Law in Contemporary Society

Using Law School Intelligently

-- By ElizabethBrandt - 13 June 2016

I have no doubt that I am meant to be in law school. For some of my classmates this seems like an extension of undergrad or even a last resort. I spent years deciding if law school was worth the investment, and now I feel at home. I have everything left to learn, but I couldn’t be more thrilled about the opportunity. The question becomes how to best utilize this time to build a meaningful career for myself.

Get Away from Law School

The people with whom I am interested in working typically shy away from attorneys. My partner, who works for a company at the intersection of wine and technology, recently took my suggestion of pitching an in-house counsel role to his Board. Alcoholic beverages are still highly regulated and he, a non-lawyer, is spending an inordinate amount of time trying to wade through individual state regulations, federal regulations, two lawsuits, and a myriad of other legally-related work. It seemed like a no-brainer.

The first thing anyone said was, “Not here. Never.” Without providing a single actual reason for refusing to hire a lawyer, they shut down the conversation. While their opinion is shortsighted and lacks a basic understanding of the industry in the United States (the company was started in the UK and my partner is the only American on the leadership team), there are companies of all shapes and sizes that have the same perspective.

My role as a future attorney servicing companies like his is to prove that I am not only a lawyer, but can act as a trusted advisor about issues ranging from real estate to employment to litigation. People that have such a reaction to lawyers hold the view that lawyers are inflexible, unrelenting, and generally obnoxious people whose only skill is to say, “No, you shouldn’t do that.” In order to break that stereotype, I have to learn the business side of a prospective client’s work, understand their goals, and speak intelligently about how my services help them achieve those goals rather than just check the boxes or jump through the hoops. This sort of holistic outlook requires me in some ways to keep a healthy distance from law school.

There are many amazing opportunities outside of JG that can provide connections to thought leaders in the technology space, angel investors and venture capitalists, and people putting in the work to build their businesses every day. Whether it’s working part time for the type of company I’d like to one day make a client, interning for the New York Angels in the Fall, hanging out in the business school with friends who are actively building their own businesses, or attending conferences like LegalTech and chatting with industry thought leaders, it’s essential to acknowledge the world outside of legal academia in order to build the skill set for a viable practice.

But Also Take Full Advantage

While it’s important to recognize that there’s an entire world outside of JG, I’m paying for the opportunities and connections that are available within the Columbia community. More importantly, though I don’t want to be only a lawyer, I still need the expertise and skills of a lawyer. Within the halls of JG are an incredible number of resources both to learn how to think about the law and to connect to those in the profession who are actively doing what I hope to do. I plan to take advantage of the faculty as well as my peers in better understanding the path to a viable practice.

As we’ve discussed, for the type of practice I would like to build I will need expertise in far-ranging topics, including employment law, contracts, basic intellectual property, and corporate governance, just to name a few. It’s impossible to become a true expert in each of these fields, so my goal is to sample as many of them as possible this summer and during the next academic year. Once I have the basic idea of each of the different subject matters and can speak intelligently about the general topics within each field, I will spend the following summer and my last year of law school immersing myself in one or two of the subject areas. I will choose these subjects based on what I feel are either most important to practice-building based on the use cases I see through time spent “in the real world” or the topics that I find the most interesting and might therefore lead to a more meaningful and engaging practice.

A grasp of the subject matter of particular aspects of the law is necessary for a lawyer in this field, but it is not sufficient. In addition to a deep dive into particular aspects of practicing with start-ups or small businesses, building a network of people that can connect me to prospective mentors, clients, and thought leaders is the most critical aspect of my time at law school. Columbia is perhaps the ideal law school for me in that it is rich with business-minded faculty. A quick search of the faculty pulls up experts in labor, technology, tax, and real estate law – all important aspects of a future practice. Naturally, more importantly than any of their resumés is whether they are helpful and intelligent professors with broad networks they are willing to share. This information is more easily gleaned from my peers than a website. The professors with whom I interact in the next year will likely play the single largest role in my choice of which fields to pursue more in-depth. Therefore, it’s imperative that I seek out courses and professors that can help me navigate their particular area of focus and who have a willingness to connect me with other leaders in their field.

With a little luck, a lot of research, and careful planning this summer, my next semester at Columbia will provide me with the opportunity to sample a variety of potential fields and to begin to develop a practical skill set that I can eventually use to grow into a practice.


Webs Webs

r7 - 13 Jun 2016 - 20:53:45 - ElizabethBrandt
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