, even if it’s tentative. Investigate unusual career options where a law degree may give you an advantage. FBI agents are lawyers. One classmate became an expert on international human rights. My law school roommate is a farmer, and his law degree has been quite useful in his business and in community affairs. I know several doctors who are also lawyers, and they think they have an advantage in doing case assessments. Mediation and arbitration are huge now, and I know lawyers who do nothing but act as mediators. Some law school grads never practice law at all but consider it good training in analytical thinking, which it certainly is. Don’t do it for the money, there are too many unemployed and underemployed lawyers these days.
What did you do after you graduated from law school? How did you progress through your career bringing you to the place you’re at today?
Studied for the bar exam. Worked for the same firm in S.F. where I had a summer clerkship. Applied for and got a job in a County Public Defender’s Office. Tried a bunch of cases. Resigned, worked for a short time doing family law. Took a job with a top med mal firm, made partner. Resigned to become a name partner in my own firm. When the firm closed, I took my present job.
What is a typical day like?
Depends. If I’m in trial or preparing for trial, it’s hectic. If not, I’m at my desk taking calls, reading, dictating or writing correspondence, briefs, discovery responses. Or I’m attending depositions, meeting with clients or experts, attending mediation or making court appearances. I rarely do legal research, but I do it more than some.
What activities do you enjoy doing the most? What are 3 things that you enjoy most working at your company?
I most enjoy working with clients or experts 1-on-1, as in case investigation or preparation for deposition. I like writing too.
What is the greatest challenge of this job? What are the 3 most challenging aspects of working at your company?
Being a good businessman, which means billing the expected number of hours and generating new clients. If I’m in trial, it’s a breeze. If I’m not, it can be hard. Case filings are down, and we’re all feeling the pinch. I’m trying to bridge the gap with estate planning and probate. It’s a never-ending challenge to drum up business.
What personality traits (in your opinion) would make a successful lawyer? What skills are the most important for someone to learn to be successful in this career?
Competitiveness, confidence, congeniality, honesty, integrity, a good memory, good speaking and writing skills, patience, perseverance, attention to detail, knowing how to listen.
What advice would you give to me in regard to my career direction? Or, if you had a change to do it all over again, what would you have done differently?
I can’t give you any advice, except the above and know thyself. Would I do it all over again? No, I’d go to med school.
Although I have recently seriously considered law, all the information my interviewee gave me was new and extremely thought provoking. The information that I found most interesting was that not all lawyers go into the type of law where they work for clients and bring them to trial. His statement that “FBI agents are lawyers,” was very thought provoking because it made me realize that a law degree can take a person many places. This thought process appeals to me because I think I would enjoy law school, but do not know exactly what I would do with a law degree. Overall, the interview created an exceedingly positive impression regarding attending law school, because I like the autonomy that my interviewee has in his work, working to run his business and obtain clients. I also like how his career changed and evolved throughout the years, which is something I would enjoy. Most importantly this interview empowers me, because it makes me feel as though I encompass the personality traits and drive that would make a great lawyer, like my interviewee.
The informational interview was inspiring, and so I plan to take my interviewee’s advice and continue to pursue the law field. I believe going to law school is a great choice for me because there are many paths that my potential law degree could take me on. My immediate steps for pursuing a career path are to read some books about law, meet with my career counselor once I return to my university, and speak to other law students about their approach to law.
The overall experience was very positive; not only did it excite me about my future, but it also gave me look inside to a lawyer’s life. I found the interview to be very helpful because the person was such a great interviewee. He answered all my questions, and gave direct answers, something I really appreciate. I am grateful for his honesty because a sugar coated interview is not something that would have helped me. Although I hoped we could have interviewed in person, I know that he is very willing to answer any questions and help me through the career research process. He ended the interview by stating, “You have my unending admiration as you try to plan your future in this uncertain economy. But you’ve got the skills and the personality to succeed, so be confident that you’ll end up in a career that’s right for you.”
I recently responded with a thank you e-mail that read:
All the information you gave me was extremely helpful. I truly appreciate all your help in this. One thing I find particularly interesting is the fact that there are the different fields one can become involved in after obtaining a law degree. I also appreciated the short blurb about how your profession has progressed throughout the years. Although I don’t think I possess the raw intelligence you have, I believe I have the drive to make it through law school. Your answers were inspiring, and I hope someday I will be successful like you are!
In terms of my career planning, when I return to my university I’m going to meet with a career counselor, read some books about law, take a few political science classes, and try to determine if law school is the right path for me.
Thank you SO much for all your help, and you’re great responses to my questions.