The Law School Curriculum I Actually Needed

A modest proposal from a first-year associate at a law firm.

First Year:  Start from the bottom.  Get a grip on how little you know and learn some foundational office skills.

  1. A Brief History of Big Law: Origins of the Hierarchy So You Understand Who Is Powerful and Why  I imagine a Hocus Pocus-style Book here.  Someone with an old-timey, vaguely magical accent teaches this.
  2. The Billable Hour: Figuring Out What the Hell You Spent All Day Doing.  But… I was at work for 10 hours…  where did the time go?” — Me, most days for the first three months.
  3. Excel.  Just …. basic Excel functions.
  4. Business Casual For Women in January in the Midwest: An Illustrated Class  Women you trust provide a guide on which dark neutrals go with which other dark neutrals.
  5. The Legal Community Is Small: Horror Stories To Scare You Into Professionalism  Taught by the street-smart professor who practiced big law for a stint and knowingly chuckles at the ridiculousness of it all.
  6. The Delicate Art of Delegating: How to Work with an Assistant When You’re 25 And Clearly Have Never Had An Assistant  Learn quaint nuggets, like: in the olden days, assistants typed things for you.
  7. You Know Nothing: Accepting You Have Infinite Questions and Learning How to Present Them Without Being a Moron  Taught by a self-deprecating, younger guy with a penchant for pop culture references “to keep it relatable.”
  8. How to Email. This should probably replace the entire first year curriculum, but we don’t have the bandwidth for that. You hate it while it’s happening, but you appreciate it once you’re done. It’s a year-long course with a seven-part series:
    • Do I Reply, Reply All, or Not Reply to the Eighth Email in This Chain?
    • Okay, But Do I Formally Address AND Formally Sign off the Eighth Email in this Chain?
    • Foldering Your Way to Success
    • Crafting a Meaningful Subject Line
    • Closely Reading The Entire Email Chain To See If Someone Is Asking You To Do Something
    • Managing the Constant Stream of Emails and the Reality of Being Accessible 24/7 in the Electronic Age
    • Ouch! That Typo Really Makes You Look Bad: Edit Your Emails 3 Times, Every Time.

Second Year: It’s a busy year – buckle up for some hands-on training and hard lessons. You’re really in it now.

  1. Office-Appropriate Euphemisms for “Shit, I Fucked That Up. Sorry.”  The curve is brutal.
  2. Constructive Criticism  Professor gives you constructive criticism all semester and you practice accepting it graciously. You can cry, but that’s an automatic half letter grade deduction.
  3. Maximizing Caffeine Intake, Minimizing Bathroom Breaks  Because you gotta stay awake all day but you can’t keep getting up to pee.
  4. Learn to Say “Yep! I Can Help!” in 100 Ways  Fulfills foreign language requirement. Makes you marketable.
  5. Time is a Tricky Thing.  Some days the professor gives you four assignments to do, all due by next week. Some days she lets you out early. Some days you wonder if class has been canceled without you knowing. There’s no syllabus.
  6. Small Victories: How the Tiniest Successes Can Last All Week If You Need Them To  You go into this professor’s office during office hours just meaning to ask a quick question but you end up sobbing for 45 minutes. This accidentally happens twice more.
  7. Absorbing Brilliance Through Brief Interactions with the Smartest People You’ve Ever Met. Similar to osmosis. It’s science! Taught by the douchiest professor in the building, but you know he’s smart so you still listen.
  8. So You Want to Be An Adult: Taxes, Savings, and Other Money Things So You Can One Day Retire  Played like a game of Monopoly; still shorter than a real game of Monopoly
  9. Are You The Person Who Knows The Answer to This Question?  Practical skills course, set up like an obstacle course, replete with various dead-ends and unexpected redirects.
  10. “Find this on the system”: Tips for Finding It and Billing As Little As Possible  Another practical skills course, in the format of a timed race to increase efficiency and create pressure.

Third Year: You can handle the technical skills of a law firm.  Now coast through your third year as you try to figure out the nuances of the environment and how to navigate social situations successfully.

  1. Schmoozing: A Master Class  It’s a pass/fail class because either you’ve got it or you don’t. All the Cool Professors join up to teach but this skill can’t be taught.
  2. Build Your Own Office  You slowly acquire plants, wall hangings, candy, a white board, etc. throughout the semester.  The final exam requires you to hang the damn diploma up so it’s not still in your car five months after starting work.
  3. Alcohol in the Workplace  Intersession course where you attend various alcohol-laden events and try different drinks/amounts/combos to determine when you need to send yourself home. A startling number of Fs awarded each semester.
  4. Sitting and Staring At a Screen All Day  Physical ed requirement. (I actually did take the beginner level class in law school but I should have done the advanced class).
  5. Existing as a Young Brown Woman in a Law Firm: A Seminar It’s heavy, but it’s meaningful. We talk about our feelings. Naturally, we’re in a circle. One brave feminist male signs up but still says a couple offensive things throughout the course.
  6. Office Politics It’s a third year internship in a Real Law Office.  You either finish with a six figure salary or you’re blacklisted from the legal community.
  7. Elevator Small Talk Afterwards, you can sign up for the advanced course, Face Time With People Who Matter.  Extroverts eagerly enroll.  Introverts have to be bullied into it.
  8. Actually Completing a To Do List  Only rumored to exist; open exclusively to the top 10%, but they’ll send around a school-wide email so everyone knows who got invited.

CONGRATS! You did it. Go be a lawyer, you shimmering star, you.

[Note 1: In all seriousness, I actually enjoyed nearly every law school class and I learned a ton.  It is laughable, though, how different law practice is from law school, despite hearing that a million times before starting work.  For what it’s worth, the most useful classes I took, by a long shot, were my Legal Writing classes.  So grumble away, dear 1Ls, but I have had to write and speak like a lawyer using those foundational skills much more frequently than I’ve had to whip out my substantive knowledge of any subject.  Shockingly, no one has come knocking to use my mastery of obscure property concepts just yet, but fingers crossed.]

[Note 2: I hope it goes without saying that I love my law firm.  If I didn’t, I would be too terrified and too  mired in my own misery to write this or even think of light mockery.  Mainly, I find it crazy how much has changed in the transition from school to real life.  Law school is like playing college basketball: gotta do it before you go pro, but don’t be surprised when you are benched in your first season and then you airball from the longer three point line when you finally get to play.]

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