The Legal Beat
Beyond Biglaw: 3 Different Students… Same Advice?
Posted on Tuesday March 21, 2017
As professionals, lawyers have a duty of candor regarding the state of their profession, particularly when talking to young prospective entrants interested in practicing law. At every stage of a lawyer’s career there is the chance that someone will approach with questions about law school, and in particular, what school to attend. The topic is of course a running series on these pages, for good reason. One, it’s an interesting game to play, especially when it is not your career on the line. Second, we all do have a responsibility to guide the generations that follow us. For some of us, like myself, who went into the whole law school/law firm selection process without any guidance at all, the responsibility can feel a little more acute.
No matter how much a sense of responsibility one feels regarding guiding younger prospective students, the experience of answering their questions can be a chore — particularly if you have a certain family member, for instance, who is constantly referring anyone they meet who expresses any interest at all in law to you for advice. The third time that your great-aunt in Florida refers one of her card-playing compatriots’ grandchildren “with a quick question” would understandably try your patience. At the same time, part of being a professional is demonstrating patience, and reminding ourselves that we really do have the ability to help someone simply by giving them good advice.
Providing advice of value to prospective lawyers is not that hard. Sure, it is easy to tell someone Harvard Law or bust, or to launch into a cynical denigration of the entire profession to the point that the listener thinks that if they dare enter law they are destined for early bankruptcy — unless they die first of a stress-induced coronary. It is more appropriate, however, to actually give some consideration to the younger questioner, and try to tease out exactly what about practicing law or attending law school interests them. Targeted advice is always better than general platitudes, and taking some time to actually relate to your listener as a serious person will always result in you providing better advice. Even if you can’t actually care about them personally, caring about your general responsibility to younger prospective lawyers can supply enough motivation for you to actually take the task seriously.
Recently, I had three opportunities in the span of a week to provide advice to a cross-section of younger people interested in the law. First, two high-school students (neither of whom are actually taking the elective IP classes I teach in my high school alma mater) took the opportunity to pop into my classroom unsolicited. They explained that they were interested in patent law, and in particular wanted to know more about how having a science background matters in a patent law career. Handling their queries was the equivalent of hitting a beer-league softball pitch, and in the space of a few minutes I was able to explain to them why patent law is a great career to consider for those people actually interested in technology and law. They were definitely science-first types, so I explained that it was worthwhile for them to investigate the different careers available to them with a science or engineering degree, and to consider patent law only if they were also seriously interested in practicing law. A few quick additional words about the different types of things certain patent lawyers focus on — licensing, prosecution, or litigation — and they were off. Job done on my end.
Next, a first cousin to my parents recommended to a recent college graduate that they contact me. The young fellow had just graduated with a science degree, and was preparing for the LSAT. This discussion was a bit more involved, and required the focus a major league hitter would bring to hitting a normal fastball. Here, the challenge was teasing out whether he was interested in patent law or more generally just wanted to go to law school. I asked some pointed questions on the matter, explaining that depending on his answers my advice could change. For example, he claimed interest in interning for a patent law firm. But in truth, he was really more interested in making as much money as possible before law school. I divined that he was not really super-enthused about patent law, and gave him general advice to maximize his earnings to help pay for law school, while also dedicating every ounce of his possible preparation time towards getting as high an LSAT score as possible. Again, mission accomplished, as he was particularly happy to hear that just because he had a science background, he had the flexibility to practice in whatever area of law he wanted. I explained that getting into the best law school possible would give him the most options.
The curveball came with the third young person I encountered. Here again it was a family “referral,” but this time the individual had a high LSAT score in hand, and was considering his law school acceptance strategy. He had already heard from lower-ranked schools bearing money and gifts in exchange for his commitment to attend, and had even received a hearty scholarship offer from an out-of-town, top-25 school. But his true sights were set locally, and in particularly on two top-10 local schools — neither of which he had heard from yet, but if were accepted to one, he would go. There was truthfully a lot less creative advice I could give him, and I believe my main contribution was just listening as he talked through his options.
Ultimately, these recent episodes confirmed for me how much a little bit of our time we provide to others can offer great benefit. Could I have gone through that week without talking to any of the people that approached me? Sure, but my week would have been a little poorer as a result. Reminding ourselves of our responsibility to younger generations of lawyers can help focus us on our present commitments to the profession. When we have the opportunity to help, we also find an opportunity for our own satisfaction. We may not always have the time or energy to provide good law school selection advice, but we can at least try. At minimum, we can always fall back on “Harvard Law or bust,” or better yet, refer the questioner to someone with a little more patience.
Gaston Kroub lives in Brooklyn and is a founding partner of Kroub, Silbersher & Kolmykov PLLC, an intellectual property litigation boutique. The firm’s practice focuses on intellectual property litigation and related counseling, with a strong focus on patent matters. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter: @gkroub.