Book Review: “Three Degrees of Law” by Harlan York

Three-Degrees-of-LawAfter being a prelaw adviser for 12 years, I get the following question a lot.

“Do you have any books you’d recommend to someone who is thinking of going to law school?”

Now, I finally have my answer.

Three Degrees of Law by Harlan York should be read by every person thinking about becoming a lawyer.

Yes, I truly believe that.

I’ve read a lot of dry, boring books about law school and lawyering that drone on and on. Because of this, I don’t often look forward to reading prelaw guides or books about the legal profession. But this book was different.

I read it in two hours and am getting ready to read it again–yes, it’s that good. This book is a fast, insightful, informative, and motivational read that reveals all kinds of helpful tips for exploring the legal profession, what it’s like to be a lawyer, and how to be the best lawyer once you start practicing.

I love learning through stories and anecdotes, and this book is full of them. There are many great tips throughout the book, and three of my favorites include “Thrill is gone” (page 26) where Harlan relays his father’s advice for tough times, “Slowing down and saving time” (page 85) where Harlan gives his advice for how slowing down can improve your career and life in numerous ways, and “Fight for your right!” (page 107) where Harlan uses the story of Rocky Balboa to explain how fighting the good fight is not necessarily about fighting for your client, it’s about fighting for you.

If you’re thinking about going to law school and becoming a lawyer, you owe it to yourself to read this book.

If you’re already a lawyer and are looking for ways to improve your mindset and practice, you should read this book.

If you know someone who is a lawyer who could use a shot in the arm–a pick-me-up to get them back on track–get them this book!

After you read Three Degrees of Law, post your comments below. I’d love to hear what you thought of it and if there were stories and anecdotes that you particularly enjoyed.

Top 5 Reasons for Choosing Work Before Law School

Tatum Lindsay 2015Today’s blog post comes from Tatum Lindsay, graduate of Mount Holyoke College, and a former student pre-law advisor.

In April 2015, The Crimson ran an article profiling Harvard Law School’s class of 2010: only 28% of current students have no post-graduate experience at Harvard Law School. In other words, over the years, Harvard has deliberately grown the number of admitted students with post-graduation experience. One reason for this may be that those who work before attending law school experience higher rates of professional success because of better employment options available to them, and they may also possess a refined vision of their careers.

After reading this article and struggling with this very issue as a recent college graduate, I reflected on the reasons why I decided to take time off between undergrad and law school. Here are my top five reasons.

  1. Refine My Focus.
    I have always been interested in copyright law. In fact, I wanted to pursue copyright law even before considering attending law school. Recently, I moved to Egypt and secured a fantastic opportunity to work at the American University in Cairo at the Access to Knowledge for Development Center (A2K4D) as a researcher. I have been working on a series of papers and projects related to censorship and privacy issues in addition to copyright law. Through my job, I learned about the tangible effects of various copyright laws and access to knowledge issues in Egypt and the Middle East and North Africa region. Gaining international exposure to issues in copyright law and having the opportunity to reflect on the topic in an unusual setting cultivated my commitment to studying law and I am confident that going to law school will be the best path for me.
  1. Develop an Application Strategy.
    I am from the pre-law advising camp that encourages prospective law students to attend law school only if they are sure they want to be attorneys, not simply for a terminal liberal arts degree or a “high-paying” career. I wanted to be a lawyer for sure, but after having a purely academic experience at my job, I am now carefully considering all my options after graduation. Thanks to my work experience, I am actively exploring law schools that specifically have a track record of graduating students that go on to clerk or who return to academia.
  1. Get a Job After Graduation.
    I am excited about the prospect of sharing my experiences living and working abroad with my future law school classmates, professors, and future clients. The valuable perspective I’ve gained from my job informs the way I approach problems. I’ve also developed relationship-building skills, among other ‘soft’ skills, that will take me beyond “by-the-book” skills. Gaining this experience in a professional setting has allowed me to become more marketable after graduating law school. My job has also allowed me to build an international network that I will be able to utilize throughout my career.
  1. Take Smarter Risks.
    Moving to Egypt was a huge risk for me. I didn’t understand Arabic and I hadn’t confirmed the details of my job until I landed in Egypt. Also, I should mention that I never really traveled abroad before. Taking some time off allowed me to clear my head and clean my slate. I actively sought out ways to contribute, experiment, and learn at my new post. I know that law school will always be there. The best choice for me now is to take some risks with my career and apply later when I am sure I’d be putting my best foot forward. For me, that meant building my resume and gathering experiences that made me better at calculating and understanding risks.
  1. Get into law school.
    If you’re a recent grad like me, you may not be able to change your GPA, but you can change your LSAT. These two numbers are king for getting into many law schools, and, if you can score big on least one of them, why not go for it? Taking time off between undergrad and law school allows you to devote the time needed to do as well as possible on the LSAT. If you can’t allot enough time for LSAT studying because you work long hours, that’s OK! Just extend your study schedule until you get the score you’re aiming for. Remember, the LSAT and law school will always be there. Things that won’t always be there are tremendous once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to travel, new jobs, or the opportunity to move to a new city. All of these things can add a compelling, unique dimension to your resume, and subsequently, your law school application. Law school admissions committees are eager to hear about your post-graduate experiences, whatever they are.

