The types of law degrees in US
1. JD (Juris Doctor) – This is usually a three-year degree available for college graduates and is the most common law degree. It takes about 80 to 90 credits tocomplete.
2. LLM (Master of Law)– This is usually a four-year degree. Many international students choose to pursue an LLM rather than a JD because they already have a law-related degree from their own country. Assuming thecredits are transferable, it only takes another year or two of additional credits to receive an LLM, after which you will be qualified to practice in theU.S. A LLM graduate also has the option to return to his or her country and leverage the U.S. degree to practice international law.
3. SJD (Doctor of Juridical Science) –This is an advanced degree that is only available after receiving a JD or an LLM. It’sbasically the legal equivalent of a PhD and is very rarely pursued outside of academia.
Generally speaking, Americans are very pragmatic and are happy to start their legal careers with just a JD. This is widely accepted in the U.S. with even the Justices of the Supreme Court usually having (at most) a JD. That being the case, why waste time and money pursuing a more advanced degree? This is why LLMs and SJDs are generally pursued by foreign practitioners and scholars.
The LSAT entrance exam
Anyone interested in applying for law school in the U.S. has to take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT).The LSAT is administered six times each year and consists of five 35-minute parts, one of which is an experimental section that is not counted towards your score (but you won’t know which part is the one that isnot counted).
There is also a 35-minute writing section that does not counted towards your score, but is sent to the schools you apply to as a reference.
The LSAT exam mainly tests three areas:
1. Reading Comprehension
2. Analytical Reasoning
3. Logical Reasoning
A full score for the LSAT is 180 points。If you can score higher than 165 points and your GPA is 3.9 or higher, you are generally above the cut-off for any of the top tier law school. My advice is to take a prep class and as many practice examsas you can stomach before your exam as it is not something that you should walk-in to blind.
It’simportant to keep in mind that the law school admissions process is totally different from the college admissions process in a number of key ways:
1. Unlike the SAT when applying for undergraduate programs, the LSAT is given more substantive weight in the law school admissions process so it is important to score well.
2. Academic performance generally outweighs extra-curricular activities.
3. Where a candidate went to undergrad doesn’t have as big of an impact on what schools they can get into. My friends and I graduated from Rutgers University with "political science" degrees and we were both accepted to top 15 law schools.
4. Your undergrad major doesn’t matter.
Whether you majored in philosophy, history, mathematics, even music, you can apply to (and get into)law school as long as you score well enough on the LSATs. If you want toget into a top tier law school, you will want your LSAT score and GPA as highas possible.
Law school life
In the first year of law school,everyone's curriculum is basically the same. Required courses include: property law, civil procedure, criminal law, contracts, legal research & writing,torts, and constitutional law. The first year is also critically important asit really reshapes your mind to “think like a lawyer.” I personally believe that I learned more in this first year than all four year of college combined.
Due to the large volume of reading and writing, many students find the first year in law school to be very intense. The first year is also the most important year for academic performance because at the beginning of the second year, many law firms,companies, and government agencies will go to the different law schools to recruit interns for the upcoming summer.
Law firms in particular hire their employees almost exclusively from their summer interns so they take their intern recruiting very seriously. If a candidate doesn’t do well on these interviews, the chances of finding a job at a top tier firm or company are incredibly slim.
Because law firms can only consider the student's credentials based on the first year's grades and any activities the student pursued over the 1L summer, this puts extra pressure to do well in that first year. Poor grades will put a candidate at a disadvantage from the beginning since he or she will get less, and tougher, interviews.
The first-year summer is also acritical time during law school and a great opportunity to learn what theactual practice of law is like. My first summer was spent interning atthe Court of Federal Claims in D.C. where I saw the court in action as I helpedmy judge with her caseload. I worked closely with my judge and built a great relationship that ended up being instrumental to how I got my law firm job. While this kind of internship is often unpaid (and sometimes you even have to pay for it because that can be counted as school credits), it is still worth pursuingas it builds your resume for the second-year interviews.
Starting your second year, you can choose classes according to your own interests. For example, I chose to study secured credit, intellectual property law, and mostly business-related courses. There are also courses in international law, tax, etc. that can be helpful when taking the state bar exam.
The second year of summer internship can be said to be the most important period of law school because this internship will likely be directly related to your future employment. As mentioned earlier, law firms (and companies in general) usually recruit employees from their summer interns and getting into a law firm through other means is almost impossible.
The 2L summer internship is also usually paid, and quite well actually as you are generally paid at the same rate as anentry-level associate. For context, I was able to pay for my entire third yearof law school tuition with the money from my 2L internship.
