Thinking about going to law school? Here’s why I went to law school & my takeaways

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Over the course of the past few years, I frequently have had people who are thinking about going to law school approach me with questions on the application process and the day to day of law school life, but ever since I joined the crypto industry, I’ve gotten a lot more “Why did you go to law school in the first place” and “what does your law degree actually do for you?” type questions. 

To the extent that may be helpful for anyone who wants to go to law school, here’s a list of the FAQs I get, and my own experience from pre/during/post law school 🙂

Disclaimer: everyone has very different reasons for going to law school and different ways of navigating law school. So take everything I say with a grain of salt! 

Disclaimer 2: This is mostly just my personal ramblings about my law school experience and has **very little** to do with crypto. No fire legal insights in this post, but hopefully somewhat entertaining :)

Why did you choose to go to law school, and why did you pick the school you went to?

I’ve always wanted to go to law school (for whatever reason, this was ingrained into my mind as a child). In the U.S., in order to become a lawyer, you need to actually go to law school (a three year program) AFTER obtaining your bachelor’s degree, and generally speaking, there isn’t really an option to major in law in U.S. colleges. 

I picked a major that I thought was both interesting and that would allow me to exercise and refine my reading and writing skills. I settled on International Relations, which is a mix of political science, history, language, and economics. It really was an interesting blend of different sectors and broadened my understanding of the world in a way that I still very much appreciate today. 

The issue with wanting to be a lawyer is this: a lawyer’s day to day is really confusing to figure out. For example, we generally know what a doctor’s day to day looks like, because we have all at some point had to go to the doctor. But unless you’ve directly had to work or hire lawyers, or had a lawyer in the family, that stuff is kept in the dark. I had no lawyers in the family nor have I ever had to hire a lawyer, so it was always sort of a vague concept from TV/Movies/books, etc. 

I decided to work for a few years in the legal industry to figure out this precise question of ‘what does a lawyer actually do?’ right after I graduated from college. I took a couple of finance and accounting courses while I was in college, which I found super interesting. In 2012, the U.S. saw its largest law firm collapse in history, but that was also when the popular TV series ‘Suits’ came out that really made being a lawyer seem super glamorous. The irony of this juxtaposition was really intriguing (and kind of hilarious). 

I ended up working for two years within the private funds practice group at a Manhattan law firm, where all of my clients were large institutional funds (hedge funds and private equity funds)— and we helped with their fund formation process. What it actually means: structuring the funds, working through tax issues, figuring out how to fundraise under the appropriate rules under U.S. securities law (federal and state), and ultimately winding down those funds. Essentially, my job was helping various private investment funds through an entire fundraising cycle. I liked the work, learned a lot, loved the people I worked with, and thought— why not go to law school, get my degree, and come back as an attorney? 

Aaaaaand… off I went. I chose to go to a NYC-based law school since that was where I thought most of my future opportunity were clustered in (finance), and where my network was. Plus, the law school offered me a fantastic scholarship package that I just thought would have been stupid to turn down. 

It’s funny to think back on this now, because my job is so different from the very targeted path that I had set for myself. I had set off to law school laser-focused on becoming a securities law attorney (doing transactional work instead of litigation), and now I head up the business side of a crypto start up. 

I think the point of this long winded explanation is this: that you should go to law school if you want to be an attorney. And you may not know what specific area of law you want to focus on, but have a general idea. Have a purpose, but also be open-minded enough where if other opportunities emerge on the horizon, you can leverage your experiences to obtain those. 

What was law school actually like? What was your favorite part about it, and what was your least favorite part about it?

To be honest, law school wasn't as awful as I thought it would be. I think that’s because of two reasons: 1) I studied a ton in college and 2) I had a really demanding and stressful job before I went to law school. The second point is actually why I try to encourage people who are thinking about going to law school to work for a year or two before going to law school. 

Coming out of college, it’s hard to shed the mentality that school = 100% of life. I think having a full time job between college and law school provides some good perspective on the fact that—well, life is more than just exams and grades. Having that mentality was really great for me going into law school, because from day 1 law students are hammered over their heads with the “YOUR GPA IS THE ONLY THING THAT MATTERS” mantra, and I think that is really unhealthy. There are a lot of really stressed out students in law school, and a lot of that anxiety and stress stems from feeling like their investment of time and money into this education would be a waste if they didn't end up in the top 10% in terms of GPA. (Yes, law school ranks all their students by GPA and that is largely a metric that employers use when it comes to hiring.)

