By Christina Martini and David Susler
DLA Piper // National Material L.P.
Does it matter where you went to law school?
Tina Martini: I think it does. It matters within the context of figuring out what your end game is. If you decide you want to go to law school just for the purpose of getting a legal education, and if you don't really plan to practice law, I don't think it matters as much.
But if you are looking to maximize your job prospects, as well as your income potential, I do think it matters. This is particularly true if you want to practice law in bad economic times. If you don't have work experience and are looking for a job, where you went to law school is going to be a critical factor - especially if you want to go to a large law firm.
If you don't have work experience and you are looking to practice, your law school will be one of the few distinguishing factors that will separate you from other people for that legal position.
With respect to seeking employment with a large law firm, it's particularly important because there are fewer and fewer jobs, and it's getting tougher and tougher to get them. Large law firms typically interview on campus but those opportunities are getting fewer. .
A lot of law firms these days have streamlined their recruiting staff so there are less people to do essentially the same job. . When I was the hiring partner at my firm, I tried to take a more holistic approach toward candidates. The law school is important, but we as a hiring committee tried to look at other factors, such as work experience, life experience, academic credentials, emotional intelligence, how folks come across in interviews. .
David Susler: I think the answer varies in terms of what type of practice you want to have and where you want to do it. Do you want to practice at a small firm? Do you want to practice in a small city? Do you want to practice in government or go into academia? Do you even want to practice law? Some people use that education to rise up through the ranks in the business arena.
Once you graduate law school, pass the bar exam, and become a practicing lawyer, where you went to law school does not determine how good of a lawyer you can become. Where you went might impact where you start your career, or maybe it may help open some doors more easily throughout your career. Ultimately, it doesn't prevent you from having a very successful, very satisfying legal career. .
What may be more important than where you went to law school is what you did during your time in law school. What's critical is that people take as broad a range of courses as they can. Take courses that you find interesting, but which may not be in the core area in which you think you are going to practice because, ultimately, I think a well-rounded person with a well-rounded education is far more important than where you went to law school.
How would you change law school education?
Martini : . It's really important to look at it from the perspective of what we can do within the law school curricula to maximize students' long-term as well as short-term success. While pure legal knowledge is important, both substantively as well as practically - knowing the law and how it applies - I think success is also driven by emotional intelligence, fire in the belly, passion for what you do, and passion for life, because these things translate into success and fulfillment in the profession. There isn't really any room for apathy. . From the standpoint of law school curricula, it's important to think about ways to teach these skills, or maybe not even teaching them but sensitizing people and enabling them to hone their skills. Defining them and integrating them into law school curricula is important.
Law schools should consider taking the last year of school and making that into some sort of on-the-job experience, pushing the students outside of the classroom and into the real world to get the experience they need. . It's important to understand what a service, client-driven business is. It takes a lot of time to develop the skills necessary to be an effective adviser and counselor, so the sooner we get law students thinking that way the better. Law schools should take a look at who they are admitting. Some schools are really pushing to have students work for a year or two between college and law school. I'm a big fan of that, particularly if folks were in service businesses like accounting or consulting. .
Susler : . I think that we should change the law school model and make an apprenticeship model, a two-year apprenticeship program that is tied into graduation. And during that apprenticeship period you are actually working in the practice and learning how to practice law and preparing for life in a law firm.
At the end of that time you are more equipped to begin the practice of law.. I also agree with Tina about law schools admitting people with work experience. I think that should be required. When working you gain a certain maturity and understanding of what is expected of you that you don't get as a student. With that experience you are more prepared for your first day in a law firm. .