Thinking about going to law or business school? Here are some pointers.

grab bag, law, society, tips

Are you thinking about going to law school or business school?  Or perhaps—like crazy yours truly—both at the same time?  This blog entry covers the following:

– Is law school right for me?
– Is business school right for me?
– How do I narrow down which school to apply to or attend?
– Okay, I picked a school and got in!  Now how do I prepare?!

*  *  *

Is law school right for me?

Maybe.  Dont believe the hype in either direction ;-). 

Signs that point to yes:

  • You like sifting through fine details
  • You are sure you EITHER want to practice law in some way *OR* are a real go-getter trailblazer who is secure forging a non-traditional path.
  • You like learning (I mean genuinely enjoy stuffing new facts into your head regularly, thinking hard about challenging issues).
  • You are comfortable mentally grasping and juggling ambiguities but ultimately comfortable making a hard and fast decision.

Signs that point to no:

  • You’re very unassertive.
  • You don’t like dressing up.  While you CAN get a law degree and go into a career that doesn’t require you to dress “professionally,” the odds are against you.
  • You are dead-set on making the world a better place.  I add this with some reserve, but in my heart I believe that people who go into law with 100% altruistic motives tend to get jaded and burned out.  Want to really change the world?  Start your own company, join the Peace Corp, do volunteer work every weekend.  While you CAN do this stuff with a law degree, it just doesn’t seem like the most time or cost efficient method, IMHO.

Is business school (an MBA program) right for me?

Again, maybe :-D. 

Signs that point to yes:

  • You love your company and they’ve offered to pay for your MBA to help you advance up the ranks.
  • You’re fascinated by the nitty-gritty underlying details of business… operational issues, financial underpinnings, etc.
  • You have a strong scholastic or employment track record but are looking to move in a different direction (e.g., from Finance to Marketing) and want to leverage new knowledge, new contacts, and a new line on your resume.
  • You’re looking to start a company, have a comfortable buffer of time and money, and can afford a two year thoughtful search for a winning partner or partners.
  • You really like people.  You like learning from them, working with them, challenging them and being challenged by them.

Signs that point to no:

  • You hate, absolutely loathe buzzwords. 
  • You deplored college, studying, books, etc.
  • You’re not a people person.  The idea of “networking” not only scares but disgusts you.
  • Your company isn’t going to pay for your MBA and you don’t have reliable indications that an MBA will dramatically increase either your pay or your job satisfaction.  Remember the opportunity costs here: not only two years of often-high tuition (+books, etc.), but also two years of lost pay, two years behind in moving up a corporate ladder, etc.
  • You lack the grades / background / ambition to attend a top-tier (at least top-third) business school.  I might sound really snotty here, but IMHO, if you’re betting that the mere presence of “MBA from UnheardOf School U” on your resume is going to impress HR people, you’re sadly mistaken.

*  *  *

Okay, you’ve decided you want to go to business school or law school.

How do I decide which schools to apply to, which school to attend?

  • Classes and clubs:  Look at the list of classes offered.  Ignore the every-school-offers-these classes like Torts and Contracts or Marketing and Accounting and such.  Are the “extra” classes in areas that fascinate you and are relevant to your career aspirations?  In other words, if you’re wanting to go into Entertainment Law—aside from quite possibly focusing on schools around major entertainment markets—you’ll want to be sure that a lot of relevant classes are offered in this context… e.g., Entertainment Law (duh), Intellectual Property, Negotiating, etc.  If you’re interested in starting your own company, you’ll want to see lots of entrepreneurship-related classes on the list!  Similarly, find out what academies and clubs are not only present but active on campus (e.g., Environmental Law Society, Marketing Professionals in Asia…).
  • External ratings:  Thumb through a book of ratings.  Sure, you can’t believe everything you read, but if one of the schools you’re considering has topped the list on the “Most Unpleasant Law School to Attend” or “Most Cutthroat Colleagues” for three years running, there’s a substantive takeaway there, eh?  Additionally, as unfair as it is sometimes (especially with schools resting on their laurels), reputation does count for a lot.  Graduating with a B average at Wharton vs. an A average at a no-name school, well, you can guess what will turn more HR-folks’ heads.
  • Location:  Unless you plan on getting into a top top top school (Wharton, Harvard Law…), know that your best chances for internships and employment right out of school will be in the geographic area of your school.  In other words, don’t go to a Chicago law or business school if you’re not interested in working in the Chicago / Indianapolis area.
  • Gut: VISIT!!!  When you’ve narrowed it down to 2-4 schools, fly out there and visit.  I know, I know, it may be expensive, it may be hard to take time off work, but even a $2,000 investment in this area will pay off in the long-run in terms of not only you making the best choice… but in knowing you made the best choice.

