On a recent plane trip, I noticed my seatmate flipping through a dog-eared copy of a book about surviving the first year of law school. A lengthy conversation about practicing law followed; for me, it was a little akin to talking to a past version of myself -- wielding how-to books and tort class outlines, oblivious and idealistic at the same time and woefully unprepared yet overconfident in spite of all objective data to the contrary.
My seatmate appeared in much better shape: better LSAT scores, an Ivy undergrad degree, with extracurriculars that would make admissions departments type acceptance letters so fast that they wouldn't even bother to spell-check the name. He asked pointed and incisive questions as to how to write an exam essay that I doubt I could have even conceived of -- in short, he had all the pedigrees for the beginnings of a stellar legal career.
What struck me was his optimism that law school and a career as a lawyer were the correct and only proper choices. Not missing the chance to play devil's advocate, I pointed out the prohibitive cost of attending law school, resulting (for most) in crippling debt, the recently added New York requirement of 50 hours of pro bono service prior to bar admission, the still-anemic legal hiring market that has yet to recover from the 2009 crash, and that in 2012 multiple breach-of-contract claims brought by dissatisfied graduates against their alma maters were dismissed as having little merit.
Resolute, he would not be deterred. My challenges were not perceived as having any real gruel; they were simply ghost stories that younger lawyers tell each other over a few drinks, spectres of trouble that surely would not come to haunt him, or worse, they appeared to sound like caustic refrains from a disillusioned practitioner (but in fact, I quite love the law and to practice).
The ironies of the profession -- for example, if one must always tell clients that prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome, doesn't that mean that listing case wins and years of experience are improperly influencing a client's choice to retain you; or that private prosecution of crimes is still actually allowed in New York, under the common-law outgrowth of trial by combat (based on the belief that God would reward the just party in a dispute with victory) -- were pleasant conversation pieces and nothing more, ceasing to exist moments after they were brought to life by our discussion.
Before we de-planed, I could only offer some (solicited, of course) advice, to coincide with the beginning of the New Year. The goal is not to peak too early. If one is determined to career as a lawyer, a gradual, steady and determined professional rise, rooted in solid knowledge of the law and its history, seems preferable to a meteoric, fleeting bout with success. And as for the exam question: statute first, then why/how your facts fit the statute, then case law to cap off the argument.