Five Things You MUST Know About Law School

The following is an excerpt from the “Law School for Suckers” eBook, to help you decide whether law school is truly the path for you. Seriously, take a moment and think about it first…

(1) It’s terribly time-consuming

Between preparing for and writing the LSAT (sometimes multiple times), and preparing and submitting applications (often to multiple schools), not to mention waiting for what seems like an eternity for the admission results, it can take well over a year just to apply. Then law school itself takes at least three years (it can be longer if you go on exchange or do a combined program such as JD/MBA). On top of that, you can expect to spend at least one year articling (and more than that if you participate in a clerkship). So altogether, you’re looking at least 5 years of your life…are you ready to invest this much time into a potential career?

(2) It’s extremely expensive

Although attending a top law school is considerably cheaper in Canada than in the USA, tuition still ranges from around $10,000 at some universities to over $25,000 at the high end. Textbooks and supplies (such as a reliable laptop or tablet) are additional expenses. And don’t forget about rent/mortgage, groceries, alcohol, tropical trips (you’ll need them), and general living costs. Not to mention that students just can’t expect to make enough income during law school to cover all their costs, even if they work part-time during the year and full-time over the summers.

(3) It totally takes over your life

You will go to law classes. You will study at the lawbrary before and/or during and/or after school. You will hang out with your law friends, even on weekends, and will debate case law or work on school projects or watch law-related media. Your non-law social circle will see less of you, and when you do get together, you will not be speaking the same language (for instance, a “tort” will sound like a delicious cake to one ear and a delicious case to another). You will spend your summers putting in long days at a law job, or stressing out about how you don’t have one yet. You will likely gain weight from lack of exercise (unless you play for a law school recreational sports team or three), and get sick more often than usual from lack of sleep and poor nutrition (unless you’re lucky and managed to find a spouse to take care of you before you became too busy, stuck-up, and irritable to date). You will use more long words and Latin phrases than ever before, even if you were a language major. You will be a law student.

(4) It gives no guarantees

No matter how much you want to become a lawyer, or how hard you work in undergrad and law school, there are no (genuine) promises at the end of the day of prestige, success, job stability, or most importantly, personal satisfaction.

One year after completing law school you might be working at the firm of your choice, practicing in an area of law that you love. Or you might decline to stay with your firm post-articling, even though you could have been kept on as an associate for the foreseeable future, and elect to go in a different career direction. Or you might still be looking for articles, even as competition gets tougher with the influx of new graduates.

So just remember this: there’s absolutely no money-back guarantee.

(5) It can depress the hell out of you

Researchers have actually found that law school itself is a depressogenic environment, in that it can increase the occurrence of depression in students. According to Lawyers With Depression:

“One study of law students found they suffered from depression at the same rate as the general population before entering law school. Just two months into the school year, however, their negative symptom levels had increased dramatically. By the spring of their first year, 32% of the same law students were depressed. By the spring of their third year, the number had risen to 40%. Two years after graduation, 17% of the students – about twice the rate of depression experienced by the general population – were still depressed. Such elevated levels of depression have been corroborated by later studies.”

Even if law school doesn’t directly cause depression, I would say that the uber-competitive environment, constantly hectic schedule, and emphasize on the negatives (i.e. finding problems in fact patterns, finding flaws in arguments, finding weaknesses in your colleagues’ credentials) can be tough to deal with on a regular basis.

Bottom Line

Know what you’re getting yourself into. Law school is just one possible option in your life path. So choose carefully, and keep in mind that annoying saying making its way around the web: YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE!

An Entirely Honest Job Posting

Here is a redacted version of a new job posting found on a university website. I thought I’d share it to give a heads-up to current/future law students that this is potentially the type of experience you can look forward to when articling (in case you had any illusions about what articling might entail…)