In the end, I hope you will help yourself tell the amazing story of you by taking time off after undergrad. By taking time to recharge and evaluate your goals, you can tackle the law school admissions process with renewed and focused energy!

Tatum Lindsay is a graduate of Mount Holyoke College where she worked as a student advisor counseling students interested in applying to law school. She lives in Cairo, Egypt, and works at the American University in Cairo as a researcher at the Access to Knowledge for Development Center studying access to knowledge, intellectual property, and human development in Egypt, the Arab world, and Africa. You can find her on Twitter at @tatumlinds.

Thanks, Tatum, for sharing with us your reasons (all great ones, I might add) for working before attending law school! If you liked Tatum’s article, make sure to follow her on Twitter.

Have questions or comments about taking time off before going to law school? I’d love to hear from you. Post your questions and comments below and I’ll respond.

Is a Law Degree Necessary to Reach Your Career Goals?

Barrister on a Budget coverThis week’s blog post comes from Jenny Maxey, author of the incredibly helpful money-saving law school guide, Barrister on a Budget: Investing in Law School…without Breaking the Bank.

Okay, you have an idea of what you want to practice or, just as important, you now know what you do not want to do.

Your next step is to decide if a law degree is necessary.

As a threshold issue, tuition is expensive.

For law schools, it is very expensive: in 2009 tuition rates averaged $18,472/year for in-state students at a public law school; $30,413/year for out-of-state students at a public school; and $35,743/year for students at private law schools.

I left the now-older 2009 figures for a reason: if you compare these costs with the costs for specific law schools you’re interested in when you’re reading this book, you will see just how rapidly tuition costs have risen.

Before you even think about applying to law school, it is important to consider how you will pay for it. Most students, of course, do not have this kind of money. They rely on debt. This is dangerous because, as a student, you will be signing papers (and clicking “Accept”), so it doesn’t seem like real money. But it will be, once you graduate.

Be sure you understand the level of debt you will be accepting. In Chapter 4 we will discuss how to choose a law school with finances in mind, but this section will discuss whether law school is even necessary for your ideal career.

Law school hones useable skills for other professions, but it is also a double-edged sword in a recession. A “JD” on your résumé might give you an advantage over other candidates, but it could make you seem overqualified or give the employer an impression that you require a salary too high above that job’s salary range. It might also be just odd enough that it’s a negative, not a positive.

Ask yourself: with the same motivation that you will bring to a JD, could you have embarked on that career three years before with just a bachelor’s degree, be up for a promotion now, and thus be the one hiring for that very position?

Let’s suppose, further, that in your research you find a career option that offers nontraditional legal careers, such as a non-profit in an area you find compelling. Are there other, more affordable ways you can qualify for the same position without making a significant investment in law school tuition?

Example One: Government.

You know that you have always liked government, and have always wanted to be involved in some government office. You dreamed since ever you could remember of being someone important in some big office somewhere. A Government Affairs position is one of many you might consider. In your research you will find that many lobbyists at your state capitol (or in Washington, D.C.) have law degrees. But not all do. There are economists, political science majors, communications majors, you name it.

Most law schools offer at least one course in legislation, and the skills taught during law school can give you an edge in deciphering statutes or understanding consequences of pending legislation. But grooming graduates for careers in government tends to be more the realm of schools of public affairs, not law schools.

Those who go into government from law school tend to be focused in actual legislative drafting or specific legal area, while many others, with different backgrounds, can do that or any of many other parts of the legislative and ombudsman functions. There are, almost literally, too many options to count.

Take a look at just one agency.

Look at your own state, and see what positions exist there.

Take a look at the backgrounds of officials, including lower-level employees.

Now look at the federal counterpart. Multiply that by dozens of agencies and hundreds of offices, and you get a sense of just how vast are the governmental possibilities.

