Thursday, August 20, 2015

Career Advice

I just got an e-mail from a student at a top-tier law school* wanting some advice for
a young man covered in tattoos who never wants to say to a character and fitness committee that he enjoyed, say, Craft’s Fuck the Universe? Should I wear my Extreme Conditions Demand Extreme Responses shirt to law school, and when? And how do I steer myself to a job that doesn’t make me want to retch?
Most of this will apply to any metalhead who wants to enter a professional career, but I'm going to focus on lawyers.

So, first of all, your musical taste is not going to come up unless you bring it up. Nobody asks that question, and only music snobs care. (And yes, all metalheads are music snobs.)

Tattoos, on the other hand, might be a problem. Thankfully you'll be wearing a jacket any time it matters. If that doesn't cover up your tattoos, I can't help you. I'm sure there are places and specialty areas where it won't matter, but I'm not knowledgeable about what those might be.

As far as your clothing choices in law school, I think you have to get a sense for the culture of your school. If most people are wearing T-shirts, then wear whatever T-shirt you want. It won't matter, at least not unless you're wearing something particularly offensive. Law school is interesting in that you won't be able to simply remain silent in class. You will be called upon to speak, and your intelligence and thoughtfulness will be what informs your cohorts' opinions of you. Certainly more than the shirt you're wearing.

In your professional life--which starts for real after your first year of law school, for most--your work and your attitude are going to speak for you. If you have the right attitude and put out solid work, then people will like you. Don't start blasting Destruktor on your first day, though. Get comfortable in the office first, and then, if you think it's OK, and people already have a sense of you, you can play music in your office. At a reasonable volume of course. And if someone comes in to talk, have the decency to turn it off so you can listen to them without distraction. If someone hears your music, but they already like you, they'll find it curious or weirdly charming.

Now, on to what I think is the most difficult question: How to get into a job that you don't hate. Oscar Wilde famously said, "The study of law is sublime, and its practice vulgar." I found that to be true in most cases. There is probably a positive correlation between vulgarity and pay, too. The more ambitious you are, I suspect, the more disgusting your ultimate career is likely to be. As for me, I landed in a small firm in a relatively small town (Lincoln), so it wasn't terrible by any means. But the private practice of law is always going to involve two things: counsel and salesmanship. The counseling part was fine. I often enjoyed it. But ultimately I found any kind of salesmanship to be too distasteful for me. And that's why I landed in government.

If I said any more on the topic, I'd only be speculating. I believe you can get a feel for the culture of an office through an interview. But any place where they demand top-tier law school students and work everyone 80 hours per week is going to be a soulless hellpit. If you want to make six figures out the gate, that's what you're looking at. If you want to love your job, find some area that's meaningful to you and try to work in that field.

There is one piece of advice I can give that I know for certain is good: Don't let law school or your career take over your entire life. My law school cohorts told me, after our first year, that I had the right idea. I made time every day to read for pleasure. You need to keep a hobby and make personal time every single day. Firstly, because it's just not worth it if you can't. And secondly, because you really don't need to work that hard to succeed in law school. You're probably more intimidated than you need to be. You got in, and that means you're smart. You can handle it. Maybe not if your goal is to be in the top ten percent, but if that's your goal, you're asking the wrong person.

I hope this helps.

*Incidentally, in looking at school rankings so I could remove the name of the school, I realized that based on LSAT scores, I likely could have gone to a top ten law school. Oh, well. I prefer where I am in life now.


  1. This guy was pulling your chain, was he not?

    1. No, I don't think so. There was some additional correspondence that leads me to think it was a sincere inquiry.