“I have an articling position available starting [month] 2012 for one year.
I have shared articling students in the past, some with a firm I share space with. Some students have not lived up to expectations. I have therefore set out my expectations very directly.
My practice relates to injury claims, wills and estates with some work doing appeals under the Canada Pension Plan.
This is not a ‘work-life balance’ position. I want someone who is not afraid to work and devote all the time needed to this full time job. I want someone who is organized and can work independently. I want that person to be able to meet deadlines and to complete assignments in a timely way.
Mine is not a casual Friday office nor is it business casual. The candidate must be professional in the candidate’s manner and appearance at all times. Suit and tie for males; well dressed conservative for females.
I am looking for someone who is personable and out going and who can work closely with me. I do not care about marks although I do care that the classes they have taken are core classes including torts, contracts, wills and estates. The candidate must be able to produce succinct and accurate legal memos and may have to give a sample of that candidate’s work on two topics I choose. That will be done before the interview with the candidate allowed a reasonable time to do the memos. Interviews will be conducted probably in September with the student selected around the middle of that month.
An automobile is essential to this person as my practice is in the suburbs.
I wish to know what that person has done outside the law, particularly what experience that person has in dealing with people. This is a one-year position. There may not be employment after the articling period. I will pay the Law Society fees for that person becoming an articling student .
During the articling year, I will teach that person as best I can how to be a lawyer. I will pay the successful candidate the going rate for articling students in [city] ($2,400 per month). Pay will continue during the time that person attends the [legal training course]. Under our medical–dental plan after two months employment, there will be a $600 ceiling for the articling year for such expenses with no deductible. [Health plan] fees are the student’s cost.”

Rollin’ Rollin’ Rollin’

[Just wanted to start with a giant THANK YOU to anyone who has visited this site and to everyone who has purchased Law School for Suckers! Very much appreciated!!]

We’ve all heard many times before that the early bird gets the worm. Sometimes this means that you get the best seats in the theatre rather than having to crank your neck for 2.5 hours to watch Bane and Selina Kyle’s heels in action. Other times this means that you get a good spot in the crowded 6:30 a.m. cardio kick-boxing class and don’t have to worry about being punched in the face by the person beside you. And more importantly, one time in your life it may mean that you will receive an offer from the law school of your dreams before other people have even applied.

That’s right – many law schools in Canada (and in the United States) operate on a rolling admissions basis. How this plays out is that the admissions committees will consider completed applications (which MUST include all transcripts, official LSAT results, letters of recommendation, etc.) as they are received, in the order that they are submitted.

In practical terms, this means that if two candidates have similar GPAs and LSAT numbers, and comparable background experiences and reference letters, but Candidate Keener applies early on and Candidate Procrastinator waits until the last minute (11:58 p.m. the night before is good enough, right?), then Keener actually has a better chance of getting an offer. Indeed, by the time that Procrastinator gets his or her act together, there may not be that many spots left at the law school if all the Keener-types have accepted their early offers.

If the above doesn’t persuade you to start crackin’ on those applications, here are three more reasons to apply as soon as possible:

(1) Applying early can reduce your stress - If you’re going back to school this fall, then you can expect September to be crazy-busy with administrative tasks (i.e. waiting for hours at the book store line, waiting for hours at the free BBQ lines), and October to be crazy-busy with midterms. So when exactly are you going to have time to work on your applications during the semester…?

(2) Applying early shows your commitment - All else being equal, if you were a member of an admissions committee, wouldn’t you be more impressed by an earlier applicant than a later one? An early completed submission can show that the candidate is well organized, motivated and prepared, and effective at time management. These are all desirable traits that show the admissions people that you have what it takes to succeed at law school and beyond.

(3) Applying early can get you early results - One of the hardest parts of the law school application process is the waiting period. You’ll probably want to know the moment you press Submit whether you are accepted or not. Unfortunately, real life doesn’t work that way. But if you apply early, then you may at least receive your results (or an update) early as well. For example, in my case I knew by December 2007 that I would be attending UBC Law in September 2008, giving me adequate time to celebrate and make arrangements to move to Vancouver. Other people in my class did not know their outcomes until June…or July…or even August or the beginning of September 2008!

Do you still need more convincing that earlier is better, at least in the context of law school and movie theatre admissions? Then check out these resources:

And finally, here’s what the Canadian law schools say about their admissions timeframes:

School Time Frame
TRU Not specified online
UBC Within the Regular Category we begin reviewing applications as soon as all documentation has been received. For those who qualify for “early admission,” offers may be made as early as November. Offers may be made to applicants with GPAs above 84% together with LSAT scores above 166 prior to our deadline. Once we have received LSAT scores from the December writing, the remaining positions will be filled. Over the course of the spring and summer months, offers will be made to those applicants that appear on our wait list as others withdraw their acceptances or are no longer able to attend.
UVic  We begin evaluating an application when all of the supporting documentation has been received. Some offers of admission are made as early as October. We maintain what is often referred to as a “rolling” admissions process. Offers of admission are only open for acceptance for a limited period of time.

