Getting Into and Succeeding in Law School

The College Talks & More podcast, brought to you by Mybookcart.com, sheds light on different college related matters. The topic for today is “Continuing Education”. This blog is about what it’s like getting into law school and making it through. Co-hosts Hanna and Cari speak with newest guest, Brandy Brown, as she tells us her experience:

Our guest Brandy is an attorney. She now helps others get through law school.

Hi Brandy and welcome to the show. Why don’t you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your educational and professional background?

Hi! Thank you so much for having me. I am currently an attorney. I graduated undergrad with a double major in Pre-Law and history, and then went on to law school. I did law school full time, completed it in three years, took the bar exam, became licensed, and now I’m actually working in Academia, but I am technically an attorney.

What was your undergraduate degree?

I was a PreLaw-history double major. My university offered a full Pre-Law program that they created with input from the law schools in our state; I live in Ohio. I was able to complete that and get a really nice kind of “precursor” to what to expect from law school and just a good overview of what I was getting into. The history major was just for fun.

Why did you decide to go to law school?

I’d probably blame ‘Legally Blonde’ for it. I’ve wanted to be a lawyer ever since I can remember. My parents said I started talking about it when I was pretty young. The older I got the more I learned about the profession, the more it seemed to fit my personality, and my educational goals. I’ve always loved learning and it just seemed to make sense for me. I tend to be a little hard-headed and I like to argue so I thought law was a pretty natural fit.

How did you pay for law school?

I was lucky enough to attain a full tuition scholarship based on my LSAT score, my GPA, my resume, and my admission packets. I was very very blessed to make it through law school with no loans.

What was the hardest part of getting into law school?

By far the LSAT. It’s just a monster, and everyone who’s taken it understands. To everyone getting ready to take it, my best advice is just get it done. It’s a short period of your life and then it’s over and you never have to think about it again.

What was the process for getting into law school and what are the requirements?

It varies a little bit by school, but the general packet that you’re gonna need to turn in would be your LSAT score, which there’s no real minimum or maximum, it all kind of depends on the school you’re applying to and what they’re range of scores is. You also have to have an undergraduate degree, a full bachelors, and they’ll take your GPA into consideration as well, so a high GPA is a really good idea. You will usually have to turn in a certain number of letters of recommendation, and that varies by school. I believe the school I ended up attending required three so I got three of my college professors to write me a letter of recommendation. You also turn in a resume and transcript. The two most important things, for any school, are probably the LSAT score and your GPA in undergraduates.

How hard were the LSATs and can you give any advice in preparing for them?

They are pretty hard. The test isn’t necessarily what you’re going to be doing in law school. It’s logic games and analytical reasoning. I remember the first couple of times I opened up a LSAT prep book, I looked at it like, “What on earth does this have to do with law school?”, so that was kind of hard to come to an understanding in my own head, but after doing some research, I figured out that the skills that make you successful when taking the LSAT are what make you a successful law student. You’re not reading cases yet during the LSAT process, but I studied for it on my own, I got a series of prep books and basically attributed an hour a day to studying for LSAT for three to four months. As it got closer, I dedicated more time to it. One of the things I found most helpful, and I always recommend to people preparing for the LSAT, is to take full time to practice tests. Not only does it give you a really good understanding of the test and what you’re gonna have to do on test day, it builds up your endurance to get through the full test without getting tired, and when you get tired, you start getting lazy on the questions which could pull your score down. It also gives you a really good idea of what your score is looking like, where your weak points are, and what you need to work on to get the score that you want. That is always my biggest piece of advice.

You mentioned that the LSATs are scored, is there a pass or fail? And if you don’t do well can you retake them? What do you consider a good score?

It’s not pass or fail. They just give you a scaled score. A good score is so dependent on where you want to go to law school. If you’re wanting to go Ivy League, then you’re going to have to have a very high score. If you’re wanting to go to your local state school that has a law school, then you will probably be able to get by with more of a medium range. My best advice for that is to look at the schools that are on your target list, figure out what LSAT scores have been admitted there over the last few years, and then that becomes your target score. There’s no clean number to give, it’s just very dependent on which school. If you are not happy with your score, you can retake the LSAT multiple times. It’s been so long now, I can’t remember exactly how many times, but you can retake it and pull your score up over time.

How many years were you in law school?

Three years total.

Did you need to do a dissertation? If you did, what was it about?

