• Last semester, I had a powerful conversation with my friend Julia while we were sitting outside the law library during a study break.  I looked up at her and said, “I don’t want to be a traditional lawyer.”  She responded by giving me a look that screamed, “Duh.”  I was spending the semester working part-time at a big law firm in Phoenix, and while the people and the projects were top-notch, it was not an environment I could thrive in long-term.  I understand that being a lawyer involves a lot of research and writing, however I am not meant to spend my waking hours alone in an office surrounded my other people who are equally isolated in their offices, and where there is little collaboration.  I realized that I need human interaction and laughter to be happy.

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    One of my classmates told me that there used to be a law firm where the lawyers frequently shot each other with Nerf guns.  Unfortunately, that firm no longer exists, but I was so glad to hear that there are non-traditional lawyers out there.

    Despite how untraditional I am, I thrive in structure.  I like guidelines, road maps, and guarantees when it comes to achieving my goals.  In law school, there are suggested strategies for getting a job.  The ideal way is to work a summer job at a firm between your second and third years of school where they offer you a job for after graduation.  Having a job offer like that provides a huge sense of security going into the last year of school.  For me to say that I don’t want to be a traditional lawyer or work at a traditional law firm makes me feel like I’m operating without any type of structure, a road map, or any sense of security when it comes to building my career.

    It’s a bit frightening to operate with only vague ideas about what I want to do career-wise.  I know that I want to work on problems that have a significant impact on people’s lives, and not just a significant impact on their wallets.  I like the idea of trying to figure out how the law applies to situations that lawmakers never imagined when they were drafting the laws.  I have mental image of my clients calling me on my webcam and saying, “Hey Ruth.  We have a great idea for X, but we need to know how to do it without getting sued or arrested.”  I want clients who want to push the envelope without crossing the line.

    I appreciate Google’s dress code policy.  According to rumor, their dress code is simply, “You must wear clothes.”  They encourage employees to do what they need to do to be effective and creative whether that means showing up in a suit or pajamas.  Some law firms believe that they get higher quality work when their lawyers wear suits and professional attire every day.  I work better when I’m comfortable.  If I’m not meeting with clients, I’d prefer to work in jeans and a hoodie.

    When I think about seeking a firm that suits my personality or hanging my own shingle, I have fears about money and having enough work to make a living.  I try to temper those fears with the excitement and freeing sensation that come with the prospects of being professionally happy.  When I worry, “What will happen if I try for my dream and fail?,” I try to counter it with, “How much will I regret it if I don’t try?”

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  • Law school grades baffle me. I don’t understand the purpose of the “forced curve.” If a class has more than 20 students, the professor can only give a limited number of A’s and must give a certain number of C’s. The difference between the best and worst student in a class could be 5 points, and the professor would still be required to adhere to this grading system. Therefore, law school grades give no indication of what a student actually learned. Apparently many industries operate this way, where someone always has to be labeled as below average regardless of their performance. This makes no sense.

    When I realized that this was how the school operated, I stopped checking my grades. I cannot tell you what my GPA and class rank are. This has lowered my stress level considerably and made me a happier person. Ignoring my grades keeps me focused on developing my skills and learning about the law as I hope it will apply to my career. The only thing I do at the end of the semester is check with the assistant dean to verify that I passed all my classes.

    I have been lucky to have six different jobs, internships, and externships in my short legal career thus far. Each position has been unique, yet they all required similar skills:

    • Thoughtful, concise writing
    • Research skills
    • Good listening and communication skills
    • Professionalism
    • Dedication
    • Determination
    • Knowing when to ask for help

    A person’s GPA, class rank, or grade in a particular class can’t tell you whether they possess any of these skills. Given that most legal jobs require these skills, most applicants will have them. It seems what matters most is finding the applicant who is the right fit for the company.

    I get frustrated with the legal profession when I see job postings where firms only want applicants who are in the top 25% of their class. What if the ideal applicant is in the top 26%? The firm just shot itself in the foot. I have heard that hiring partners put these arbitrary limits in job postings so that they are not bombarded with dozens, if not hundreds, of applications, but I would think that that would be a good thing. When I see firms limiting themselves in this way, I worry that they are pretentious, that they are too busy or lazy to find the person who will be the best fit for the job, or that they don’t care about the other qualities an applicant can offer.

    If you don’t know my grades, I have to give you a reason to look twice at my resume. The pressure is on me to set myself apart from the other applicants. Perhaps my involvement in student organizations will suggest that I can take on a leadership role. My community involvement outside the law school will tell you that having a work-life balance is important to me, or maybe it will speak to my abilities to prioritize and manage my time, or that I intend to stay in the area after graduation. The quote from my cover letter might suggest that I’m a great big geek and a confident genuine person.

    Perhaps that’s the real message here: law students aren’t numbers, we’re people. If you have to evaluate us, use a system that gives you the information you need, not an arbitrary system that doesn’t even tell you how we inherently performed in our classes.

    EDIT (added July 23, 2010): To anyone who is reading this because they are wondering if they have to put their law school GPA on their resume – my GPA is not on my resume and it has not kept me from getting interviews for the jobs I’ve wanted.  If the interviewer wants to know your GPA, they will ask.

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  • Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. I am a law student. In accordance with ABA policy, this blog should not be viewed as legal advice. It is simply my experiences, opinions, and stuff I looked up on the internet.

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    There have been too many situations where someone has been killed because of what they posted online.  That is not what I’m talking about today.  I wanted to find out if simply posting a blog could legally get you killed.  (The mafia doesn’t count.)

    In the United States, you have to be guilty of homicide, a crime committed related to homicide, rape, criminal assault, or something equally heinous to be put to death.  It’s pretty hard, if not impossible, to commit one of these crimes via the words on a blog.  If my words were so shocking that a reader had a heart attack and died, could I be arrested for homicide?  I doubt it.  There are other countries, however, that are more likely to kill you because of your point of view or beliefs.

    I did some digging into other countries’ laws and found a handful of capital crimes that could possibly be committed via a blog:

    • China: Corruption, Endangering national security
    • Iran: Homosexuality, Crimes against chastity
    • Libya: Attempting to forcibly change the form of government
    • North Korea: Plots against national sovereignty (includes attempting to leave the country)
    • Saudi Arabia: Witchcraft, Sexual misconduct
    • Sudan: Waging war against the state, Acts that may endanger the independence or unity of the state
    • Syria: Verbal opposition to the government, Membership of the Muslim Brotherhood
    • Vietnam: Undermining peace
    • Yemen: Homosexuality, Adultery

    When it comes to crimes committed via blogs, the first question that came up for me was jurisdiction.  Since a blog can be accessed anywhere that there’s an internet connection, a prosecutor would have the burden of proving that it has jurisdiction to bring the charges in that country.

    Let’s consider my blog.  I’m a citizen of the United States and this blog is hosted by a company based in the United States.  If I travel to Iran and post a blog from my hotel room that says that I had sex with a girl, but it doesn’t say when or in which country the sex occurred, would Iran have jurisdiction to charge me with a capital crime and kill me?

    If a Syrian citizen was studying in the United States on a student visa, had a blog that was hosted in the United States, and posted a blog from the United States where he declared his membership in the Muslim Brotherhood, would Syria have jurisdiction to charge him with a capital crime or would he have to return to Syria first?

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