*  *  *

You’ve finally decided on THE school for you.  Great!  Now you’re wondering…

How do I prepare for my first day of classes?

Well, first I’ll tell you what *NOT* to do.  Don’t stress.  Don’t go out and buy textbooks and try to pre-learn material.  Don’t try to become an expert in trademark law or e-marketing or finance before you show up to school.  Instead, here are a few things you may indeed want to do before you arrive at your new school:

  • Get organized:  Find a system that works for you to help you manage your notetaking, appointments, and to-do list… whether it’s all computer programs, just paper notepads and books, or a combination of the two.  Get into a groove.  Know your system backwards and forwards before you step foot onto campus so you don’t waste time learning tools, figuring out processes; you need to be productive and organized the day you arrive.  Read my more extensive previous entry about organizing your life.
  • Practice being a people person:  If you’re really shy or not yet adept at networking, practice this before you get on campus.  Whether it’s toastmaster nights or exhibit hall’ing or social dances… practice introducing yourself, effectively chit-chatting, and LISTENING.  These skills—both in grad school and beyond—will perhaps be your greatest asset combo… more important than rote knowledge or usually even your grades in school!
  • Be prepared with the right physical stuff:  These include not only a stellar laptop (know it forwards and backwards, with software, BEFORE you arrive on campus!) but also a comfortable knock-‘em-dead interviewing outfit or two, lots of even-more-comfy and not-too-stuffy business casual wear, a snazzy (not too wild) haircut, and so on.  Hey, if you have a few months before you arrive on campus, why not also try for a new-more-fit-you; a deadline when you’re about to meet new colleagues, make new friends, and interview for summer internships is likely a fine motivator to *NOT DIET*, but rather change your lifestyle to be healthier and thinner.

*  *  *

And finally… you’ve made it to campus, you’ve started your first week and you’re pondering:

How do I stay in tip-top shape and excel without losing my mind?

  • Eat right:  Fast, unnatural food is your enemy.  It will make you think sluggishly, get tired more quickly, and possibly make you look like a fat slob.  Not to mention hamper your sex life. 
  • Sleep well:  You know your body.  If you need 8 hours, get 8 hours.  And if you think you “do just fine” on 5 hours, you’re probably kidding yourself.  I know it’s insanely hard, but try to also keep to a somewhat-regular schedule.  Get up around the same time, even on weekends, even if it means taking a short nap.
  • Exercise:  Get some.  Doesn’t matter if it’s walking, biking, kickboxing, canoeing, etc., as long as it includes both aerobic and a strength-building components.  You WILL think better and sleep better and look better when you’re getting regular exercise.  Add workout times to your calendar (even your public one) so this part of your life doesn’t get squeezed out.  Teaming up with a workout-buddy (of either gender) can be very motivating, too, because it’s much more shameful to cancel when you know someone else is counting on you to be there ;-).
  • Destress:  Whether it’s yoga, meditation, praying, or simply sitting under an apple tree for an hour a week, do it.  You need to clear your head of derivatives, legal arguments, and grade point averages.
  • Socialize smartly and regularly:  Even if you’re not a drinker, try to make at least some of the weekly bar nights.  99% of the people will still respect you when you drink apple juice, but you’ll lose the networking, the friending opportunities, and more if you simply fail to show up.  Conversely, if you ARE a drinker, drink less than everyone else.  Going to an Laws of Corporate Taxation class (or trying to study ancient Torts minutae) with a hangover is a fate I’d not wish on anyone.  Drinking issues aside, make sure you allot at least some time every week to hang out with people outside of class, whether that’s the bar, a Christian Outreach club, an intramural rugby team or whatever.  You NEED that time away from your books, and—more importantly—you emotionally need connections that don’t have to do with an 801b wireless LAN or a finance studying group.
  • Don’t dwell unhealthily on the past or the distant:  Don’t harbor regrets.  And don’t spend all your free time calling home (to Mom, to boyfriend, to best friend in Boise, etc.).  Time spent on past and distant connections is time and emotional energy you can’t apply to the present and the local.  This doesn’t mean you should fail to learn from the past or break all ties with your girlfriend or best friend back home; rather, I urge you to balance your life and set appropriate expectations amongst the people you care about.
  • Avoid being an ass, and don’t burn bridges!:  You may hate your Contracts prof.  You may have hilarious and scathing stories to tell about your ex you shacked up with during your MBA section last quarter.  But zip your lips and stay mostly positive.  You don’t know when you’ll need the respect of that Contracts prof to link you up with your most-desired law firm, and you don’t know when you’ll depend upon your ex for a connection to that internship in Prague.  Beyond just future needs, I’ll just note this:  People may laugh at or even with the guy with the perpetually vocal, scathing, bitter wit… but they likely won’t want to work with him, hire him, or even help him.  Yes, this relates to gossip, too.  When in doubt, don’t say it, don’t even e-mail it, and definitely don’t post it on the Web.
  • Take notes, take notes, take notes.  Process them NIGHTLY:  The very act of note taking can help keep you awake during a boring lecture.  But more importantly, writing stuff down (or typing) will help stuff stick in your head more.  Even if things don’t make sense right then (I remember not even being able to spell a lot of the phrases thrown at me during lectures, much less understand some of the complex legal theories), trust me when I reassure you that you’ll have a better chance of understanding stuff later if you take notes from the get go.  And hey, don’t make the same mistake I did by writing notes and then processing/organizing them 2 days before your midterm; that’s the stupid, stressful way of preparing.  Instead, force yourself to organize/outline/clean-up the notes the same night you wrote them, or at the latest the next day (the upcoming weekend is too late, and will you really get to your notes then anyway?).  As suggested in my aforementioned previous article on organizing your life, especially take note on the people you meet:  name, what they looked like, where they’re from, what they’re studying, how you can help them, how they can help you, etc.  This database will be golden for you, honest!