If the offer is not accepted within the time specified, the place will be offered to another applicant. The majority of our offers are made from October to December, and the process is mostly complete by the end of April. At that time, we will ask a number of applicants whether they wish to remain on a “waiting list”. If any places become available, offers will be made to applicants on the waiting list up until registration day.
U of A The Admissions Committee considers the bulk of applications on a continuous basis beginning in January.

All applicants should be given a final decision by the first or second week of July (or possibly earlier). We admit our quota of 175 and then create a waiting list. If successful applicants decline our offer, we then make offers to applicants on the waiting list. We can make offers as late as the date of Orientation in September to applicants on our waitlist.
U of C A form of rolling admission is used in that some offers and rejections are sent out before all the files have been read. This is one reason to have your supporting documentation in early. Once all of the applications have been evaluated and offers sent, there can still be a number of changes in the class during the spring and summer. As spaces become available, some applicants for whom a decision has been deferred will be selected and contacted with an offer. However, you should be aware that there is no pre-determined order given to this group.

Offers will be sent beginning in November; the majority of first offers will be sent by the middle of January. By the end of May, you should have received either a letter of offer, a letter of rejection or a letter asking you if you still wish to be considered if a space opens up.
USask Applicants for admission are strongly encouraged to submit applications as early as possible after October 15th, as offers are made on a rolling basis commencing in November. Please note that applications cannot be evaluated until all documentation, a Law School Admission Test (LSAT) score, and all transcripts have been received.
Robson Hall Early Offers are made to the top percentage of the applicant pool in the Index Score category in late December. Offers are made in March to Individual Consideration and early July to Index Score applicants; & Aboriginal applicants, the wait list is created in early July.
Queen’s Following the OLSAS application deadline, OLSAS will forward file contents in electronic format to Queen’s Faculty of Law. Files will be assembled from the electronic materials. Files in each of the admission categories are ranked for competitiveness and forwarded to the Admissions committee for review and decision throughout the cycle.  Beginning in January 2012 and running through until late August, decisions regarding admission will be communicated to applicants by email and letter. Please be sure to keep OLSAS updated through the cycle with your current mailing address and current email address.
Ottawa Not specified online
U of T The admissions cycle runs from November to late June. Offers of admission are made beginning in December. When all places in the class have been filled (usually by the end of June), a waiting list is established to fill vacancies as they occur. Based on past experience, the Committee is able to set standards early in the year.
Western Offers of admission start to be made in early January and usually continue until the middle of the summer. Some decisions  are deferred until the results of the current academic year are available.
Windsor The Ontario Law School Application  will be available in late August. We encourage you to submit your application and other materials as early as possible.
Osgoode Hall Decisions are made on a rolling basis starting in December and continue to the end of June.  As such, we encourage applicants to take the LSAT before the February test date.  In addition, applicants should note that decisions may be made before final transcripts are issued.
McGill The Admissions Committee begins reviewing complete applications in the middle of September and a first round of offers goes out in January. Candidates are advised to apply as early as possible.
UNB Students are urged to apply as early as possible as applicants are considered for admission and scholarships in order of submission.
Schulich All applicants must have completed their applications (subject to filing LSAT scores, the current year’s academic transcript, and letters of reference) and sent them to the Admissions Office, by February 28. However, all completed applications received by November 30 will be given early consideration as well as be considered for all entrance scholarships.

Introducing ‘Law School for Suckers’

I love it when things get done ahead of schedule. And that’s why I’m in a fantastic mood today as I announce, a few days before originally planned, the release of my new law school eBook!

Priced at $10.99 CDN all-inclusive, I assure you that this is a better bargain than certain other eBooks sold for the same amount… Furthermore, $2 from every purchase will be donated to a charity or non-profit organization. For the months of July and August, I am pleased to forward the donations to Access Pro Bono, an agency that has the mandate of “increasing access to justice in BC” by connecting those in need with free legal services.

