The random thoughts of an architect-turned- lawyer from the deep south living in Washington, DC...

Friday, April 08, 2005

The Numbers Game...a team I decline to join

Disclaimer for this post: If it comes of conceited or self-centered, that is not my intent. I admit to being in a very good place right now. However, I don't think it is because I am smarter or funnier or prettier than anyone else. Perhaps I am a bit more stubborn determined, but other than that, I think the bulk of the people around me have the same ability to accomplish. The problem is that if they don't get off the Merry-Go-Round, they are too dizzy to see clearly their own potential. (Keep reading and you will understand that analogy...hopefully.)

This is the time of the year that brings a lot of talk of LSAT, GPA, rankings, law review and other skills boards, summer jobs, etc. One thing I noticed pretty quickly in my career transition is that the world of law (be it getting into law school, holding your own in law school, landing a job, or being a lawyer) seems to want to put a number on everything. What makes matters even worse are all of these people that swear by the importance of those numbers. I don't care for those people. Furthermore, I don't believe those people and have set out, in life, to prove them wrong. I think that these people are only feeding this viscous cycle. The cycle starts on the administrative side when you get the "you will be measured by your numbers" talk from admissions people, law school pamphlets, career development office, etc. This seemingly convinces everyone else that we are all a bunch of numbers. The cycle is fed by the students, blogs, and chit chat that the admin. must be right. People automatically refrain from applying or trying for something if they do not fit into that block of the "you have a shot" chart. This is about where I got off the Merry-Go-Round. I advise you to do the same:-)

When I was going through the law school application process, I approached the GW table and said "you tell me what I need to do to get into your school." The man automatically opened up to the handy chart that had all the numbers and said "well, last year, we only took x/y from your category." I closed the book. "Sir, let's try again. I am going to be a great law student and an even better lawyer one day. I promise that I DO NOT fit into your number chart. Once again, you tell me what I need to do to go to school at GW." He took me aside and we discussed my options. I was accepted within two weeks of mailing off my application. Gee, that's interesting, because statistically I should not have really had a shot.

More recently has been this whole summer job thing. When I began the application process, boy was I surrounded by the number nazis. I went to the CDO to polish my resume and discuss my options. She had yet to look at my resume when I mentioned my summer associate goal. She didn't burst into laughter immediately, but rather did the symbolic pat on the head: "oh, that's so cute. Um, you are a 1L and you have no shot. Why don't we look in this big book of government agencies that will hire you?" This goes beyond the CDO here. It was mentioned at orientation that only 1/100 get summer associate jobs as 1Ls. The cycle begins...the beginners convince the rest.

I sat on a five person panel last week at preview day. One Pre-L candidly asked us "how hard is it REALLY to get summer paid work as a 1L?" My four co-panelists immediately began laughing and said "not really hard, more like impossible." I sheepishly interrupted their 'it will never happen' talk with "actually, I got a summer associate position and I am a 1L." I sure can shut a room up fast. Shocked co-panelist to my left said "well, Law-Rah is the exception to the rule, she's brilliant." HA! I am actually closer to average, thank you very much. Furthermore, while I appreciate the vote of confidence, it has much less to do with me being an exception to a rule and much more to do with the fact that everyone blindly accepts that it is 'the rule.' Don't get me wrong, this was actually good for me because everyone else getting caught up in that cycle affords more opportunities for me. On the other hand, I hate seeing my friends and classmates not living up to a potential I KNOW they can merely because it has been engrained in their heads that it just isn't probable. I would estimate over 90% of my classmates did not even apply to law firms because "we all know 1Ls don't get those jobs and even if they do, it's because they are in the top 10% of the class." Really? Is that so? Then my "Congrats you are a GW Scholar" letter must have gotten lost in the mail.

I was speaking about my summer job with a classmate the other day and I think his question to me says it all. He asked "wow, what made you think you could get that?" Not 'how did you do it?', but "what made you think you could"? Hmmm...well, why don't you tell me what makes you think I couldn't? And don't come back to me with any crap about the numbers. It's interesting to me that we just accept this numbers game as the rule without any basis. As lawyers we are taught how to look deeper than the surface rule or custom. We spend all of our time and all of our case reading learning WHY and HOW a rule is what it is. Very few classes focus just on the rules...hell, law school would be a lot easier if they did. Instead, we are forced to understand the background and basis for the rule. How else could we learn to manipulate the rules be lawyers. That being said, why are we content not to demand a basis for the numbers game rules? Past statistical data is not a basis for a rule; you have to give me more than that. In the art of lawyering, we are trying to convince another side to see things our way. We rarely accept someone's word as being enough. We demand they back it up...that they convince us. I think that everyone should demand at least this much from now on. The next time someone says you cannot get into a school, or you have no shot at journal, or you will not get a job with xyz firm...I think you should make them convince you before you just give up. You'd be surprised at how a little bit of questioning and persistence can turn the tables real quickly.

A note with regards to summer jobs: don't get me wrong, there are definitely people who are doing exactly what they want to be doing this summer and it does NOT involve a law firm. This post is meant to be more of a general nature and I can only offer examples from my own experience.