Fighting the fight against a lack of information on Canadian Law Schools.
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Thursday, May 30, 2002
Hopes for those on waitlists
In perusing the pre-law student discussion boards I have noticed that most potential law students have settled into the summer malaise of waiting on coming through the waitlist. I was fortunate enough not to have to suffer through this tortuous experience. I have to say I don't envy you guys. I just wanted to let you all know there is hope out there. Although most people I know knew they got into their school by this time of year, there are a not insignificant number of people who didn't get an acceptance until July or even August in a couple cases.
Don't forget that for nearly every person on a waitlist, there is someone hanging onto a couple acceptances, maybe even have sent in a couple deposits, and haven't decided where they are going yet. When they do, that will open up a spot. So hang tight, make some calls to administration to reassure yourselves and them that you will accept if you get an offer and have some fun over the summer. Remember what mom said, que sera sers, whatever will be will be. Best of luck all.
Tuesday, May 28, 2002
All Over but the Crying
Today I got one piece of mediocre news and one piece of bad news.
My class ranking was 60 out of 184. So that means I finished in the top third. I was hoping to be closer to the top quarter but it is too late to do anything about that. That one really low mark begins to haunt me already.
Further haunting has occurred in the realm of moots. Competitive moots are basically competitions between law schools where they try "fake" appeals. You write factum's and make oral presentations on a problem and then the "judges" decide who the best mooters are. I tried out to be on the moots, but it looks like I won't be getting on them. Apparently 60th just isn't good enough. Whether you get on a moot team or not is 90% your grades, so that is how that one crap mark comes back to haunt me yet again.
I hope my stories of mediocrity will help anyone reading this to push themselves a little harder and to push themselves to do better than I have so far.
Saturday, May 25, 2002
What Law Students Do on their Summer Break
I guess it all depends. Most of the upper years (2nd going into 3rd) are working for swank law firms. Most of the first years are stuck like me in generally boring menial jobs for the summer. Some are luckier though. One of my friends is currently in the Northwest Territories. He has recently e-mailed me to let me know the "land of the midnight sun" is upon him and the sun will not set for the next 40 days or so. As if I don't have enough trouble sleeping in the dark. He is also ice fishing (although apparently this wouldn't be that odd in Alberta this year), snowmobiling and spotting polar bears and seals. Other friends of mine are off on a hiatus to Cuba for the whole summer. I'm guessing they are not ice fishing. I guess I decided to start this blog, should make for some interesting stories in September, but it probably can't compete with polar bears or Castro.
Friday, May 24, 2002
The Legal Aid Mess
Future lawyers should be paying to attention to what is happening in BC with the Legal Aid mess. Legal Aid also funds a big chunk of the Law Students Legal Assistance Program (LSLAP) and the cuts will/are having a big effect on the effectiveness of that program. LSLAP provides a lot of valuable experience to law students and is a pretty good program. If BC gets away with cuts to that kind of funding here in lotus land, it may transalte into similar cuts in other parts of the country. Something to keep your eye on.
Wednesday, May 22, 2002
What the hell am I getting into all this for anyways
I am generally writing this piece for two audiences. The first is the nervous people who are about to take the LSAT in June. If you need a reason to convince yourself that doing one more practice test is worth it, this entry is for you. The other is for people who have already written the LSAT, probably been accepted and may be having second thoughts. I am writing about what do lawyers make for money and where they can make it.
First off, I have to send you to the best site I have ever found for this kind of info. That is the Findlaw Salary Charts. This website will tell you how much various firms in various cities will pay you for working for them. Go to the international cities section for Canada. If you have any further questions try the Greedy Associates Canada board. This board is populated by associates in firms who talk about money from time to time. There are also some students who ask for random anonymous advice. Sometimes I do too.
Salaries at firms are highly variable, even within cities. To get to the top pay in the cities you will probably need grades in the top third or higher depending on which school you go to and which city you are looking at. At this point some people will go "But what about all of my other great experience and super charming ways?" They matter nada if you don't have the requisite grades. Maybe they will get you into a firm your grades only almost qualify you for, but that is it.
