You call it Giving Thanks, I call it Making Connections

So you’re heading home for Thanksgiving.  A long weekend filled with opportunities and challenges – yes, I’m talking about your family!

They offer you the opportunity to connect with lawyers, maybe even lots of lawyers. But you might have to be assertive in ferreting out those connections.

They’ll present you with challenging questions about your future. You need to know the answers to some key questions to keep yourself sane and make those conversations productive. 

Ready for some tips? Let’s go.

The family is gathered around the sumptuous meal. The whole family. Even that second cousin you barely know, the real estate lawyer from Billerica. Otherwise known as your new best friend. Seriously, if there are any lawyers in attendance at the festivities, it’s super bonus time. Quickly get them past the “don’t go to law school” stage, and ask some specific questions. Take advantage of their captive status at the gathering to ask them about what they do, their career path, the things they liked about their law school, and the things they didn’t. Ask what choices along the way they regret, and which they’re grateful they made. A lawyer in the family (or just at the party) is an excellent resource that you shouldn’t hesitate to make good use of.

But what if you already know that there won’t be any real live attorneys enjoying the mashed potatoes or lasagna? Well, didn’t your uncle work with a lawyer for his small business last year? Or maybe your big sister’s unfortunate divorce last summer at least resulted in a good working relationship with her lawyer. One of your mom’s clients at the beauty salon? Surely your cousin can connect you with her best friend, who’s at Suffolk Law now.

Remember that the goal (at this point) is not to ask anybody for a job. It’s just to get some information about what they do as lawyers. In working these connections, however tenuous, your only goal is to get somebody to talk about herself. And we all know that lawyers LOVE talking about themselves, so really, it’s almost like you’re doing them a favor – offering that lawyer (maybe the one who represented your cousin’s sister-in-law when she got charged with that DUI nobody’s supposed to know about) an opportunity to talk about himself. To you.

Bottom line: opportunity, in the form of connections to lawyers, abounds at the family holiday gathering. Make those opportunities work for you.

I’m contemplating an instagram series full of funny memes called “Stuff parents say to you when you’re applying to law school.” There’d be a lot of material. But I’d rather spend time on your personal statements, so here are a few of the most common questions you might face as you gather around the pumpkin pie, and some suggested answers you might offer in between bites. (Feel free to preface any of these with “The Pre-Law Advisor said….”)

“Why aren’t you applying to Harvard? You never know!”
A: Actually, I do know. HLS hasn’t accepted anybody with my kind of LSAT/GPA combo since . . . well, ever. Thanks to the way you raised me, I know better than to throw away $130 in application and LSAC fees on a wild and impossible hope.

“Haven’t you heard back from the schools yet? Doesn’t that mean you’re not getting in? My co-worker’s son got into [your first choice] law school last week!”
A: The admission season stretches out until April or May, and there really is no rhyme or reason to the timing of the decisions. I could hear back tomorrow or next March, and it doesn’t really have anything to do with whether I get in.

“Did you talk to your great uncle Louie? He went to Northeastern undergrad, I’m sure he’s got some pull with the law school!”
A: Thanks for the lead, Dad, that’s really helpful.
(No, really, just swallow this one, even though Louie, as an undergrad alum who has never given a dime to the law school and has no other relevant connections, will not have any influence over the law school admissions process at all. Remember the opportunities section above – you’re trying to build your network, and if that means pretending Louie might be helpful in this situation—so that you can still call on him in some other situation at some point in the future when he actually would have some influence – you should do so.)

“If you don’t go to a top ten school, you’ll never get a job!”
A: If I wanted to go work in a big law firm, you’d be absolutely right! [It’s always important to affirm your parents whenever possible.] But since my life’s dream is to be a prosecutor/small town lawyer/public interest lawyer/in-house counsel at a medium-sized business/niche regional firm/etc., [dream school] is the perfect place for me. I’m already thinking about how I can build the kind of professional network I’ll need to get that job, and will take advantage of all that [dream school] has to offer.

“You’re going to be paying off those loans for the rest of your life!”
A: I’m doing everything I can to minimize the amount I’m going to borrow – applying to law schools that are likely to give me big scholarships and thinking about how I can cut my living costs—say, you weren’t planning on doing anything with my bedroom, right? But, you know, I could really use your help figuring out some of the budget-planning, in fact. [It’s always important to acknowledge your parents’ expertise and wisdom.]

“What do you mean you want to ‘take some time off’?  What would you do?”
A: I don’t think of it as “time off” but as an investment in my future. First, by working as a paralegal [or in the industry/field I hope to practice law in some day], I’ll be gaining experience and connections that will make it easier to find a job after law school. Second, it will give me an opportunity to make sure that law is the right career for me before I spend all that time and money. Third, did you know that over two-thirds of applicants are already out of college? Most people don’t apply to law school while they’re still in college.

“Why don’t you take some time off and make sure you really want to go to law school first?”
A: You’re right.  I’m withdrawing my applications now.  [Well, it’s true that waiting is never a bad idea….]
A: I’ve researched this really well, and that internship last summer just cemented it: I know for certain that this is what I want to do with my life, and I feel absolutely passionate about it.  So why wait?

“Hey, you’re going to law school, maybe you can answer this question. So my landlord…”
There’s no real answer to this one. Welcome to the rest of your life, where people will ask you questions about the law in just about every setting you find yourself in. You’ll have to decide whether to answer them briefly, refer them to someone who actually knows that area of the law, or make up stuff, just for fun.  (I don’t recommend the latter—ethics rules and all.)

So now that you’re prepared for everything they’ll throw at you, drive safely, and enjoy yourself!  Happy Thanksgiving!