Monthly Archives: May 2017

4 Reasons to Recognize Law as a “Mature” Student

Thinking of going back for your law degree after some time off from your undergraduate studies? The idea can be a daunting one, but you’re hardly alone. In fact, you may be surprised to learn that even at that ripe young age of 21, students are categorized as “mature” by many law schools. (Others categorize applicants as “mature” if they’ve been out of the classroom for a certain number of years.) It follows that there are many different types of mature students — from those who are just a few years out of school to those who have been out for decades. Regardless of your particular circumstances, attending law school as a “mature” students has some oft-overlooked upsides. Here’s a closer look at four of them.         

1. Law schools are looking for diversity.

Law schools welcome people of all ages and backgrounds to their programs as long as they have the skills deemed necessary for success — both academically and in the legal profession. And while some mature law grads do experience age discrimination, it is not usually part of the admissions process. In fact, many law schools view mature learners as particularly well-equipped for success in law school, thanks to the breadth and depth of real-world skills they’ve likely acquired from their time outside of the classroom.

The takeaway? What you fear might be a handicap in the application process may actually be viewed as an advantage by law schools.  In other words, it’s all a matter of perspective. Reframing your mindset may be an important part of presenting yourself as exactly the kind of applicant admissions officers are looking for.

2. You’ll be surer of your career goals.

You might be late to the law school party, but you’ll almost certainly be showing up more prepared than the other guests. According to The Independent, mature students should spend less time worrying about whether they’re up to the task and instead give themselves more credit for what they do bring to the table. Not only can mature students’ “zeal and dedication” give them the inside edge, but they also “tend to be more focused, with better problem-solving skills, more independent and better able to articulate original ideas” than their younger counterparts.

According to one administrator as reported by The Independent, “Because mature students tend to be so highly motivated, they are an extremely successful group. If they start with fire in their belly, knowing what they want out of a course, they are better able to deal with the ups and downs that are inevitably part of studying at this high level.”

3. Today’s programs are more flexible.

Whether you were in school five years ago or 25 years ago, you’re likely to find that your options have grown exponentially since then. Part-time, flexible day and evening, and a relatively new breed of half online/half on-campus options increase the likelihood that you’ll find a program suited for your unique scheduling needs.

4. You won’t have to do it alone.

It can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking of familial commitments as a liability while juggling school and your personal life. But the truth is that the relationships you’ve built as a mature student are actually assets. After all, who better to support you in your return to school than your biggest fans?

Additionally, many law schools are now going out of their way to support mature students in connecting with each other and with their law school communities. From peer mentorship programs which pair incoming mature students with similar second- or third-year students who understand what they’re going through to counseling services and other resources aimed specifically at students returning to school or pursuing second careers, most mature students have an unexpectedly strong safety net to help them on their journey.

No one’s going to tell you that attending law school as a mature student is easy, and certainly there are some obstacles involved — from acclimating to new technology in the classroom to dealing with age discrimination after you graduate. But not only are all of these challenges surmountable, but mature students are uniquely qualified to overcome them.

One last thing to keep in mind if you’re on the fence about going back to law school? As with many things in life, you get out of law school what you put into it. Most insiders agree that mature students are the most likely group to put the most into it. The takeaway? They’re also positioned to get the most out of it.

Internship Offers a New Route to the Legal World

Did you know that the route to a career in law doesn’t necessarily have to involve attending law school? In the UK as well as in certain US states, legal apprenticeship offer a lesser-known approach aimed at supporting social mobility and improving diversity within the profession. Whether you’re looking to qualify as an actual lawyer or to train for a career as a legal administrator or paralegal, a law apprenticeship may be the key to a bright future.

What is a Legal Apprenticeship?

A recent Financial Times article highlights an issue which has long plagued the legal industry: that the majority of trainees at the UK’s most prestigious law firms are culled from the country’s top universities. Furthermore, graduates of private schools are vastly overrepresented in the field of law. These figures aren’t exactly surprising given the fact that law school is expensive and time-consuming — two significant barriers to entry for students from less privileged backgrounds.

Legal apprenticeships attempt to level the playing field by providing an alternative entryway for aspiring lawyers. Rather than enrolling in — and paying for — three years of law school, apprentices can directly enter the workforce on a part- or full-time basis while at the same time preparing to qualify as a paralegal, administrator or even solicitor.

The hope? That introducing more legal apprenticeships will support increased diversity within the legal profession. Because of its profound potential, the UK government plans to create millions of apprenticeships — a proposal which won’t just benefits students, but also “brings a big opportunity for some of our large legal services firms” in the form of access to a much broader talent pool, according to Lord Chancellor Liz Truss.

According to FT, Robert Houchill earned the distinction of being the first paralegal to become a solicitor without a degree, thanks to the innovative Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA) “equivalent means” requirement, which factors quantity and quality of work experience into the equation. The SRA is also moving toward completely overhauling the system through the introduction of a two-part Solicitors Qualifying Exam, designed to ensure that non-traditional students have the skills they need to work in the field while simultaneously helping students who did not attend top universities prove their worth, as well.