And that ties into my least favorite part of law school: so. much. noise. Everyone is so caught up in GPAs, law review (its basically a club where you get to write journals and legal articles, but very selective), and all the other things that people tell you that you absolutely **must** do in order to get a job/ do well in school/ etc. And in law school, you are literally surrounded by your own competition. You’re all learning the same stuff (at least the first year), and you’re all competing for the same grades. In law school, grades are “curved”, which means that professors are given a very strict % in terms of the grades they give out. For example, the school may tell a professor— in your class, 5% of the students should get an A, 15% of the students should get a B, etc. And that’s a very strict limit. So I understand why people feel anxious and competitive and want to do everything by the books and by the rules of what your professors/ mentors/ older class mates tell you. As a result, there is the “what is everyone else doing and where do I compare” mentality, whether you want it or not. 

On a positive note: my favorite part of law school was during the second and third years of law school, when I was actually able to have time to work AND also build my own schedule. The work part was fun for me, but I find that when I can make a tangible connection between classroom materials and events that are happening in the real world, the coursework becomes more alive and interesting. For example, I really enjoyed my international law course. I had a very brilliant and passionate professor, and the subject matter itself is also really interesting. Topics covered in the course included international human rights, nationality, terrorism, international agreements and international courts. It was a macro view on how sovereign states interact with each other in maintaining world order. It is a bit different form a traditional law school class because there are a lot of gray areas and the topics can be theoretical, but much of the issues we discussed in class had a real-world application that was prominent in current events. 

I think it would be hard to really love law school if you absolutely hated reading dense material on a consistent basis and is the kind of person who is bad at being able to just skim something and move on, because that is key; and writing under time pressure as law school exams are set at a certain # of hours and all writing based. 

What were some of the most important skills or thing you learn in law school?

For me, I always learned best by actually being hands on, not sitting in a classroom. I’ve had a job (full or part time) since I was 16, and each one of those experiences always taught me valuable lessons that I would not have gotten in classrooms. I’ve worked as a waitress, as a tutor, as one of those people who call you up and ask you to donate to your alma mater— but they all taught me one thing: no matter what you’re doing, if you can put earnest effort into something, be curious, AND maintain a positive energy, you’ll learn. 

I actively tried to work part time during my time in law school. With the exception of my first year in law school, I always had a job outside of school. Unfortunately for me, law school is geared towards training litigators (the type that goes to court) and less for transactional (the type that drafts stuff) work. So all of the activities that my friends were involved with— moot court, clinics, etc— I just didn’t think they were a good fit for what I was looking to learn at the time. I had to look outside of what law school was able to offer me. 

I was able to target the specific banks/ funds/ regulators that I *did* want to work at though, and convince them to hire me. Those were all super valuable experiences for me, and I got exposure to a whole range of issues in the securities law world, from the issuer side to the bank side to the regulator side. And if you follow my ramblings and thoughts online, you probably now know why I love all these legal/policy stuff in the crypto space, particularly when it comes to securities law issues :)

I keep reading reports about law school gradate unemployment numbers. Is it really that bad?

Well, yes and no. Listen— any employment prospect is going to be awful if you don’t hustle. It doesn’t matter which industry you’re in. Hey, maybe you end up graduating law school with a 4.0 GPA. That’s awesome, but that’s only 2% of the law school population. Having a J.D. does *not* guarantee a job for you. While in law school, think about what you want to do, and how you can leverage the opportunities around you to make that happen. 

Another important point: yes, your 1L GPA is important. For some law firms, it’s the only thing they will consider when it comes to hiring. But you know what else is totally underrated? At the end of the day, law is an industry that is about relationship and trust. You may have a stellar GPA, but studying well for an exam is different from establishing trust and relationship with a client. Know your shit, but also be the type of person that clients can call you with problems. And if you get a couple of Bs (or even Cs!) during 1L, you’ll still be okay in the long run. Be smart on the law, be good to your clients, and be able to stay level-headed during times of stress >>>> a 4.0 GPA your first year in law school.

So should I go to law school?

Law school is three years of your time (and money!). Think about WHY you want to go to law school, and have a targeted path. My path may *seem* random, but if you think about it is actually fairly targeted. I wanted to be a securities law attorney, and I made sure to lined up my experience strategically so that it was on that path, but was also flexible enough with various perspectives that could have made for a convincing sell to an employer.

Do NOT go to law school just to “figure things out”. There are other things you can do to “find yourself” that is a hell lot less expensive and stressful :)

I know how hard law school can get sometimes, and I also remember how stressful it was trying to study for the LSAT and working at the same time. Reach out if you ever want to talk about anything law school-related. :)


Katherine Wu1 Comment