Navigating Your Way to the Right Law School

Law Balance in the Sky

Finding the right law school can be a daunting task. You must weigh the costs and benefits of earning a J.D. as well as determine what will make your law school experience fulfilling. Examine the following important areas:

Evaluate specialty, experience and training opportunities

Specialized courses, clinics and professional skills training opportunities tailored to your interests can provide valuable knowledge and lay the foundation for your legal career.  Learn about which schools provide valuable hands-on experiences, allowing you to work with clients and practicing attorneys.

These opportunities, are ideal for discovering your passion, honing your skills, and making connections with future employers.  Think about where and in what field you will want to practice after graduation.

Professional guidance and support

Look at a school’s available resources that you will  utilize throughout your experience, including the number and type of student groups as well as career services such as career fairs and alumni networks.  When thinking about future employment, be sure to look at the school’s employment statistics for graduates to see what type of work they tend to pursue.

Evaluate financial assistance options side-by-side with tuition and fees

When considering law school, cost should be a top priority.  Law school is not cheap and often requires large student loans.  Be realistic!  Assess your financial situation and determine the availability of aid as well as repayment options after graduation.

Check out Equal Justice Works Guide to Law Schools, which allows you to examine a school’s available curricula, financial aid options, and staff and faculty engagement.

Radhika Singh Miller, guest blogger, serves as program manager of educational debt relief and outreach at Equal Justice Works

You can find more resources and information on the Career Services Considering Pre-Law and Applying to Law School pages.

Also, don’t miss the Law School Panel: Mon, Sept 24th 4-5:30pm. Davis Center, Jost Foundation Room!

World of Work: Scott Whitted ’74, Deputy Chief, District Court Litigation Division, U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Homeland Security Logo

Scott Whitted ’74
Deputy Chief, District Court Litigation Division, Office of the Principal Legal Advisor, Immigration and Customs Enforcement
United States Government, Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement
Williston, VT

Major: Political Science

What type of law do you practice and how did you choose that?
I’ve practiced civil law for my entire career, including private practice, with the Vermont Attorney General’s Office and now at one of the agencies in the Department of Homeland Security. I’ve never been a full-time litigator, but before I started my federal job I spent some time in court, especially when I was in the Attorney General’s office. Although criminal law and criminal procedure were interesting classes in law school, I never wanted to practice criminal law. Civil law held more appeal for me.

What surprised you about law school and/or the practice of law?
One big surprise was how poorly many lawyers write. The textbooks for most law school courses are compilations of judges’ decisions that often are not well written. They tend to be too long and full of obscure language. Law students copy the style, which perpetuates bad writing. In addition, practicing law can be a real grind, with much tedium and little glamour. There are rarely quick resolutions to legal problems.

What changes have you seen in the legal job market?
With the current economy, the competition for jobs is heightened. It’s a buyer’s market right now. My office recently advertised for four openings and we received dozens of applications.

What advice would you have for students interested in a career in law?  What should they be doing now?
Take college classes that encourage you to think critically and analytically. Those skills will help you to identify problems (“issue spotting”) and develop realistic solutions, which are important aspects of a lawyer’s job. Also, learn to write clearly and concisely. Lawyers do a lot of writing, and unfortunately many lawyers do not write well.

In addition, don’t be afraid to work for a few years before you go to law school. Not only may you be able to save some money toward law school, but you’ll have the benefit of experience in the “real world” before you return to academia. Admittedly, I may be partial to this approach because I worked for five years between UVM and law school.

Internship of the Month: Federal Public Defenders Office

Chris Minott

Intern: Chris Minott
Class Year: 2012
Major: Economics
Employer: Federal Public Defenders Office
Position: Investigator Assistant
LinkedIn Profile:

How would you describe the various projects you did in for your organization someone who is unfamiliar with your field?