*  *  *

Whew!  Okay, that’s enough for now, I think.  I hope this list is helpful, and—as always—please feel free to post suggested changes or additions in the comment box below!

9 comments… add one
  • Dave Mar 23, 2006

    Very well thought-out piece, Adam, and quite useful.

    Although, a lot of it applies to any type of higher education, and life in general.

  • "confused me" Oct 23, 2006

    hey Adam, thanks for the post, it’s very informative. today i was having panic attacks. here is my story. I am 31 and have just started going to school, just because I have always wanted to do it. i have this feeling that if I don’t get education, i would never be happy with myself and would not feel fulfilled, don’t ask why, it’s probably my conditioning. Not to honk my own horn, but I can normally put my brain into good use, if needed and was always the top student of my class all through high school and the years prior. I couldn’t go to university right out of high school since my family migrated and blablabla…
    to cut the story short, now I am back to school and am planning to do a year or two of undergrad and then apply to law school as a mature student. I chose law because I am so darn good at winning arguments and am a great problem solver and love details and analyzation. I need to mention here that I owned a creative business for a couple of year which I did fantastic at and enjoyed every second of but had to stop for personal reasons. today I am having panic attacks wondering if I am doing the right thing. I really want to do the law thing but at the same time I am itching to do something creative like opening up a business. I know I will be good at both. I feel like if I pursue law, it’s gonna take me at least 5 years to start work and feel productive, not to mention the financial aspects of it. that is too long. I feel like I dont want to wait till I am almost 40, to start my career. I don’t know what to do. I dont want to make the wrong decision. I was thinking maybe I should start a business and once it’s off the ground, go to school part time or full time, I mean there is not much difference between a 40 year old lawyer and a 45 year old, is there?… lol… what do you think? do you have any suggestions for the “confused me”?
    thank you so much for taking the time to read this, i hope i didn’t bore you too much. I ‘ll be looking forward to hearing from you.

  • Law School Jun 22, 2007

    Adam, You have some great tips here.  You may also be interested in hundreds of law school tips at http://www.TopLawStudent.com.

  • James Dec 12, 2007

    Excellent article for students deciding on whether to pursue a career in Law.

  • jessica Apr 1, 2008

    great article! i’ll definitely keep some of this in mind as i make my decision! thanks!

  • James Apr 3, 2008

    Hi Adam,
    Very nice post related to career in law,
    Some of the tips are very common for every business.

  • software developer Jan 20, 2010

    Interesting,
    These are great deciding points to decide what kid of school would be the best,
    Thanks for writing about it

  • UF-MBA-Life Oct 2, 2011

    I love that you included this:
    In other words, don’t go to a Chicago law or business school if
    you’re not interested in working in the Chicago / Indianapolis area.Gut: VISIT!!! 

    So often I read articles about rankings and people forget that the school should match their goals. I picked UF b/c I knew I would see a return within a year of graduation. If you are talented enough to get into a top 20 school, you can probably get a full scholarship and even a stipend to a top 50 school.

    I love UF b/c of the personality and the below youtube video illustrates this point very well.

    http://youtu.be/rUL6v0UCJvQ

  • ThatAdamGuy Oct 2, 2011

    Glad you’ve enjoyed UF, and that video is pretty entertaining.  Not sure if some of the more uptight employers would appreciate it, though 😛

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