Jun 6, 2011
How my law degree pays for me (even thought I don’t practice law) – A guest post by Sean McGinnis For Newmanon
I’m a lawyer.
I said it.
In 1994, I graduated from University of San Diego School of Law. But I don’t practice law. Instead, I’ve spent most of the past 17 years building a career in business, working for one of the largest legal services companies in the world.
One of the questions I’m asked fairly often is “do you regret going to law school, especially since you’re not practicing law?” The short answer is “sort of”. The long answer is the subject of the balance of this blog post.
My only real regret is the money. If law school had been cost free, I would have had no regrets whatsoever. But leaving law school with over $70k in loans (in 1994 dollars) was a shock to the system. Because of that debt, I’ve been forced to make decisions that are different from the ones I might have preferred to make over the past 17 years.
That said, I can hear the question forming in your mind: “So other than a boatload of debt, Mr. McGinnis, exactly what did you get out of law school?” I’m so very glad you asked. Here are the top three things I got from law school.
Improved writing skills
I’m not a great writer. Never was and never will be. But I used to be just awful. Law school definitely changed that. I learned more about how to structure a sentence and write persuasively during my law school education than during the previous 16 years of schooling.
I’m not so sure these aren’t things I couldn’t have learned on my own had I just applied myself. But law school FORCED me to learn them, due to the rigor of the study and the professionalism of the feedback.
Refined logical thinking
I’ve always fancied myself a logical thinker. My standardized test scores tend to back that up. But studying law is completely different. Studying the law forces one to learn to strategically unpack language in ways most humans are not naturally wired to do. Closely examining contracts and statutes can be extremely tedious, but forces a succinctness that my studies lacked. A misplaced comma can literally change the meaning of a will, trust or a contract.
Better attention to detail
I am not, and never have been a detail oriented person. I’m not a neat freak. I’m a MUCH better starter than I am a finisher. In fact, my fraternity brother often says “you’ve never finished anything in your life!” Heh. Not true by the way. I can easily rile up a crowd and move them toward action (maybe I should have been a political organizer or semi-professional rabble-rouser), but the end result of the effort will be far better if I then hand that off to an operation wizard who can build systems and processes around the effort to ensure consistency.
All that said, law school again FORCED a discipline in me that was lacking. When I need to, I can buckle down and pick nits over misplaced commas and the like. Before law school, I don’t think you could have forced me to do that.
There you have it.
In the end, I wouldn’t change a thing. Law school was an incredible experience and it helped shape me in ways I’m probably not even conscious of. Would I do it again? Only if I wasn’t weighed down by that debt. I’ve met a LOT of lawyers down through the years. Many of them were very dissatisfied with the practice of law, but very few of them disliked the process of attending and graduating from law school. I’d easily count myself in that company.