Secrets of Success from the Application Process to Landing the First Job


Recently, Barron's Publishing sent me a review copy of Ian E. Scott, Esq.’s just released book, “Law School Lowdown: Secrets of Success from the Application Process to Landing the First Job." I was really excited to get my hands on this book, and I'm pleased to report it exceeded my high expectations.

A common problem among law students and recent graduates is that they face the toughest job market in a generation, but don’t maximize their law school experience to ensure that they’re attractive job candidates by graduation.

It happens like this…

Students go to law school for a variety of reasons. Some go to wait out the recession, hoping to have a marketable degree and a better economy at the end of their law school tenure. Some go because really know they want to be lawyers, but don’t know much about what legal practice like. Some go because of parental pressure.

Once in law school, many students don’t know how to make the most of their time there. They have a difficult time adjusting to “thinking like a lawyer” and the other demands of law school, which are significantly different than the demands of college. They don’t know much about the various educational and enrichment opportunities outside the classroom, so they don’t take advantage of them. They don’t know much about the substantive areas of law or legal environments they’ll end up working in, and so they don’t focus their classroom work on courses that will be most relevant. They don’t know about the legal hiring process, so they can’t focus on making themselves top job candidates.

Sometime in their final semester… when the weather’s warming up, when their classmates are excited about graduation and talking about the July bar exams and their upcoming jobs in the fall… some law school students realize how unprepared they actually are for starting their legal careers. (Of course, some don't realize they're unprepared for quite a while yet longer.) And while some students are proactive in getting career help, this is the point when most realize they need to reach out for assistance.

Their lack of preparation isn’t due to laziness or character flaws. It’s due to lack of knowledge when they could have used it the most. They have spent the law few years thinking about graduating from law school — but not thinking about career building and job planning required to become a practicing attorney.

They suddenly understand graduating from law school is not the endgame.

It’s a starting point of a career.

By the time they seek out assistance in career building and job planning, they have often drifted onto an unintended trajectory or are fighting an uphill battle. (Sorry for the mixed metaphor!) Sometimes the needed course correction is minor; sometimes it requires a multi-year action plan. If those students had sought out assistance early in their law school stints, they would be in much better positions now to secure legal employment of their choice to jumpstart their careers and pay off their $150,000 in law school debt. I wish I could go back in time and hand those students a resource that could have saved them a lot of hard, expensive lessons.

Scott’s book is that resource. It guides students from the moment they consider applying to law school, through deciding which law school to attend, through maximizing all three years of schooling (including coursework, practical skills training and clinicals, summer internships, and critical activities like moot court or law journal), through preparing for the bar exam.

What’s key about Scott’s book is that he doesn’t just explain what, for example, a judicial clerkship is; he explains the impact of having (or not having) judicial clerkship will have on your practice area options, employment outlook, and even starting salary. This is critical information for law students to have and to understand if they are going to maximize their $150,000+ investment in becoming a lawyer. Law students—and prospective law students—need to understand that a the goal of attending law school is not to get a JD; the goal of attending law school is to become a lawyer. And so they need to view their law school experience with the goal of being an attorney in mind. They need to understand what employers look for in law students and recent graduates; why certain activities are so of interest to employers; and how to be a top-notch job candidate to the top-notch employers, whether large law firms, small law firms, nonprofits, or other employers.

Scott helps them do this. He examines every step of becoming a lawyer, teaching readers how to evaluate the choices they face so they can make smart decisions about their futures, and increase the odds that—even in this bad economy—they will become full-time, paid attorneys in the practice areas of their choice. Particularly helpful for his readers, Scott doesn’t assume a high level of knowledge or familiarity with terms and concepts. Instead, he writes clearly, breaking concepts and lingo down.

For illustration, he relies on a combination of thorough research and his own experience, sharing his successes, failures, and lessons learned with readers. Interestingly, he also shares documents such as his law school transfer application, essays, letters of recommendation, and other documents from his own journey through law school, which are the sort of documents that are rarely shared but highly beneficial to readers. As a second career lawyer (he was first a CPA and an investment banker) and as a transfer student (from Brooklyn Law School to Harvard Law School), Scott’s background is different from “traditional” students. But that background also made him an astute observer of the effect of students’ law school records and performance on their legal hiring outcomes. Yes, Scott is well educated and smart, and it’s no surprise that he was a top student sought after by employers. However, readers who dismiss his advice as “only for Harvard students” or “only for students in the Top 10%” do so at their own risk. Likewise, readers who dismiss his advice because they themselves are Harvard students or in the Top 10% of their classes do so at their peril.

Competition in the legal marketplace is fierce, and will be for years to come. I recommend aspiring lawyers read “Law School Lowdown: Secrets of Success from the Application Process to Landing the First Job”—not just once, but several times during their law school careers.

Updated Feb. 7, 2016