No, dissertations aren’t really a part of law school. The way law school is formatted is the first year curriculum you’re called a “One L” (1L) when you are in your first year of law school. So that year, everyone around the country going to an ABA, which is the American Bar Association accredited law school, is going to essentially take the same classes so that it creates a very uniform learning experience for lawyers all around the country. Second and third year, you can kind of spend a little more time in the areas you find the most interesting. For me, I was a criminal law person, so I took a lot more criminal law classes in my second and third year. I also took a few seminar classes in criminal law, and by doing that I was able to do some extra stuff there, but you don’t have to do a dissertation and you don’t even necessarily have to specialize in anything. Everyone is going to graduate with a Juris Doctor degree, it’s a very generalized thing. I did get a concentration in criminal law, but that was purely my own choice. Law school is a very different format than some other continuing education degrees.

At what point in your education did you take the bar exam?

You take the bar exam after you have fully graduated from law school. Generally you’ll graduate from law school, the large majority of students will graduate in May, and then you take a July bar exam in whichever state you’re planning to become licensed. There is also a February bar exam, so some people, if they’re retaking or taking an additional state, they’ll take it in February. For people who’ve graduated in December, a lot of times those are students who took night classes, they can take that February bar exam. February and July are when you take the bar exam, and it’s always after you have graduated with the Juris Doctor degree.

What advice can you give on passing the bar exam?

Work harder than you have ever worked before. It is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Sometimes I look back and I’m not really a hundred percent sure how I fit that much law in my brain for that period of time. You just work hard, get it done and over with, and then you can move on and do your career. Again, it’s just kind of a period of your life where you have to work hard and then it’s over and done.

You mentioned that you can take the bar exam in different states, is there a national exam that you can take?

Sort of. There’s something called the uniform bar exam, which has been accepted in a number of states. This exam is tested on multi-state law, and you’ll be able to more easily transition into another state to start practicing. Ohio just adopted the uniform bar exam, so if you take the uniform bar exam in Ohio, you can transfer that score to another uniform bar exam state. However, usually you are going to have to take an additional smaller portion of the test that is on state law. The uniform bar exam does make it a lot easier to transfer your practice to other states. Otherwise, if you just take the state’s specific bar exam, generally when you decide to start practicing in another state you’re gonna have to take their bar exam so it will be more difficult to transition.

Besides graduating law school and passing the bar exam, is there anything else you need to do in order to start practicing law?

You have to pass a pretty rigorous character and fitness process. Because lawyers have a job of such importance and they are holding people’s freedom and, occasionally, people’s life in their hands in their ability to practice law, especially more in the criminal law space, you really want people who are gonna be able to be honest, good, and do that work really, really well. You do go through a pretty rigorous character and fitness. I had to tell them everywhere I’ve lived, you have to show them every speeding ticket you’ve gotten or any sort of run-ins with the law that you’ve had over your life, you have to admit any credit issues you have. You really have to give them a pretty strong overview of your life for them to be able to look through and make sure that you are fit for a practice of law and you’re gonna be a quality attorney. In Ohio where I did it, I had to include an interview with local attorneys to kind of get a feel for how I am. Additionally, you have to take what’s called the MPRE. This exam tests legal ethics. This is the ethics that attorneys must live and work by. This is the lawyer-client confidentiality rules and that kind of stuff. Every attorney must pass the MPRE with a certain score which varies by state, but this to make sure that people are fit and are going to be ethical attorneys.

Where are you practicing law now and what is your specialty?

I am licensed in Ohio, and I’m actually not practicing at the moment. I ended up getting a job at my university to work on behalf of my law school which was something that I really enjoy. During law school I did a short work period with my law school admissions office and I really really enjoyed that, almost as much as I enjoyed working in the prosecutor’s office for my internship, so I allowed myself to be open to the more academic side of jobs you can get with a law degree. That’s where I am right now, but if I were to practice, it would for sure be criminal law.

Do you have any other advice for students looking to pursue a law degree?

I would just say, make sure that it’s something you’re very sure of before you go after it. Law school is not for the faint of heart. It’s very, very hard, it’s very challenging, and it can be expensive. You just want to make sure that this is really something you’re serious about and you absolutely want to pursue a career in, before you jump through all the hoops and put your life on hold for three to four years to be able to get through that process. I always suggest to people to shadow an attorney, or maybe try to find an internship with a law firm or court near you, just to make sure that this is something that you really feel passionate about and that you want to make your career out of. It’s not a decision you should take lightly.

Do you think the benefits of going to law school outweigh the cost?