As an Investigative Assistant at the Federal Public Defender’s Office, my role was to help investigate the clients that the Federal Public Defenders represent. Investigating our clients required requesting information related to medical and criminal histories from various hospitals, substance abuse centers, courts, and summarizing client information and key findings. This information was used to decide what the best way to serve our clients might be. I also assisted clients during their supervised release period, a post-incarceration period when clients must adhere to conditions, including a permanent residence, drug counseling (if the crime was drug related), and informing a parole officer on any changes in location. I would help research potential residences where clients could stay, substance abuse centers where clients could do their counseling, and exact requirements for what a client had to report to a parole officer. Some of the work I did was more mundane and included data entry, filing, and copying. To balance out these activities, I was allowed to observe various criminal proceedings in the federal courthouse and sit in on client interviews.

What did you like best about this internship? What was most challenging?

What I liked best was a conference the Federal Public Defenders hosted to discuss legal defense strategies for child pornography and human trafficking cases. Through this one conference I was able to learn a lot about criminal law and the thinking behind many of the motions and appeals I had been reading throughout my time at the office.

The most challenging part of working for the Federal Public Defenders was learning about the hardships some of our clients have suffered. All of our clients are indigent, so they face some degree of financial hardship, but beyond financial hardship, some of our clients have come from abusive households and other suffer crippling addictions. To see that some of our clients have suffered so much and continue to face great hardship was tough to handle.

How did you gain credit for this internship?

I got credit for my internship through a service-learning course (EDSS 239). The course met periodically throughout the semester and required essays designed to integrate internships with supplemental readings. Credit is based on how many hours you work and how many essays you are contract to write.

What impact did this internship have on your career direction?

My internship had a large impact on my career direction. Before my time with the Federal Public Defender’s Office I was struggling with whether or not I wanted to go to law school. After completing my internship, I know I want to go to law school. Seeing how the criminal justice system works and seeing how I could impact the world I live in with a legal education has made me realize that a career in law is what I am interested in pursuing.

What advice do you have for students searching for internships?

Look for an internship where you will be doing things that push you out of your comfort zone. I didn’t necessarily want to be in a position where I had to interact with clients and their family members (both of whom who were going through a very hard time) but now that I have, I am grateful for the experience and can appreciate how ‘eye opening’ is was.

Why should students do an internship?

Internships are a great way to see if a career path you are interested in is actually what you want to do. Also, if a student’s internship turns out to be in the field where that student wants to pursue a career, an internship also offers valuable contacts. Finally, internships offer a nice transition from school to the working world where one can learn how to act in an office setting and get used to the 9-5 grind.

Pre-Law Series: Watch and Learn

Courtroom Scene

The semester is almost over. Keep up the good work, you’re almost there! If you have also been working on applications to law school, then hopefully you are almost finished and ready for a well-deserved break.

As you look forward to some much needed free time, here are some resources for good movies and TV shows related to the law. Sit back and enjoy!

Top Ten Movies
ABA Journal: Top 25 Movies
Best Law Movies of All Time
Best Legal TV Shows
The Five Best Legal TV Shows of All Time

Of course, I don’t recommend relying only on TV and movies to learn about the law. Informational interviewing, or more simply, chatting with people about the work that they do in order to learn more, is a great way to get a first hand sense of the legal profession. Learn more about how to utilize networking and info interviewing in your career exploration. Here are some great questions to get you started on your networking conversations.

You can use these questions and tips whether you are setting up a formal informational interview through our alumni Career Connection, attending a Networking Event over winter break, or just casually chatting with your friend’s parents over dinner.

Good luck with finals!


Pre-Law Series: Beyond the Law School App

Areas of Law

So you want to go to law school?

That is just the beginning!  As the legal job market has gotten tighter, new lawyers need to find their niche sooner and be able to contribute to the bottom line of the firm. Take a moment to learn a little more about the various fields of law and think about what area might interest you:

Here is a great collection of blogs in a variety of specialty areas. Keep up to date with news and trends.

Or maybe you are hoping to use that law degree for some other purpose?

Check out these articles on utilizing that law degree for a different career path:

And here’s a New York Time’s article about people with law degrees, who change their mind about the law altogether: Maybe It’s Time for Plan C

You don’t need to have it all figured out before you go to Law School. However, you will be able to make better choices regarding law school and legal internships if you have a keener sense of your ultimate goals.