What career path can lead to being an attorney at a large law firm?

Posted by Ronald | July 23, 2012  |  No Comment

According to “U.S. News and World Report,” Yale Law School is the 2013 best law school in the nation, a status it has held since 1990. Of Yale’s 2010 law graduates, 88.9 percent were employed at graduation. For this month’s segment, we interviewed attorney Embry Kidd who earned a juris doctor degree (J.D.) from Yale Law School. Kidd is a native of Vincent, Ala., married to attorney Ashaki Kidd and employed at a large law firm in the Washington, D.C. area. He spends a wealth of time researching case law, drafting law briefs to submit to a court, reviewing documents produced by opposing legal parties and defending depositions of witnesses in various trial cases. An excerpt of the interview with Kidd follows:

Q: What career path led to your profession?

A: I initially thought that I wanted to be a doctor. However, I entered Emory University with an open mind. I took some of the initial pre-med classes my freshman year, but I also took courses in other areas such as business, sociology, anthropology and philosophy. Those courses led me to decide later that year to enroll in the business school while maintaining a sociology major. As I began to take classes in political science, I found that I especially enjoyed a class on constitutional law. After my sophomore year, I studied abroad in Oxford, England, and one of the classes I took was an in-depth look at the British political process. That summer, I decided to change my major to political science and minor in sociology. I took the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) during my junior year of college, applied to law schools my senior year, and by January, I had been accepted to all of the law schools to which I applied. I decided to attend Yale Law School because of its size and reputation. Once there, I decided that I enjoyed litigation (e.g., lawsuits and acquisitions) more than transactional work (e.g., mergers and acquisitions). I clerked for a federal appellate judge for one year after law school, and I am currently a fourth-year associate at a large law firm that specializes in litigation.

Q: What educational background and professional training are essential for this position?

A: To be a lawyer, one generally must obtain a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college, a juris doctor degree from an accredited law school and pass the bar exam in the state where one wishes to practice. During law school, people typically spend their summers in paid or unpaid legal positions which can lead to offers of full-time employment after graduation.

Q: What influenced you to pursue a career as an attorney?

A: Writing has always been one of my biggest strengths. Litigation allows me to research complex legal issues and then craft written arguments to advance my client’s position. Occasionally, I get to deliver oral arguments before judges or grill witnesses during depositions. But litigation is primarily about research and writing, and I enjoy what I do very much.

Q: What professional, civic or community organizations do you belong?

A: I am on the board of directors of the Yale Black Law Students Alumni Association; the steering committee of the Washington, D.C. chapter of the Yale Law School Alumni Association; and a member of the American Bar Association, Virginia Bar, and Washington D.C. Bar. I am also a member of Alfred Street Baptist Church.

Q: What advice do you give to students who desire to pursue a career as an attorney?

A: When speaking to people considering law school, I emphasize the following points: 1.) Lawyers spend most of their time reading, researching, and writing. Unless you become a prosecutor or public defender, court appearances will be relatively rare. Therefore, if you do not enjoy reading, researching and writing, then you probably will not succeed as (or enjoy being) a lawyer. There are lots of unhappy lawyers–talk to them, but please don’t be one of them.

2.) Take college courses that you find interesting. Two things matter most in the law school admissions process: your grade-point average (GPA) and your LSAT score. There are courses you can take to help you do better on the LSAT. However, the development of your GPA is a multi-year process, so you cannot change it overnight. If you take classes that you enjoy, you will likely have a higher GPA.

3.) Consider taking time off after college. I went straight from college to law school, and it worked out for me. However, I know several people who would have benefited from a year or two off to do something not related to law. Several of my classmates worked for political campaigns, worked with nonprofit organizations, taught at inner-city schools, etc. They brought a valuable perspective to their legal studies. I also know people who thought they wanted to be lawyers, but time off led them to another passion. Law schools will always be around. Unless you are absolutely sure of your choice, take some time off to experience life as an adult.

4.) The legal job market is not what it used to be. The differences in job prospects between someone who graduates from one of the country’s top law schools and someone who does not are very stark. Law school is very expensive, generally costing in excess of $40,000 – 50,000 per year. Most students pay for some or all of this cost with loans. At the end of three years, you could find yourself with $150,000 in debt, loan payments of over $2,000 per month, and no job. Therefore, I recommend that people interested in a legal career try their best to attend one of the top 25 law schools as ranked by “U.S. News and World Report,” attend a top regional school with strong connections in the region in which you would like to work or get a scholarship that allows you to attend law school for free. Of course, if you can get a scholarship to a top law school, that’s even better. Take a close look at the employment numbers for any school that you are considering. Determine how many people are employed nine months after graduation, how many of those employed are in legal jobs (schools often include non-legal jobs in their statistics) and the salary range of the most recent graduating class. A study has shown that law salaries have a bimodal distribution, with some lawyers earning a lot, but a lot of lawyers’ earning not nearly as much as you would think. Once you have that information, you can make a more informed decision about whether a school is worth its cost of attendance.

5.) Despite all of the above, law can be a challenging and rewarding profession. I enjoy helping my clients achieve their goals. I enjoy the pro-bono work that I do helping individuals who could not otherwise afford to pay for the legal services. I enjoy the insight that my legal training has provided into the internal workings of many aspects of our society. Indeed, there are many enjoyable things about being a lawyer, but you should enter the profession with your eyes open.

As we continue to provide a series of stories on career paths of various individuals, we sincerely thank attorney Embry Kidd for sharing his personal and professional experience for others to learn about his career path as an associate at a large law firm.

Dr. Ronald Holmes is the author of two books, “Education Questions to be Answered” and “Current Issues and Answers in Education.” He is president of ”The Holmes Education Post,“ an education focused Internet newspaper. Holmes is the national superintendent of education for the National Save the Family Now Movement, Inc., a former teacher, school administrator, and district superintendent and can be reached at [email protected]

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