Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Hold The JD! I Need To Re-Do Lawschool!

My experience leading me into the legal profession can basically only be described by one word: stumble. I stumbled my way into law school after graduating with a useless political science degree and no future direction or particular career goal. One of my friends wanted to go to lawschool and I just thought, what the heck, I'll try it.

I signed up for the LSAT at the last minute, around my undergrad graduation, while other members of my graduating class had taken their LSAT at least six months before me. When I received my decent LSAT score, I applied to law school because, what the heck else was I going to do?

In law school, I stumbled my way through courses. I didn't know what a tort was until well into my first week of torts class. I didn't even know exactly what lawyers DID. But I wanted to do something intellectually challenging and mildly prestigious. I still didn't want to be a lawyer. I didn't even have an interest in any particular area of law. I enjoyed studyig law but I lacked a driving passion to be part of a certain area of practice.

After my first year, I stumbled into a legal internship while working for a public agency-- the local lawyer handling real estate issues for the agency recruited me. I discovered that while I was a mediocre law student, I had a knack for practice. I received constant praises and acknowledgment for my work even though I didn't think I did anything outstanding (and was often confused by the legal work I was doing). Anyway, once I started to pretend to practice law, I was sold on the idea that I could, in fact, be a lawyer.

Then I stumbled into a summer associate position at a small litigation firm in Seattle. I enjoyed the work I did at the firm, which was mainly in the area of construction defect and insurance defense. They gave me an offer at the end of the summer and I took it. So, I guess you could say I also kinda blundered my way into a job. I feel like it was pure luck that I randomly picked a profession that I ended up loving and that I was offered a job in a field I ended up enjoying. Clearly, my experience has not involved chasing after purposeful goals or desires. I didn't see anything I really, passionately wanted and then set myself out to achieve it. I kind of went with the flow and miraculously made it out alive, well and satisfied.

Go figure that in my last two months of law school I would finally find it. My legal field of passion! I picked up an article about LLM programs in the United States. I was comparing the legal focuses of all the different programs. Some emphasized insurance law, some corporate, etc. My eyes glanced at an Agricultural Law LLM program in Arkansas. I started reading about Ag Law. The more I read, the more fascinated I became. Ag Law is a web of rules and regulations that protect agricultural businesses, farmers and our food from the time it is planted or grown to the time it reaches our tables.

I found myself drawn to this area of law, one in which I had absolutely no interest in before. And now, the more I learn the more I am sure that I absolutely have to be involved in it somehow. I can totally see myself practicing in this area! But the bad news is that I'm already graduating. I can't look for externships or take relevant classes. I can't build this passion as a student through student organizations and events. I'm all set to start practice in another area of law. And I know NOTHING about job opportunities or the job market in Ag Law.

I feel stuck. I have to figure out how to get to the land of Agricultural Law while riding a speeding train that's quickly heading to the Graduation Town and Insurance Law City. Any advice out there? Anyone have any knowledge pertaining to careers in ag law? The long awaited discovery of my deepest, darkest law passion- has it come to late?


Someone Being Me said...

I don't have much to offer as I didn't bother with any education beyond my B.A. in Sociology but I have discovered that your degree doesn't necessarily limit you to a particular field. If you are interested in the field look into the jobs available and see what kind of experience they are looking for. Most jobs expect you to come in knowing very little about what they specifically do. That's what on the job training is all about. Talk to your law school advisors and see if they have any recommendations on how to get into the field using just your basic law degree without a focus on that specific area. They might know of classes you could take or if the employers would be willing to train you. I live in the south in a town with a major university that is known for Agriculture and Engineering. Lots of my friends graduated with AgBusiness or other Ag related degrees and most of them aren't working in any Ag type fields and probably have very little working knowledge that would help them with an Ag job. Most degrees are just there to teach you some basics, your employer will teach you the details.

Anonymous said...

I'm in an LL.M. program, albeit not in AG law

I can relate to so much of what you said. You basically just described my entire law school experience. I too went to law school because a friend did and it seemed like a good idea at the time (I looked at his LSAT book and I was like wow this is really easy! then I took the test and it was all downhill from there). During my first year I almost dropped out. I couldn't find an area of law to specialize in. I liked many of the classes I took, but I was afraid of committing to any one area. I almost set myself to going into criminal law, but during my last semester did a 180 and decided to specialize in intellectual property.

In my last semester I was taking some IP classes and then wrote a paper on the subject. I was like "wow this is what I wanted to do all my life." So I found this LL.M. program and applied and got in (largely because somehow coincidentally my paper was exactly relevant to some of the classes here).

Despite being afraid of commitment, and having second thoughts in the beginning, I don't regret it and I'm learning a lot. Whether I want to do it for the rest of my life, I don't know.

But before you decide to do the program, you should definitely talk to OCS and ask them about career opportunities in that area. Maybe they'll hook you up with someone practicing in the area and you find out more.

Proto Attorney said...

Being from a big Ag state (mostly tobacco and horses), it's interesting but can be a difficult area to break into. (Equine law, in particular here, is very difficult to get into, very elite. But there's some old money snobbery involved there that might not come into play in law involving livestock and produce.) One idea, you might look into local positions with the state government, or with the US department of agriculture. Check with your state and local bar associations to find out if there is an ag division and call up some lawyers to chat about their practice.

It's never too late to make a career change, and with law, experience is experience. Don't feel like you're "stuck" with insurance defense. I know lots of people who've started in insurance defense and gone on to do a wide variety of specialties. Just be careful you don't get pidgeoned-holed. If you want to do something else, get a couple years' experience and move on to something different, not to another insurance defense firm. A resume packed with insurance defense won't do you any favors breaking out into something new.

je said...

As a 2L with an idea of what I want to do, but a vague awareness that other things easily capture my interest and enthusiasm (especially if they're bright and shiny!), I'm really interested to hear about how and why you fell so suddenly and hard for Ag Law! Details, please? No advice, unfortunately, except to follow your gut. That's why I'm at law school and not still working my way up the wrong ladder (HR).

Laurie said...

Having the degree is often only the first step anyway - now you just need to network with some legal professionals in the field of Ag law, see if one will maybe mentor you and find out what you need to know to really move forward with your newfound path! I bet you can do it and wish you much luck.

Anonymous said...

Hi Cee- I'm a stumbler too, I had another career before law school but it so did not suit me, so I looked for graduate school opportunities. I literally decided to take the LSAT because it was the only grad school test that did not have a math requirement.
For those of you 1L and 2L's (and even 3L's) I didn't stumble onto what I was passionate about until the last semester of my law school. If you haven't figured out what to "specialize" in, don't sweat it. I don't know a single lawyer who is practicing in the area they started out in.
Now, my advice to Cee- hit up anyone & everyone you can while still in school - it's crazy, but the legal world treats students vs. passed-the-bar lawyers differently. I'm only two years out and looking for a job and what experience I do have is already pigeonholing me. Other lawyers tell me (in other areas) that if I "just" had a little more experience, they could justify the "jump" to their area of law. (I couldn't stay where I was due to budget cuts so I couldn't "just" get that experience). Right now the job market is especially tight so experience is counting more than ever. So you can either make some connections now and maybe "stumble" onto a Agricultural law job before graduating, or you can take your insurance defense job and expect to spend 2-3 years at it, all the while networking and making connections in the agricultural law world. Which is not a bad thing to do, it can just be frustrating working at something when you know what your true passion is.