Is Law School Right For You?

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Given the fact that law school is a time consuming (three years minimum), intellectually demanding, as well as a costly proposition in terms of both tuition, and living expenses, as an undergraduate at Rutgers-Newark you ought to make very sure that a career in law appeals to you BEFORE you apply.    The stereotype of a lawyer as one who was always victorious in the courtroom,  winning case after case,  was very popular more than a fifty years ago, but it has long been just that--a stereotype with little basis in reality. Today, many lawyers never see a court room, and indeed their primary purpose as attorneys will often be to keep their clients out of court rooms.    Today, a lawyer is primarily a problem solver, a facilitator, a negotiator, an arbitrator, a compromiser and communicator—one who tries to shape agreements, as well as to head off disagreements before they arise.    Above all, he/she must be a good and understanding listener.  It does not hurt to have a sense of compassion as well.  Do you enjoy listening to people, and have an interest in solving their problems?    If so, Law School may be right for you.

The worst reason to apply to Law School is because “my parents want me to, “or “my parents expect me to be a lawyer.”  Your parents are not considering law school.  You are, and it should be for reasons which can withstand careful scrutiny on your part.  Further, law school in itself does not make you a lawyer.  Upon graduation from an accredited law school (more on that shortly,) you must take what is known as a “Bar exam,” a two or three day exam which tests your general knowledge of law.  Further, before you are admitted to the bar, you will be investigated by a board of bar examiners.  Virtually every state has one.  And, while you are not necessarily expected never to have received a ticket in your life, any run in with the law should be mentioned.   Similarly with law school applications (Rutgers, for example, has an eight page form,) your motto should be “if in doubt, spill it out.”

There are approximately one hundred ABA (American Bar Association) accredited law schools in the United States.  The most common degree they award is the J.D. or juris doctor, which is the foundation for practicing law.  In New Jersey, there are only three law schools in the entire state, and two are connected to Rutgers—one in Newark and the other in Camden.  The third NJ law school is also in Newark, and is a part of Seton Hall University.   Students at Rutgers Newark who wish to consider a career in law are extremely fortunate, because two law schools are within walking distance from the campus.  Indeed Rutgers Law School-Newark is right across the street.   This means that would  be applicants from SASN have the opportunity not only to visit a law school, but to see its facilities, talk with it students and even—with advance notice—sit in on a law school class.  If you take advantage of this, and also examine the law school catalogue, you will discover that there are now many different fields of practice within law.

Some—but by no means all of them--include, corporate law, labor law, property law,  criminal law, civil rights,  intellectual property law, entertainment law, international law, sports law,  administrative and business law—to mention only a few.  But before you can understand principles, precedents and procedures in legal fields such as these, you need to understand of what the legal process consists, and how it works.   This is what you will be exposed to during your first year in law school, a year in which you will probably have virtually no choice in what courses you take.  You will study criminal law, property, civil procedure, torts (a fancy term for wrongs other than those of a criminal nature,) contracts, as well as be introduced to legal writing.  Yet many students will find a transition from Rutgers- Newark to law school to be daunting experience, even though they may well have just graduated--possibly with academic distinction--from four years of college.  Why might this be so?

Perhaps in college, you have become accustomed to sitting in class for a lecture twice a week as a passive observer, a non participant with the exception of taking notes.   Law school will be a very different experience, and  a new student usually needs a while to get used to it.  The Law school class is typically one of constant participation in the form of questions, challenging of one’s assumptions, disagreements and debate within an active environment.   Most college students are not accustomed to defending their answer in class, or being challenged with a series of differing hypotheticals or alternatives by the instructor.  In short, they are not used to responsive thinking as they consider a case or some other legal material.   Indeed, stripped down to its essentials, the famous phrase of “thinking like a lawyer” simply means the careful consideration of facts, theories and alternatives relevant to the issue at hand.

As was noted above, many graduates from law school do not undertake trial work, but there are a great many fields in which legal training can be very helpful.  Some of them include criminal justice and law enforcement, energy and natural resources, civil rights,  academic administration, labor relations, municipal administration, real estate,  and academic instruction.  Obviously, law school cannot guarantee a job upon graduation, but law school training is a very beneficial tool to possess for work in a wide variety of employment.