I do, personally, but I think that’s something that varies by person. Some law schools are way more expensive than others. Some law schools offer a lot more financial aid than others, so you can get through law school without incurring as much debt. Something I think people need to be really cognizant of is understanding what their end career goal is and what their end goal salary is going to be, and making sure that you don’t incur a level of debt that you’re not easily going to be able to pay off. For example, if you want to end up in public interest law and doing maybe criminal law, a lot of times those jobs don’t pay as much as the civil law jobs or corporate law jobs. If you’re going to do that, you want to just make sure that the debt you incur going to law school is something that you can pay off. So it might be smarter to go to a law school that’s a little less expensive if you’re wanting to end up working in public interest so that your debt is lower. For me personally, the benefits of going to law school, for sure outweighed the costs and the mental anguish and everything that goes along with it, but I know that there are some people who would answer that differently. I would just caution people to make sure that they kind of look at the cost benefit analysis before.

Tell us about your high school sweetheart.

Today is actually my fourth wedding anniversary. We went to school together, starting in fifth grade when I moved to Ohio. I actually grew up in Pennsylvania before moving out here. We didn’t start dating until our sophomore year of high school. We had a communications class together and we just kind of started chatting and ended up going on a date. We went to the movies and then, we’ve been together ever since. He was so supportive of all of the dreams that I had, you know, he worked and supported us and our little family while I was in law school so that I could pursue that dream. I’m very, very lucky. He’s a great guy, and I found him pretty young.

What are some of your hobbies and interests when you are not working?

I am a lifelong equestrian. My parents are actually professional horse trainers. I basically like grew up in the barn on the back of a horse. That is my biggest and most favorite hobby. I get back to ride my horse whenever I can. We actually recently bought a farm that we’re slowly adding some pasture and barn to be able to have horses at our home as well. That is absolutely my favorite thing to do. When I’m not doing that, my blog is kind of my hobby. That’s why I started it going into law school so that I’d have something fun to do in my spare time. I love reading. I love traveling. I like baking. I did a lot of stress baking during law school. It was one way to kind of get through all the craziness with some fresh baked cookies.

Where did you grow up?

I lived outside of Redding, Pennsylvania on an 80 acre horse farm until I was in fifth grade, and then we moved to Findlay, Ohio, and I spent a lot of my life there as well. We had a 23 acre horse farm.

So I take it you’re still in a small town?

I am not so much anymore. To go to law school I moved to Toledo, Ohio. That’s where I went to law school and then I’ve stayed there since, and my husband has a good job up here. So we’ve kind of adopted Toledo as our new home.

Why did you decide to start writing your blog “The Legal Duchess”?

I just kind of needed an outlet. I had just gotten married. I got married right before starting law school. I moved to a new city. I was away from my friends and my family for the first time ever, and I just kind of needed something to funnel some of my spare time and spare energy into. I had looked all over the internet and tried to find blogs and information about law school written by law students. You know, I didn’t want to hear the professor or the admissions counselors point of view. I wanted to hear from students. I found a few, but only a few. I decided that, you know, there needs to be more information out there. I’m looking for this information, other people are going to be looking for this information, and I have the time and I have the energy, so why not just do it? That’s kind of why I got started. Then I just really, really enjoyed it. I’ve always loved writing. It was just a fun, little creative outlet, and then I also just loved being able to help other people through this process and be able to share my experience and let them learn from my mistakes a little bit. It was just really fulfilling.

You said that you’re working for your school. Have you had a case yet? And have you been in court?

I’m not practicing as an attorney. I’m actually working in development. I’m not really doing any traditional lawyer things right now, I’m just working with alumni and kind of helping to keep everyone connected to the school and using my legal education to be able to understand lawyers better and help my school to prosper through that, so not currently practicing, but I did work an internship in the local prosecutors office as well as for a judge while I was in law school. I did spend a lot of time in the courtroom throughout my legal education.

After going to school and doing your internships, do you believe being a lawyer is like what you see on TV?

No. You know, like most things TV tends to embellish a lot. There are some aspects that do hold some similarities, but everything in the law moves a lot slower than it’s shown on TV. I mean, cases last for months and years, not a one hour episode of whatever. It’s just a much slower process, and most things don’t go to trial, most cases settle out of court. The idea that you’re going to spend every day of your life as an attorney in the courtroom, you know, talking to the jury and conducting a trial is just very unrealistic. It’s a part of it for sure, but it’s not the large majority.

Well, thank you Brandy for coming on our show and offering all this valuable insight on law school and continuing education. We love hearing a recent grads perspective on how to succeed in school. We are all about students helping students. We hope you will join us again for another episode.

Thank you so much for having me.

To learn more about our guest Brandy, please visit her blog “The Legal Duchess” and read her writing at Barbri Law Preview.

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