Of course, not all people in law school want to work for big law fims. Thank god for that. There are a whole bunch of other jobs you can get as a lawyer. The government is one option. Normally when people think about government lawyers, they think about Crown prosecutors. This is a large number of the government lawyers, but the federal Department of Justice is a pretty large employer of lawyers as well.
There are also all kinds of pulic interest organizations like Sierra Legal Defence Fund, the Canadian Envioronmental Law Association or a Public Interest Law Centre. This doesn't pay as well as the big firms, but the work is proabably more valuable in the end.
There are also way more reasons than this to go to law school. They are all good and valid. I just hope this helps students to be informed about their decision to enter law school.
Can you Prepare for Law School?
By this time of year most Law Students-to-be have already chosen where they are going. After being curious about what law school will be like, the next thing they want to know about is what they can do to prepare. I must say that the first time I discovered this phenomena while on the Princeton Review Law discussion board I was most amazed. People were actually thinking about how they were going to prepare to learn a topic they hadn't even taken a class on yet? I guess it has something to do with the high number of type A personalities in law school but a remarkable number of law students actually want to prepare for law school.
Well, I never did it so I can't say whether it works or not. No one else can really tell you either because either you prepare or you don't and then when you go through law school you find out if it works or not. I would like to offer my take on the topic because young law students out there could be spending a lot of money on something that may or may not have value.
The essential premise behind the preparation ideal is that the law, is the law, is the law and no matter who teaches it to you the law will generally be the same. This is simply false. Even within my one law school different professors taught very different interpretations of the law and very different areas of the law. Even if they teach from the same casebooks in the same classes, the material can be very different. This means preparation can only occur at the very surface of the law.
That being said there are probably some things you can do to try and prepare. The first thing I would recommend is actually reading some decisions. If you have to spend the first month or two just figuring out what various terms and language of trade means you will be frustrated quickly. So pick a topic that interests you, find some Supreme Court cases and read them. If you find a term you don't understand look it up in a legal dictionary online like this one. Only read two or maybe three though. More would be silly.
If you really want to get into the preparation mode you will have to pick up Planet Law School by Atticus Falcon. This book is probably the most authoritative ever published on preparing for law school. It is an American book and the resources he listed are probably not all available for Canadian students but you should get the general idea. I don't necessarily agree with his take on law school but if you are a hard core type A personality, you may find it interesting.
The decision whether to prepare or not prepare is ultimately up to every individual law student. If you choose to good for you but I think you can do just fine without it.
Tuesday, May 21, 2002
Looking Back at First Year Law School
The most frequently asked question I get as a law student from potential law students is "What is law school really like?" or some variant. This is a very difficult question to answer. Basically, law school is like law school which doesn't do the person asking the question any good. They usually want to know whether it is like undergrad, like high school or like a job or some thing else they can easily compare the experience to. If you know the person who asked the question that makes it a little easier. At least you know what you can compare it to. If you don't know what to compare it to that makes answering the question virtually impossible. So I am going to try and do the next best thing. Just tell you about it, and you can then judge what it is like.
I just got my grades back for the year. My final average was 76.63 or as I euphemistically call it a solid B+. The class average overall is somewhere between 70 and 74 so I guess I did ok but not great. I had some surprises (like Criminal Law was my best mark) and some disappointments (like Torts was my worst mark). Overall I am satisfied. I should be able to find a reasonably good job with not too much difficulty.
You may be wondering why I am talking about getting a job even though I am just finishing my first of three years. Basically law school is all about getting a job. Sure in between getting a job there is time for some fun and some scholarly pursuits, but mostly it is about getting a job. In your first week law firms come to sell themselves to the students by giving them beer. In the first month you put on your suit and go out on your first shopping trips for firms to a Wine and Cheese. This is basically the same as a career fair where you wander around to stations and talk to representatives from various law firms. You have precisely one month before you start thinking about getting a job. If you want a job with a law firm after your first year of law school then you have to apply between October and February depending on where you want to work. Then you have to get to work on your exams, because if you don’t you can’t get a second year summer job. And this is largely correlated to you getting your articling job after you graduate. That means your first year law grades are the most important grades in all of law school. That means first year can be very stressful. Whether or not you get the kind of job you want can often be related to how well you do on 15 hours worth of exams.