In the US, four states — Vermont, California, Virginia andWashington — allow people to become lawyers by “reading the law,” meaning they’ve worked and studied under a lawyer or judge for a certain amount of time. In these states, says The New York Times, “Aspiring lawyers can study for the bar without ever setting foot into or paying a law school.” New York, Wyoming and Maine, meanwhile, aspiring lawyers can qualify through a combination of law school and a legal apprenticeship.

Five Benefits of Legal Apprenticeships

Legal apprenticeships come with a number of incentives, including the following five benefits:

1.    You can bypass law school (and the entire law school application process) and instead enter the legal profession straight out of secondary school.

2.    You’ll bypass the cost of law school while immediately starting to earn a salary. Additionally, your employer may cover any related academic or training fees.

3.    You’ll learn at your own pace while gaining practical experience and an understanding of the inner workings of a law practice.

4.    You’ll have an inside edge with employers looking for workers with real-world, hands-on experience. Not only that, but more and more UK firms are taking the government’s lead and launching legal apprenticeships.

5.    You’ll immediately start building connections with everyone from colleagues and clients to mentors and other professionals.

Concludes The New York Times, “At a time when many in legal education — including the president, a former law professor — are questioning the value of three years of law study and the staggering debt that saddles many graduates, proponents see apprenticeships as an alternative that makes legal education available and affordable to a more diverse population and could be a boon to underserved communities.”

However, it’s also important to keep some additional things in mind when considering whether a legal apprenticeship is right for you. For starters, if you’re becoming a lawyer just for the prestige and/or looking to acquire a position at an elite law firm or teach in law school, the lack of degree might be a downside. (On the flip side, if your goal is to be truly “in the trenches” helping community members in need, a legal apprenticeship may offer a more direct route to doing so.) Additionally, you may have limited mobility in the US due to the fact that many states do not allow legal apprentices to become practicing lawyers based on “reading the law.”

4 Ways for Legal Grads Looking for Government Jobs

The number of private practice jobs recently dropped to a 20-year low, according to a report from Above the Law.  The explanation? “In the law firm environment, for law firms of every size, growing efficiencies created by technology and business systems and increased competition from non-traditional legal services providers will both likely continue to put downward pressure on overall law firm lawyer headcount in the coming years and even decades.”

This doesn’t mean, however, that aspiring lawyers are out of luck when it comes to finding employment. In fact, embracing the lesser-traveled option of government work leads to stable and uniquely satisfying careers for many law grads. Wondering if working for Uncle Sam is in your future? Consider these four potential pathways to government law jobs.

1. The Attorney General’s Honors Program

“The largest and most prestigious federal entry-level attorney hiring program of its kind,” the Department of Justice’sAttorney General Honors Program hires a significant number of entry-level attorneys from diverse backgrounds and interests. This year, the program boasts more than 230 positions in fields ranging from antitrust and civil rights to national security and tax divisions.

According to its website, “Eligibility is generally limited to graduating law students and recent law school graduates who entered judicial clerkships, graduate law programs, or qualifying legal fellowships within nine months of law school graduation and who meet additional eligibility requirements.”

The Attorney General’s Honors Program online application opens in late summer with offers extended between late November and February, but you can get a jumpstart on the process now by familiarizing yourself with its application tips and checklist.

2. The Presidential Management Fellow Program

Created more than 30 years ago by Executive order, the Presidential Management Fellow (PMF) Program is a “flagship leadership development program at the entry level for advanced degree candidates.” Its aim? To develop a “cadre of potential government leaders.”  And while not specific to law grads, the PMF program is an advantageous avenue for those interested in a fast-track to great jobs in the public sector.

According to its website, the PMF Program is a pretty sweet deal:  “In addition to salary and benefits, the PMF Program gives you a lot in return for your hard work. Your two-year appointment will provide a fast-paced opportunity to gain experience and develop your talents. You will be challenged with opportunities to flourish into a problem solver, strategic thinker and future leader. In addition to working at a single Federal agency, you may have the option to participate in a rotational opportunity at another agency. These rotational opportunities will challenge you even further and give you insight into how other areas of government operate.”

Application for the PMF Class of 2018 will open in the fall of 2017 via a job opportunity announcement on USAJOBS so stay tuned for announcements and instructions.

3. Look into Federal Agency Openings

You don’t need to win a prestigious fellowship or earn a spot in a formal program to start working for the government, however. All federal agencies are also in need of lawyers, and attorneys who take on these pivotal positions have the potential to make a huge difference in the world around them. And while paychecks may fall short of what you’d find working at a big law firm, the benefits offers by the federal government are enticing, including generous vacation and sick leave packages as well as flexible work schedules not often seen in the private sector. Plus, you’ll be gaining the experience you need to compete in the private sector is you do decide to switch over.

All of which begs the question: How do you find a job in the federal government? Internships are a great way to network and make connections, and are readily available at many government agencies. Two examples? the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of General Counsel Summer Law Intern Program and the Department of Justice’s Summer Law Intern Program.  (Looking for the complete list? Check in with your career services office to consult the annually produced Government Honors & Internship Handbook.) Additionally, websites like USA.gov, USAJOBS.gov, and Making the difference.org are invaluable resources for job-seekers.

