A Letter to my Future Self (as a Summer Associate)

May 26, 2011 at 3:26 pm (Legal Professional Tips, Letters to my future self)

In preparation for law school in 85 days, I have begun transitioning out of my position at work. This has entailed finding my replacement, training the replacement, and on a personal level, preparing to be unemployed.  My replacement started a few weeks back and she has been quite excellent. This had left me with some spare time on my hands, which has been filled with assisting our 2L summer associate.  I am appreciative of this opportunity because it allows me to see what my life will be like a year and two years from now. However, there are a few notes that I have taken based on my assessment of our summer associate and have written them in a form of a letter to my future self.  If this were a “real” letter, I would guess it would not be received well.  But I tried to make it worthwhile anyway.  I wanted to document these realizations to two purposes: 1) To remind myself of the support staff perspective of the summer intern with a goal to review my feelings again a year from now; and 2) to share my findings with others and solicit feedback and additional comments which will help me be a better associate when that time comes.  In reality, I don’t know how helpful this will be to my future self because if I am keen enough to notice these issues, I am (hopefully) unlikely to repeat the same mistakes.

Dear Summer:

Thank you for this opportunity to work with you as you learn the ins and outs of law firm life.  I am eager to learn from you and hope that we will have the opportunity to discuss (off the clock) your experiences as a first year law student – perhaps we could meet for coffee one morning this week?  I appreciate that we seem to “mesh” well and believe we will stay in touch in the future.  You graciously asked for my help and to provide you with any helpful information that may benefit you this summer.  Below are some things to consider:

It is wonderful that we are close in age and it is great to see fresh new blood in the office.  As you are aware, all of the partners here are 40+ years in age and very traditional in their ways. Your command of technology and helpful tips on using computer software to enhance productivity is a helpful asset.  Just remember that email should also be used appropriately and that the recipient of your email correspondence likely has differing opinions on the appropriate level of formality for emails. You may be unaware that our firm management software archives emails to client files – these emails can then be viewed by anyone with access to our firm’s client file system.  This includes attorneys who will be later evaluating your work.  While we are the same age and I “get” the use of emoticons and “LOLs” the attorneys evaluating your work (including these emails) may not. Though I too, am “youngish,” I expect the same level of professionalism from you as I would any other attorney and you can expect the same level from me.  Additionally, there are times when emails must be shared with other attorneys; forwarded on for clarification or to keep your supervising partner “in the loop.” It would be difficult to go through and redact every 🙂 and “LOL” for the sake of appearing professional. It is best to simply be professional in the first place (and at all times).

Though it has become clear that your internship at our firm was not your first choice, you shouldn’t burn bridges.  Keep an open mind, though, while your first choice was “big law” you may find you enjoy the atmosphere here and may ultimately be happier with a mid-size firm such as ours.  Don’t write-off a future with us just yet.  You may not realize it, but your lack of enthusiasm and unwillingness to learn our firm-specific procedures yields insight to others that you feel you have wasted your time (or are only here to earn a few bucks).  Regardless if you hope to return next summer or an employment offer is ultimately extended, the contacts you make here will be invaluable to your professional development.  You may need to use your experience here as a professional contact, a letter of recommendation, etc.  Moreover, even if you do not wish to stay in the area, attorneys are all connected in some way.  You want to be able to tap into that network without fear of an unpleasant experience coming back to bite you.  Always be tactful, courteous, and intelligent.

Don’t be afraid to field work (appropriately).  Let me help you type the file memo, track down a missing file, etc.  Don’t ask me to run down your supervising partner to ask a question about a task he has assigned you. Those type of tasks are an opportunity for you to demonstrate your communication skills.  The partner is already aware of my abilities – this is your time to shine! Also, don’t be afraid to communicate with the partners on the status of your workload. If its too heavy and you run the risk of submitting sub-par work for the sake of getting everything done, communicate to them what your running against.  They will respect you for it and you can do it without seeming weak or as complaining.  Communication is key.

On another note, platformed 4”heels are all the rage right now – they allow for height while maintaining some degree of comfort.  They are sexy and very stylish.  However, they are not popular with the other professional women of our firm who equate them with stripper heels.  Men, too, may view them as inappropriate and are hoping you are not in their office when their wife visits them for lunch.  No joke.  Moreover, you need to gain the respect and confidence of everyone around you.  This entails dressing the part.  If you don’t want to be mistaken for the 18 year old pre-college file clerk, don’t dress like your fresh out of high school.  Try to mirror the attire worn by the 30 year old associate who has earned the respect of the named partners.  Also, designer shoes are expensive and if you have chosen to wear them only once inside the office (wearing flip flops or sneakers outdoors), you must either use our side/private entrance (as opposed to the one that opens into the client waiting area) and change into them privately in the stairwell or change your shoes in your car and walk the few steps into the office wearing your professional attire.  Since we live in a rural area with no public transportation, it is less forgivable to be seen wearing flip flops into the office. We know you didn’t just get off the train and walk 10 blocks to get here.

Best of luck to you this summer.