Please click here or on the image below to read more about Law School for Suckers: A brutally honest guide to getting into (and kicking ass at!) the Canadian law school of your choiceAnd simply click here to download a free sample of the eBook.

And just a reminder that there are still two gift cards ($50 to Chapters and $10 to Starbucks) up for grabs if you click FOLLOW on the right side over there, or click LIKE on the Facebook page. The draw is next Monday – good luck and thanks for visiting!

Three Simple Tips to Ensure That Your PS Doesn’t Turn Out as a POS

I know, I know. It’s the middle of summer. Depending on where you live, it might be perfect weather for suntanning, hiking, and drinking sangria on a patio (all things that I did this past weekend in beautiful Victoria – ahh, West Coast living!). The last thing you want to be thinking about right now, even if you’re a wannabe law student, is putting your law school applications together. That can wait until later, right?

WRONG.

If you’re planning to apply for law schools in this year’s admission cycle (so that you start school in the fall of 2013), then you better have started working on your personal statement like, yesterday. And if you haven’t begun yet, then it’s time to start cracking on it right about…now.

Why? Because the personal statement (or statement of interest) can actually make a difference to your chances of getting into a law program. Because the admissions departments want real evidence that you can write in a competent manner before you enter law school. Because the law schools don’t want to admit lazy people who can’t even submit a half-decent two-page document even while they claim that they’ve “always wanted to be a lawyer” (a cliche you should avoid, btw).

So here are three quick tips on how to prepare a glowing personal statement, rather than a stinking POS. And at the end of the article you’ll find a downloadable workbook that I’ve put together to try to help you out in planning out and writing your statement.

(1) Read Top-Law-Schools.com’s Guide to Personal Statements

This is an amazingly informative and comprehensive resource that will help you understand what the admissions departments are looking for in a personal statement, and how to structure your statement in the way that’s the best fit for the type of story or message that you’re trying to tell. Furthermore, you can read through 33 sample (American) statements to get some idea of how they can be written (and click here for a nice Canadian example from a current Ottawa law student). And the best part about this resource? It’s free!

(2) Complete a good draft at least two weeks before you apply

I recommend that after you’ve written your draft, and revised it a few times, you should set your PS aside for a few weeks and put it out of mind. Then, once you’re closer to the application date, you should review your personal statement with fresh eyes to catch any organizational issues, content problems, grammar and spelling errors, etc. The point is that if you wait until the last minute to write your PS, you are not giving yourself the chance to end up with a perfectly polished product.

Speaking of deadlines, you should note that some law schools begin accepting applications as early as August. So get ready, because if you’re serious about being a serious candidate for admission in September 2013, then you are going to apply as soon as the applications open.

(3) Don’t underestimate how challenging it is to write a PS

If you think that you can bang out a perfect statement in just a few hours, then you’re either a very very good writer, or delusional. My bet is on the latter.

Keep in mind that you will need to devote considerable time to planning and organizing your essay, writing out a first draft, editing that draft, and revising it again and again. Moreover, if you’re planning to apply for multiple schools, then you need to create multiple statements (although they will likely overlap significantly in content), customized for each university.

I hope I’ve scared you enough to get you started on your statement ASAP. And to help you begin, click below for the workbook I promised that lays out the expectations of each Canadian law school, and suggests some questions to get your gears turning as to what to include in your statement: The Law School 101 Personal Statement Workbook

Good luck, kids, and get rolling!

My First Big Decision at Law School

“So are you going to the party tonight?” my classmate ‘Arizona’ asked, clutching a pile of shiny shrink-wrapped materials to her chest.

It was sometime in September 2008. The date of my second afternoon of Orientation at UBC Law. And apparently the date of the first major social event of the year.

“Well, I don’t know…” I mumbled, struggling with my own pile of casebooks and course-packs.

“Oh, come on,” my new friend urged. “It’ll be awesome. With lots of upper year guys, right? It is hosted by the men’s rugby team, after all.”

“Yeah…totally,” I responded, wishing that the line would hurry up so that I could just fork over my hard-earned cash for the free weights books and escape the conversation. Not that I wasn’t enjoying Arizona’s company, mind you, but I wasn’t sure that I was ready to be BFF’s just yet.