4. Check in with your Local Government

While federal agencies may first come to mind when you think of government work, not only are local government entities also in need of lawyers, but the opportunities may be more accessible. Again, networking can help you get a foot in the door by becoming an attractive known entity, as can a resume demonstrating a combination of public service, glowing references, and a strong academic record.

While big law firms often come first to mind when thoughts turn of jobs for lawyers, the truth is that there are many different options to explore — each with its own unique benefits. For many law students, government jobs represent a lesser-traveled yet equally exciting route to personal and professional fulfillment.

Why the Black History Month is an Opportunity for All Students The Law Makes a Difference

People all over the world rejoiced as Moonlight claimed “Best Picture” honors earlier this week during the Academy Awards. While the significance of the win has been somewhat overshadowed by the logistical snafu that found the Oscar being mistakenly awarded to fellow nominee La La Land, the long-term implications of the win will outlast the temporary buzz. Wrote Bustle, “Regardless of how the award ended up being named (and, man, was that a wild ride), it’s undeniable that a win for a film like Moonlight is unprecedented and groundbreaking, and could make a substantial impact on the types of films that are funded and greenlit in the future.” Making the victory even sweeter? That it occurred during the US’s Black History Month.

But the reality is that the vital importance of Black History Month far transcends Hollywood and the entertainment industry. For aspiring lawyers, this annual month-long commemoration offers the opportunity to do more than merely pay tribute, but to assess the role of the law — and themselves, within it — in promoting equality and social justice for all. Here’s a closer look at why Black History Month matters for aspiring legal professionals.

Beyond the Past

Much of Black History Month celebrates the past. And rightfully so: We’ve come a long way, in relatively short amount of time. As Congressman John Lewis, a leader of the civil rights movement, told NPR in 2015,  it was just “fifty years ago next month we were beaten, left bloodied, and almost died in Selma” while protesting for the right to vote.

However, it’s also a reminder that the work isn’t done yet. As Eric Liu wrote in a CNN piece on the need for reparations, “The experience of African-Americans is exceptional in its systematic, multigenerational, reverberating effects. And it’s exceptional in its centrality to the founding and building of our nation. No experience reveals more than the African-American experience both the hypocrisy and the possibility of our national creed.”

Meanwhile, contends Renwei Chung in an Above the Law piece, “In the last few years, race relations have gone backwards.” Compounding the problem? A disconnect in perceptions about race relations: A recent Gallup poll found 15 percent of black Americans identifying race relations as the most critical issue facing the country today compared to just four percent of white Americans.

The Role of the Law

Uniquely positioned to lead the way for righting ongoing wrongs toward equality across nearly every sector? Lawyers.

Consider the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE).  Established in 2015, RISE is “a nonprofit organization dedicated to harnessing the unifying power of sports to improve race relations and drive social progress.” At its helm as CEO? Former law school dean and expert in civil rights law, education law and election law Jocelyn Benson, who told the ABA Journal after accepting the role, “I was offered an incredible opportunity to lead a national campaign to improve race relations in America at a time when there are very clear divisions.”

Meanwhile, at the same time many law schools are amping up their offerings in the area of race relations. Last month the Harvard Law Review elected its first black, female president.  ImeIme Umana, the daughter of Nigerian immigrants, will preside as president of the 131st volume of the prestigious publication. Says Umana, “[Black women] have been systematically excluded from the legal landscape, the legal conversation, and we’re just now making some important inroads.”  There’s also a push for more black lawyers in the profession. According to data from the American Bar Association shared by The Guardian, white lawyers currently make up 88 percent of all lawyers in the US while black lawyers account for just 4.8 percent.

Contends writer Yolanda Young, “It is curious that a profession that exists to further thought and solve complex social, ethical and legal problems has been unable to solve its own even when some solutions seem obvious – increase minority law school pipeline initiatives and remove the cost impediments of attending law school; provide more training and apprenticeship opportunities; and above all else, treat black attorneys fairly once they enter the profession.”

Honoring and Engaging

Black History Month is also an ideal time to acknowledge the many achievements of African-Americans in the law. Consider Brooklyn Law School’s showcasing of its own prominent graduates whose careers have helped change the world. Many law schools also sponsor activities, initiatives and events of their own during Black History Month aimed at providing opportunities for law students to learn more about African-American culture and history and its relationship to the law.

Which returns us to the overarching question: Why is Black History Month so important?  Chung makes a compelling case in Above the Law:  “We cannot continue to take for granted the rights we have now,” he writes. “We are the future children of the movement. It is our responsibility, especially as minorities in the law, to learn the history and educate others so that we can stand beside Congressman Lewis and fight for our future. If we in the legal community do not fight for justice, fairness, and equality, then who do we expect to advocate for these causes?”

And while Chung’s words are directed toward the minority community, his message is not only applicable to but imperative for all members of the legal profession: “Black History Month is not just a tribute to the past because discrimination is not just a memory of the past. Black History Month is an annual call to action for us to contribute to the movement.”