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Law School Grading Curves

May 24, 2011 at 8:15 pm (Choosing a law school, Financing Law School, Law School Grades)

Grading curves. It’s been a term I’ve heard thrown around but paid little attention to until now (since the fact I will be a law student in less than three months is suddenly dawning upon me!)  Admittedly, I should have paid closer attention to law school grading policies during the decision making process. It may not have swayed my decision from one school to another, but comparing curves could potentially help in analyzing the differences and similarities between schools. It is also possible that the curve could yield insight on the student body competitiveness of a given law school.  There is a very helpful and comprehensive list of Law School Grading Curves on this wikipedia page.  It really wasn’t until I visited this page earlier today that I saw the differences between schools. Fortunately, “Dreamer School of Law” has a terrific grading policy (no mandatory curve) and my scholarship is contingent on maintaining “good standing” and a 2.0 GPA. But some of the schools I was considering are very harsh. Interestingly, the admissions officer at one particular law school claimed there was no grading policy, mandatory curve, or ranking. Yet, according to the wikipedia list (and cited source) their policy is among the most steep.

A current law student could probably comment more heavily on this than I, but my understanding is that the law school’s grading policy is very important. It can make the environment more or less competitive (or even incite competition), it can make it more difficult to maintain a merit scholarship, and (for those schools who have a mandatory flunk out curve) it may mean a discontinuation of law studies even if the student maintained relatively decent pre-curve grades but managed to fall in the bottom 10% of the class.

The wikipedia article warns of the following:

“The main source of this competition is the mandatory curve you will likely encounter once you enter law school. The curve affects the class rank, affects the chances of making law review, affects the chances of scoring that big job/externship.”[1] Some law schools set their curve lower to retain scholarship funding.

Photo Credit: NYT

An enlightening NYT article has created a lot of buzz among prospective and current law students.  It turns out, a lot of law schools award far more merit-based scholarships to attract prospective students than they actually intend to pay.  (Scam artists, I say!)

For what its worth, I received a total of 5 full tuition-scholarships. Of those, two had very low stipulations (maintain a 2.0 gpa and remain in “good standing”). Of these two, one was offered from a T4 (but locally respected) law school and the other is the Top-25 I am attending this fall (a/k/a “Dreamer School of Law”) – I demonstrate this to reflect the fact the law school’s USN&WR or tier does not automatically correlate with grading policy (so make no assumptions).  The other three had strict requirements and were nonrenewable if I were to fall below the mandatory status: One scholarship, to a T4 law school in a big city required I remain in the top-third of my part-time class (!), the remaining two (at T2 schools) required I maintain a minimum 3.0 gpa (which computes to roughly top-half of the law school class). I, like everyone else entering law school, assume that I will find law school challenging but still be able to hold my own (and certainly not fall below the top-half). But the truth is, not everyone can be in the top-half, top 1/3, etc. thus the scholarshiped half, 3/4, etc. risk losing their merit-based scholarships.  This is detailed in the article, which is a must read for any prospective law student. A summary of articles recently written on this topic can be found at the Tax Law Prof Blog.

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It’s Not Over ‘Til It’s Over

May 7, 2011 at 11:51 pm (Choosing a law school)

I paid my seat deposit and looked forward to attending a certain law school in the fall (on a full tuition scholarship). I made this decision based on a number of factors, including an assessment by Matt Leichtner.

Remember my absolute dream school? The one that was a complete reach but offered a half-tuition scholarship? It was the very last school I heard from, right after Grandma’s funeral.  I had notified the school that I would not be able to attend because of financial constraints and my concern in undertaking too much debt (which could keep me from using my law degree as I intend to).  I had assumed weeks ago that I wouldn’t hear anything further from this school and essentially struck it from the list. I even began searching for housing in the city of my future law school. Things have since changed . . .

I received a phone call last week offering me a full tuition scholarship at my absolute dream (and reach) school. I am so excited to be attending a top law school and one that I never would have dreamed I would have the chance to attend! Receiving this surprising (and awesome) offer proves two things 1) God is guiding me in this journey and 2) my fate is mapped out and I have to just go with it.

I look forward to studying law at “Dreamer School of Law” in just a few short months!


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5 Things I’ve Learned about Applying to Law School

May 6, 2011 at 4:06 pm (Applying to Law School)

1) Hard work pays. I may not have had a competitive LSAT score, but my high GPA and lengthy resume carried me through.

2) Proof reading (obsessively) is worthwhile.  I’ve heard horror stories from other applicants who submitted their applications only to later find a glaring typo or gramatical error.  I am sure this feeling is daunting – asking to supplement (replace) the erred document with a new one doesn’t make a good impression.

3) Remember that you aren’t given the opportunity to interview with the admissions committee so all of your written materials serve as the “interview” and must convey who you are, why law, why their law school, and why you should be admitted.

4) Timing is everything.  Submit well-written application materials early. Ask for letters of recommendation well in advance.

5). It is not over until it is over. Don’t “sell” yourself on any one school until you are sure you know and can consider all variables.

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