Thinking about going to law school?

This advice applies to those who are thinking about going to law school and entering the world of private practice in the typical law firm setting. This is just my two cents, so please take it for what it's worth. Keep in mind, though, that I have spoken with lawyers and those that hire lawyers pretty much all day everyday for the past 15 years, so there is likely some merit in these observations.

If you have been told all your life that you are good at researching, writing, and arguing and should, therefore, go to law school, please take a closer look at your skill set and passions. Law school has long been the commonly chosen direction for well-educated, liberal arts-type people. In today's job market, however, a successful lawyer in private practice (in most firms) MUST have the ability to generate new business. Please do not skip past this point and seat yourself in Contracts 101 class because you are "willing" to generate new business. You should actually enjoy and be good at new business development. Entrepreneurial skills are paramount to a successful private legal career (in most firms).

Junior associates take note: it is never too early to start thinking about where your future business might come from. Too often, I am contacted by lawyers with unparalleled academic credentials and professional accolades who are facing unemployment. Their employers rave about them personally and even professionally but cannot make the internal business case to keep them on board. They often give them barely a month's notice of their final day at the firm. These are valedictorians and Yale Law grads and experienced lawyers from the top AmLaw 100 firms with spouses and kids and creditors who have come to rely on the bread they have always won. At that time, it is far too late to learn how to be a successful entrepreneur and generate a book of business.

When you enter a large law firm as a new associate, life is good. The work will come to you since your bill rates are so low, and your salary will skyrocket literally overnight. So, too, will your lifestyle. At that moment, when you start your legal career, make sure you seek out mentors in the firm with exceptional business development skills and learn to think and work like an entrepreneur. Start thinking about where your clients will come from, and nurture these relationships. Having your own book of business when you become a more senior attorney can literally mean the difference between keeping the kids in their private preschool and childhood home versus clamoring in the chillingly competitive temp attorney job market for document production jobs at $25 an hour. Most importantly, it will mean a peaceful night's sleep.

Law school is an excellent education, and being a practicing attorney can be an extremely rewarding career option. But please think about the full skill set required for a successful law career before you enter law school.

Sarah Epstein Bowman, Esq. '92
Director & Senior Vice President
Continuum Legal

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