“Great! So you’ll come then. Preloading at my place. Anytime after dark.” The instructions came at me fast and furious as my pal headed towards an available cashier. “And Diane?”

“Yeah?”

“I hope you can hold your alcohol.”

A few hours later the two of us were seated at a table with a number of other 1L ladies from our small group, attempting to get to know each other better over the Top 40 blasting in the background and the periodic rousing cheers of the rugby boys.

By this point in the night we had covered the preliminaries. Where everyone was from (not Vancouver, for the most part). What everyone had been doing before law school (soon to be referred to as ‘those good old days’). Why everyone wanted to be lawyers (to change the world, of course).

And, as always happens when you get any group of adults together (especially women) and add in a touch of excitement and a pinch (or few pints) of booze, the conversation turned to dating, relationships, and sex.

“I think I need a few more of these!”

I quickly learned about the other gals’ marital statuses, current loves, and whether they were in any juicy situations involving exotic men they met during summer travels. Inevitably, the attention turned to me.

“So what’s your deal?” Arizona questioned on behalf of the group. “Did you leave someone behind in Alberta?”

“Kind of,” I offered, heart racing.

“Ooh, a boyfriend?”

“Um, not quite.”

“A fiancé then,” Arizona guessed with a flourish and a grin, while the other ladies nodded.

“Not that either,” I admitted, taking a deep breath. The moment of truth had come. “I have a girlfriend back in Edmonton.”

The words spilled out and caused a pounding in my ears so loud I couldn’t hear anything else for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, when I realized that I hadn’t died on the spot, I processed what was happening: nothing extraordinary at all. The conversation had naturally moved on to another girl, who was slurring out sordid details of a relationship based more on physical attraction than the intellectual kind.

My moment of panic aside, it seemed that I had survived my first ‘confession’ no worse for the wear.

I wish that I could say that it got a lot easier to come out after that. But for the first while, I found it nerve-wracking every time that I has to reveal my ‘true nature’ to others, gay or straight.

For instance, I had to psych myself up to join the Outlaws queer group (Outlaws, get it?) and attend their events (which mainly involved drinking and dancing at the now defunct Odyssey nightclub, a place I sorely miss). And when I started a new romance in the second semester of 1L (the Edmonton thing didn’t work out), I had to gather the guts to introduce my lesbian friends to my new boyfriend.

Despite the consistently positive and supportive responses to my disclosures, and despite the overall accepting attitudes of folks at school and in the greater Vancouver community, it took years for me to get to the point where I can be matter-of-fact about my love life. Nowadays, I don’t really hesitate to respond to the question of “Do you prefer guys or girls?” with a resounding “Yes.” And when new friends seem mistaken about my sexual leanings, I’m none too subtle about expressing the fact that I’m both passionate about ____ and a connoisseur of ____.

All this goes to say that I have never regretted being authentic with my classmates at law school about who I really am (I was born this way, baby! And probably some mother issues has something to do with it…). By being honest with myself and my friends, I have been able to connect with those I care about on a deeper level, as well as take a load off my shoulders that I had been carrying around for far too long.

So if you’re off to law school this fall (or off to other new beginnings), I hope that you’ll make the choice to be totally straightforward (he he), and that you’ll be supported in that decision. Because you’re awesome the way you are, and everyone ought to know it ;).

For other resources regarding being queer in law school, check out:

http://www.canadianlawyermag.com/cheers-for-queers.html

http://uoftlaworientationweek.com/2011/08/23/guest-post-being-gay-in-law-school/

TomKat = Divorce Role Models??

Well call me a lover of both tabloid gossip and schadenfreude, but part of me had been looking forward to an all-out battle between Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. I wanted to salivate over every detail about how they’d divide up their mansions, how much alimony Tom would pay (you know, if the $15 million arising from the prenup terms is not enough – and something tells me that from Katie’s view it isn’t), and whether they would raise their (adorably cute) daughter as a normal human being.

Alas, TomKat chose not to give me and many others that satisfaction, having reached a divorce settlement a mere two weeks into their separation. And while the voyeuristic side of me is disappointed, the lawyerly side of me is pleased to see these two major movie stars (well, one will always be a much bigger star than the other – sorry, Katie) resolve things so quickly and amicably.

“Get me the hell out of here!”