This may seem cynical, but I am not trying to be, just realistic. I actually enjoyed my first year immensely. Law schools are pretty small and this means you get to know most of the other people in your class and your professors pretty well. Both the students and the professors are generally very nice and interesting people. I went into law school straight out of undergrad and that meant that most of the people I had been exposed to were basically of the same age and background as me. In law school you run into a much wider range of backgrounds. It really enriches the experience and you do learn more in your classes because different people approach different problems different ways.
Solving problems is basically all you do in law school. Well, that’s not true, but it should be all you do. What you do spend most of your time doing is reading cases. There are whole debates about the value of reading cases and I would be happy to engage anyone in that debate later. There can be no denying though that what you spend 80-90% of law school doing is reading cases and then trying to figure out what the judge was trying to say in that case. The more important the case, the likely it is more difficult to tell what the judge was saying because so many different people want it to mean different things. Then for 10% of the time you will be given a problem and asked to apply all these rules these cases have taught you to the problem. This is also known as an exam. Some profs do put more emphasis on problems (like my Crim prof, maybe why I did so good) and others put less (like my Torts prof, starting to see a pattern here?). So I would recommend that you make sure you start working with problems as soon as you feel you have any requisite knowledge. The faster you get working with them, the more you will be able to understand the rules and the better you will do. Well in my opinion.
The other most important things that I will remember about law school was how much I treasured doing stuff, with or without law students, not dealing with the law. I was on the faculty hockey, rugby and volleyball teams and this proved a valuable distraction throughout much of the year. I also have a wife who occasionally found home projects for me to help her with from time to time. (By the way, I highly recommend a wife/husband/life partner for all potential law students. They come in handy!) I also read tons of political stuff. I love politics and it soothed me, or infuriated me, but usually soothed me. Politics here in Canada never changes, and that continuity gives me some kind of mental balm that I just can’t explain.
One thing I did complain about, but is probably good, is the near complete lack of choice in what you study in your first year. You have a set group of classes you have to take (Property, Torts, Contracts, Criminal and Legal Institutions with a tacked on Legal Research and Writing requirement on one of the others) and everyone takes the same classes. By about a third of the way through the second semester I was sick and tired of many of my classes. On reflection though, this is probably the best way to do it. We are all largely going to be compared based on these marks, so we might as well have all taken the same classes so at least the comparison is a little fair. Also you have enough to worry about in law school to be worrying about whether you have the right classes or not.
All in all, I am thankful I went to law school and thankful I went to the law school I did. It is a tiring and stressful experience from time to time (especially at exam time) but it is very rewarding. Hope that everyone out there found something they were looking for in this and feel a little bit more informed about their decisions.
This is the opening post for my new Blog. There are two main reasons that I am starting this Blog. The first is the total lack of information about Canadian Law Schools on the web. Although there are some good resources, that I will be pointing individuals to, there is a real dirth of real information about what really goes on at law school. I go to UBC so I will be largely be relating my experiences there, but I hope much of it will carry to students attending other law schools at well. I hope it will help to foster community amongst law students and start some debate because lawyers love to argue and I am no exception.
The second reason is to get web literate. I have always wanted to get more informed about the web and have kept putting it off. I figure this way I can just jump in with two feet and figure out before it overwhelms me. It's summer, I have time.
So largely I will be posting my thoughts and opinions about law school. I just can't see this keeping up with the amount I hope to post. So in the meantime I will also post on the other two great loves of lawyers, politics and sports. I follow these two hobbies like a religion and so do many others. I hope others will be inclined to send me comments that will hopefully inspire future entries. So stick around.