An important sub-point here: Most government positions are selected according to a process in which veterans receive a preference: if two candidates are reasonably equal, the veteran gets the job. Even if they’re not reasonably equal, with a point-based preference the veteran might still get the JD-required job. Thus, from a purely practical standpoint, a three-year stint in military service might be more advantageous if you have your heart set on a specific government career. And you need not set foot on a battlefield; there are many options besides a combat role in the military. There are, in addition, generous tuition-assistance programs for veterans that will substantially reduce your costs when you do go to law or graduate school.

To stay with just this example, numerous private and not-for-profit lobbying firms, as well as government agencies, hire non-lawyer lobbyists. (Often an individual in one will have prior experience from the other.)

The chief characteristic of a lobbyist is becoming extremely familiar with a particular issue, and building relationships with specific legislators and their staffers. This is not something you have much time for during law school, especially if you do not attend a law school close to a legislative body.

It is thus difficult to obtain a government affairs position straight out of law school, unless you are already immersed in the legislative process. Therefore, your time might be better spent interning or clerking during a legislative session and moving up from there.

Law school might be the step up, rather than the initial step in. You will build the knowledge and relationships lobbying firms look for, earn an income, and you will avoid a potentially massive student loan debt.

This is just the first example of how your research can pay off, in more ways than one.

Jenny L. Maxey is the author of Barrister on a Budget: Investing in Law School…without Breaking the Bank, which is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble among other venues. Visit for more information.

Thanks, Jenny, for your excellent career tips! I completely agree–if you can achieve your initial career goals without a law degree, there’s no need to go to law school. Save money and save time by launching your career now.

Have questions or comments about whether law school is right for your career goals? I’m here to help. Post your questions below and I’ll respond.

Should I Go to Law School Now?

Students often ask me, “Should I go to law school now?”

Some are not sure about the profession. Others are sure about the profession but aren’t sure if it’s the right time.

If you’re not sure, you just shouldn’t go right now.

It’s as easy as that.

Law school will always be there for you if you want to go two years from now, five years from now, 10 years from now or even 15 years from now. Being older is not going to be a disadvantage to you–in fact, it’s going to help you. Law schools love people with experience–life experience, work experience–it’s all great.

I have this list on my site that I recommend to everyone to read and to answer with brutal honesty. It’s the Top 10 Questions from Ed Tom, who is the Director of Admissions at Berkeley Law.

It’s a fantastic list–a very pointed, concise list of questions you can ask yourself to see if you’re ready to go to law school.

If you can answer them truthfully and say yes to many of them, then maybe it’s time for you to go to law school.

But if you can’t, then you need to take some time for yourself to work, travel, experience life, and really find out if lawyering is the right profession for you.

Have questions or comments about whether to go to law school? I’m here to help. Post your questions below and I’ll respond.

Should you go to law school?

Should you go to law school?

I am amazed at how many prelaw students don’t spend more time asking themselves this question.

I’m also absolutely disturbed by how many prelaw students don’t research the legal profession before they apply to law school.

Think about it.

You’re going to spend three years of your life, and $60,000-$200,000 for law school tuition alone, and you don’t know if this profession is right for you?

That’s crazy!

What if you start working in the legal field and you realize the work makes you miserable? How are you going to pay off your loans? How are you going to pay your bills?

It’s a terrible situation to be in but it happens to many J.D.s.

To find out if you’ll like working as a lawyer, you need to work with lawyers.

It doesn’t have to be full-time. It doesn’t have to be paid. It can be a part-time internship or job or a volunteer position.

For those of you who say, “I can’t do free work,” consider this: the amount of unpaid time you put into researching and working in the legal field will help you tenfold in the future.

Just think how many thousands of dollars you’ll save if you find out this profession is wrong for you and you decide not to go to law school.

And if lawyering is the right profession, think of how many hundreds of thousands of dollars you will earn in the future by having the work experience that will help you get into a better law school or into a school with a scholarship.

Check with your City Attorney’s Office or your County Prosecutor or Defender’s Office–they often have internships or volunteer positions.

Contact friends, relatives and colleagues and find out who knows lawyers that you can meet with. Set up an informational interview with each lawyer. Do the interviews and learn as much as you can. Find out if they’re hiring for an intern.

Be tenacious if your first leads don’t pan out. Keep contacting lawyers and organizations until you find a position. Most people I know who found great legal jobs created their own positions!

I want you to have a satisfying and rewarding career. To make sure it’s right for you, try more than one job or internship. Research the legal field as much as possible.

Do the work. You won’t regret it.

Have questions about whether you should apply to law school now or later? Wondering if the legal field is right for you? I’d love to hear from you! I’m here to help. Post your questions below and I’ll respond.