Hindsight into My Legal Education: Respect the Past But Look Toward the Future

Ben and son fishing
Ben and his son, fishing on Pewaukee Lake.

While looking back on how I came to law school and why I came to law school, I have come to believe that law school is both one of the best choices I have ever made and one of the worst.

This may seem like a statement that the law school will not want conveyed but it is true for me. While many if not most law students either dream about being lawyers or working in a career field that requires a law degree, I have never actively imagined myself to be a lawyer. Instead I view law school as a means to an end.

Prior to law school I worked for eight years as a paralegal at an insurance defense firm that specializes in trucking litigation and during that time I realized that while I may not have had a need to be a lawyer, I nonetheless appreciated the law and enjoyed working to defend clients in an industry where people are constantly trying to exploit them.

In essence, the joy I get from doing this work is not in the practice of law but in helping to eliminate fraudulent claims and exposing the actual series of events that lead to the claims. Some people would argue that defending the stereotypical little guy in a case is more important, but I believe that by eliminating fraud and unwarranted claims, the average person in society benefits more through the resulting reduced costs on services and products they purchase on a daily basis.

After debating if I wanted to go through three more years of school and incur the large debt required to obtain a law degree, I ultimately decided that it would be in my best interest to do so. However, from the start, I knew that I would be continuing to work at the firm when my school schedule allowed and would be returning to the same law firm and continuing to work in insurance defense but that I wanted to carve out my own niche within the firm as well. For me this meant pursuing the knowledge necessary to establish an estate planning practice.

To me, there is nothing more important than determining where the assets people have amassed over the course of their lives go when they die and protecting their wishes. Additionally, an estate planning practitioner can take a proactive stance with a client instead of a reactive stance, like insurance defense work is founded on. While I did not have the pressure to find a job after leaving law school, I found my pressure through trying to learn as much as possible in the fields that I would be practicing in as well as balancing my personal life and work life with school.

So, for me, the time and monetary component may be the worst choice I have ever made in my life but starting law school I was hoping that this would be the extent of any negative components to this experience. However, I quickly found out that law school takes an extreme toll on you both physically and emotionally. In my case this meant sickness from being run down, deteriorating eye sight from reading, strain in the relationship with my young son due to the hours at school and ultimately the loss of my marriage.

However, you recover from sickness, eyesight is easily corrected with glasses, and my relationship with my son is now very strong because he is older; he understands that law school will end soon and our lives will return to a more normalized state. As for the divorce, honestly I have never been happier, outside of the effect it had on my son. Having to stay busy with school allowed me to more quickly process everything and get the matter settled in a shorter period of time than it likely would have taken if I had time to actually devote to it.

Now for why law school was the best choice I have made in my life. Knowing that I was not a typical law student allowed me after my first year to gear my studies towards the fields that I will be practicing upon leaving the school. This meant not taking courses that would have little to no benefit to my career just because I thought they sounded interesting. By having fields of practice more or less locked in, I based my schedules on classes that would benefit me, even if it meant putting knowledge gained above chasing a higher grade point average.

This freedom to focus more on what I wanted to learn in order to directly benefit myself after school allowed me to better appreciate the true lessons from law school. To me, these lessons are providing a background on how to quickly analyze issues, tear them apart, isolate the parts that need to be addressed immediately and locate the solutions to address them. While I feel the education provided is important, the biggest benefit I have taken away from law school as it applies to my job and working in the legal industry is that you can learn as many ivory tower legal ideas as you want, but in practice the only thing that matters is how to solve a problem. If you cannot solve a problem, then perhaps you never learned the true lesson of law school, which is that law is a business and no one cares about what you think a law should be. The only thing that matters is how you can benefit your client and get paid for doing so.

I would easily go to law school again, but if I had to do it over I would have waited until my son was a few years older so that he would understand what he does now, and he would have known from the start that I did not want to sacrifice my time with him but that it was necessary in order to provide a better future for him. Law school takes a lot from you not only financially but also physically and emotionally. However, you come out of law school a stronger, even if slightly more jaded, person than when you started.

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