Summerinternships – 1L
When attending law school,summer internships are just as important as classes. This is because it is acrucial source of work experience for a resume that usually consists entirely of school. Additionally, all top tier law firms will expect students to havesome sort of work experience on their resume for the 1L summer.
For my 1L summer, I interned at two places. The first was the Court of Federal Claims in Washington, D.C. TheCourt of Federal Claims has a very special jurisdiction and there is only onesuch court in the United States. The simplest explanation is that anyone whowants to sue the U.S. government can do so in this court, regardless of thereason or where the harm occurred. However, plaintiffs can also usually sue intheir district level federal court so despite its broad subject-matter reach, the Court of Federal Claims is about as busy as any other district level court. Ifa plaintiff is not satisfied with the judgment provided by the Court of Federal Claims, they can appeal to the U.S.Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Ifthe U.S. Court of Appeals can't resolve the claim, it can further be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. In other words, the Court of Federal Claims is much like a district level federal court, except that its jurisdiction is based onwho the defendant is.
While at the Court of Federal Claims, I interned in the Chamber of Judge Susan G.Braden. That year, Judge Braden had a total of seven interns. We started with only six people and all of us were stuffed in a long small room. It was definitely a bit crowded with folks in the back of the room having to climb over others to get in, but the close proximity helped us quickly bond and become friends. When there wasn’t much going on, we would spend our time chatting (and ofcourse even if there was work to be done, we would sometimes just chat the day away as well). There were two main tasks assigned to us during our internship:the first was to write a decision for an actual case from beginning to end and the second was to carefully observe during all the activities that Judge Braden took us to.
My internship in Judge Braden’s Chambers lasted only about a month and a half but the impression she left on me was a very positive one. Judge Braden gave us many opportunities to participate in a variety of activities. For example, we observed a lot of court trials, went to the U.S. Supreme Court to listen to talks given by the judges, and visited an aerospace company as part of a fact finding mission. After work, we also played softball with other courts and government agencies. Although I wasn’t there very long,it was the most important internship experience I had. Judge Braden has a lot of relationships in the legal profession and she is also willing to use these relationships to help her interns to find jobs. If I didn't go to her for an internship, I would not have gotten my job at Ropes & Gray LLP.
After the Court of FederalClaims, I went to a small intellectual property law firm for the rest of my 1Lsummer. The firm was quite small and most of the work came in through their website so it was extremely rare that a client would actually come into the office. My main job was to assist with the trademark application process. This was much more of a real job so there wasn’t much interms of activities outside of work. That said, it was still a great experience for me as I am very interested in intellectual property law.
In my opinion, the 1L summer isan incredibly important opportunity to gain real working experience while building your resume. It’s often overlooked (especially if you already have good grades) but it can be a deciding factor going into youron-campus interviews and post-graduation job hunt.
Summerinternships – 2L
Securing a good second-year summer internship is probably the single most important thing you can do whilein law school. This is because legal recruitment occurs extremely early so by the time the 2L summer comes around, 90% of the top tier jobs will already have been filled by their summer internship pool. To get a job outside of this traditional path requires strong relationships, great luck, or both.
The most common way to find a 2L summer internship is to attend your law school’s On Campus Interviews (or OCIs). Starting in October (although it seems to get earlier every year), each law school will invite a large number of law firms,government agencies, and companies to interview their students. For OCIs, each interview only lasts about 15 minutes and often times it is your single chance to showcase your abilities and personality.
If you make it past this initial round of interviews, the next step is to be flown out to the employer’s headquarters for a more formal round of interviews (often called a “call back”). For a law firm call-back (I don’t know what company or government agency call backs are like as I never had any), you usually meetwith 4-6 lawyers from different groups over the course of half aday. Afterwards, two junior associates will take you to lunch (or dinner if your interviews were in the afternoon). Do not be too relaxed at lunch/ dinner, this is just another aspect of the interview process to see how you respond in a less formal environment. These call back interviews are really a personality test to see if you would be a good cultural fit for the firm /company so you shouldn’t expect much in the way of substantive questions.
My OCIs actually went very poorly. While I was able to do a lot of interview, I only had two call backs for two law firms, one in NYC and one in LA. Ultimately, neither of theselaw firms offered me a position, which was quite a shock to me at the time.
Looking back at it now, I could clearly see that I had two major problems:
1. I didn’t properly highlight my strengths. First of all, it is very much against my nature to brag or talk myself up to strangers. My mindset has always been that perfection is something that can always be chased but never achieved and no matter how good you are,there will always be someone better—I don’t know where I developed this mindset, probably my parents!