Now, the divorce between the Rock of Ages star and the Dawson’s Creek star (sorry, Katie) is not exactly a typical situation. They’re both loaded and could afford to hire top attorneys such as Bert Fields. As celebrities, they’re both keenly aware of the impact of further publicity. And I’m willing to bet that their agents and lawyers and religious leaders had been planning the nuances of their divorce around the same time as the wedding date was being set.

With that being said, I believe there’s still much to admire about how Tom and Katie have elected to do things. Having seen many a divorce file in the last two years while working in a family law litigation firm, I can say that separating parties could take away these three lessons from TomKat (and standard disclaimer here that I am NOT giving legal advice):

(1)    Settle quickly

The newly-separated always seem to be a bit surprised when they learn that settling their cases could take weeks (only in the best circumstances), months (more common), and even years and years (more common than you might expect). Indeed, I have seen ordinary cases drag for seasons on end, sometimes for no reason other than that the people involved are all “too busy” (aka too busy procrastinating) to deal with the unresolved issues.

Inevitably, this delay bites one or both people in the ass when one party suddenly needs a final settlement in order to marry someone new in a gunshot tropical wedding, and/or when the parties realize that they missed out on the housing boom and now have to sell their properties at a loss, and/or when the parties receive their legal bills and realize that they’ve been paying their lawyers to “review the file” month after month even though there’s been absolutely no progress…

Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to settle a (Canadian) divorce case in just two weeks, as the lawyers must be certain that the parties have disclosed all relevant information (i.e. about their financial circumstances).  This means that unless both clients are willing to bring all their paperwork to the settlement table early in the divorce process, it could take considerable time just to chase down everyone’s bank account statements and credit card bills (with a few things scratched out, of course). But if nothing else, TomKat should inspire people to get their shit together, sit down at a bargaining table, and start hammering out the settlement as soon as possible.

(2)    Settle privately

One of the most personal aspects of life is the details of your marriage and marriage breakdown. One of the most public arenas in our society is the courtroom. And in divorce cases that do end up in court, whether it’s just for preliminary proceedings or for a full-out trial, massive loads of dirty laundry are aired for everyone in the audience (and anyone can be in the audience in public courthouse). Indeed, if you ever want to hear people making heated accusations or disclosing the worst details about another’s behaviour (ranging from “Mrs. A never did the dishes!” to “Mr. P screwed his secretary in our bed!”), there’s no better place than in the gallery of a courtroom.

That’s why I think Tom and Katie were very smart to settle their case before making a single court appearance. By wrapping things up behind closed doors, they have avoided creating a circus (when hundreds of nosy spectators try to sit in on the proceedings) and exposing themselves to accusations about zany Xenu religious beliefs (whether accurate or not, but probably accurate).

(3)    Focus on the ‘best interests of the child(ren)’ above all else

In my time as a divorce litigator, what I found most challenging (emotionally speaking, and often in terms of the legal issues) was seeing children get caught up in the middle of custody and access disputes. Youngsters who are dealing with separating parents are already going through a difficult, intense, and confusing time in their lives. This situation is made all the worse when their parents continually fight over who should be the ‘primary’ parent, whether the parenting time should be split 50/50 or 55/45 or 53/47, who should be able to choose the kids’ schools and classes and extra-curricular activities, etc.

Sadly, many divorcing people who appear to be reasonable (at first) will end up arguing incessantly over parenting issues, and invest waste considerable time, money, and emotional energy in litigating everything from ‘who gets to drive Johnny to soccer practice on Tuesdays’ to ‘who packs better lunches for Susie and therefore should have her five days a week’.

Having seen some custody battles go very ugly very fast, I’m pleasantly surprised that Tom Cruise has agreed for Katie to have primary custody of Suri, and for Katie to be the lead parent in terms of deciding how their daughter will be educated. Who knows how this will play out in the future, as you can be sure that whenever Tom’s around, Scientology is RIGHT THERE too. But for now, it’s kind of…touching…that Mr. Cruise has compromised on this aspect of the divorce, presumably putting Suri’s best interests and well-being above his own desires.

Say all you want about them, but TomKat has proven to be classy role models for divorcing parents. I guess we’ll just have to wait for the next celebrity breakup to get our fill of dirty dets…