During my interviews, I followed my natural inclinations and didn’t put much effort in highlighting my strengths. This was a big mistake.
Especially in an interview context, nobody is going to speak on your behalf or say anything good about you except yourself. If something is not already on your resume or cover letter, it is literally impossible for an interviewer to know about it unless you tell them. Of course, there are good ways and bad ways to highlight your strengths, but if anyone ever tells you that you should try to let your interviewer talk as much as possible and just ask questions, that is very bad advice.
2. I was too laid back and didn’t convey enthusiasm. One of the fundamental pieces of advice everyone receives before going into an interview is to not be nervous. This is great advice ifyou tend to get nervous but personally, I don’t. Looking back on it, I’m pretty sure this hurt me as Iwas probably laid back to the point that my interviewers felt that I wasn’t really interested in working there. This is just my own impression but I’m fairly sure that this is why neitherof my call backs met with any success. Not being nervous is great advice but honestly, you should be a bit nervous and you should definitely show interest in the position that you are applying for!
My experience after failing OCIs
As I mentioned, I ended upwithout a 2L summer internship after OCIs, which was pretty disappointing at the time. After a while though, I felt that not getting a 2L summer internship was a sign that maybe a law firm position wasn’t the best option for me anyways. In the fall of my second year, I took a class taught by a University of Texas alumni who had sold his business to AT&Tfor a ton of money and now taught telecom regulations as a hobby at the law school.I found both the course work and the professor to be quite interesting. After the semester was over, I asked the teacher if he was working on any projects that could use some student assistance. Unexpectedly, this simple question lead to the formation of a non-profit telecommunications company and my first officer position at a company.
That year, we built a fully operational non-profit telecom company from scratch called USFON. It was truly one-of-a-kind when we created it and to this day, I’m not aware of another company like it. The whole process took about a year from inception to full operation and while I learned a lot from the class, I learned even more by actually building the company. I took the position of Chief Regulatory Officer once the company was up and running and did everything from interfacing with the government agencies that managed telecom companies to physically wiring up the phone closet at our first location.
In the middle of all this, I received an email from Judge Braden in the spring of my second year asking me what I wasup to and whether I had found an internship for the coming summer. I told her about USFON and my plans to continue working towards getting our company operating over the summer. She then asked me if I would like to attend the NewYork Intellectual Property Law Association’s Annual Dinner so that she could introduce me to some people. This is considered a very prestigious event in the legal world and especially for practitioners in the intellectual property space. Invitees usually aren’t even allowed to bring a guest unless it is their own child. I happily agreed because I thought it was an great opportunity to not only build relationships with some intellectual property lawyers but also to raise USFON’s profile as well.
A month later, I flew out to NYC on a Friday afternoon and attended the dinner that same night. Judge Braden took me around and introduced me to a ton of people, we were going almost non-stop from 8:00pm until well after midnight. Every time I met someone, I used it as a chance to talk about USFON and the work that we were doing. Towards the end of the night, Judge Braden finally introduced me to a close friend of hers who worked at Ropes & GrayLLP. By that point, I had basically spent hours practicing my speech so I ended up leaving a strong impression.
I flew back to Austin the very next day and a couple days later, Judge Braden’s friend called me up and asked if I would be interested in doing a call back for their summer internship program in NYC.I was a little bit hesitant at first because our new company was just getting off the ground and I didn’t want to leave in the middle of things. I asked the advice of my parents, friends, and even the professor who I had started USFON with and they all advised me to take the internship.
They made the very good point that the company would still be there when I came back in the fall and the other students could help pick upthe slack while I was gone. So, I decided to go in for the interview.
Because I had spent quite a lotof time thinking about what went wrong in my previous call backs, I was fully prepared this time around. The interview process was pretty typical but a lot of people I met with were surprised that the firm was still interviewing any one at all since OCIs were long over. Only later did I realize that I had made such a strong impression on Judge Braden’s friend that he actually created this opening for me in their summer program since he was on the recruiting committee. I was pretty confident that I had made a good impression this time around but of course I was still a bit nervous as I waited to hear back.
On May 2nd, Judge Braden’s friend call me and offered me a position as a summer associate in R&G’s New York office for the coming year. At the end of the internship, I received a job offer from them as well,which I gladly accepted.
I hope that my experience canprovide some insight for anyone interested in applying for law school and also be an example that there are many possible routes to success. Sometimes, evenwhat looks like a total failure is simply another opportunity to learn andgrow, you just have to be willing to chase it.