Every so often, One Thing after Another runs into Joe Donahue ’13—whether it be at Market Basket in Bedford, Alumni Weekend, or some other venue. Joe is in the middle of law school right now, and this blog thought it might be useful if he shared some well-considered advice that he extracted from his experiences.
Q: What is your current job (title and duties), and what led to your working there?
A: I have been working as a Legal Executive Assistant at Ropes & Gray LLP for the past year and a half. Before that, I worked at Boston College in an administrative role.
Q: Did you pursue a law job straight out of school, or did you think doing something else for a bit was a good idea? How did that work out?
A: After graduating from Saint A’s, I had two careers that I considered pursuing: one in higher education, the other in law. To help me decide which career I was best suited for, I applied to jobs in both of these fields. I worked in higher education for my first few years after graduation but eventually decided that my interests lay elsewhere, so I applied to the Suffolk University Law School’s Evening Program and was accepted. During my first semester at Suffolk, I was hired by Ropes & Gray where I have been able to get first-hand experience in corporate legal practice.
Q: How did the history department, history study, or specific SAC experiences prepare you for life after college?
Written and oral communication skills, as well critical thinking and the ability to analyze, are essential tools used every day by law students. Some students develop these skills before law school while others develop them in their first year. Luckily, I was able to acquire all of these skills during my time at Saint A’s. My course of study as a history major required extensive critical thinking and analysis which I employ when I approach cases and hypotheticals in the classroom; I will continue to use them in my career as a lawyer.
Q: What are the two things students thinking about law school should know?
A: First, it’s not as scary as it sounds. One thing that I constantly heard while I was going through the application process was how difficult law school can be. The coursework is challenging, and mastering it imposes demands on your time and energy. However, like any course of study, it is manageable. Just as you found your routine in college, you will find it in law school. You learn how to approach exams and form study groups where, in my experience, you learn as much as you do in class.
Second, you don’t have to know exactly what you want to do with your law degree before you go to school. You will be exposed to many different areas of law while in law school, and your interests will likely evolve as you progress. Keep an open mind and be willing to explore areas that you hadn’t previously considered. If you think you want to be a lawyer, but aren’t sure, take a couple of years off from school to work. Many law students spend a few years in the workforce prior to applying to law school. Don’t think you have to apply right away.
Q: What are two things students thinking about law school should do to prepare themselves?
A: Work at a firm or in-house legal counsel’s office. Making a decision to go to law school is a serious financial commitment, so you ought to make sure that you want to be a lawyer before you go to school. Internships are a great way to experience legal work while you are at Saint A’s, and they can help shape your course of study. If you don’t think that you are ready to apply right out of school, taking a few years to work at a law firm or an in-house counsel’s office is a great way to help you decide if this is the career path for you. This time can also serve as a great way to get a better idea of the type of law that you will one day want to practice.
Also, study/take a LSAT prep course. The LSAT is as important a measuring stick, if not more, for law school admissions as your undergraduate grades. It is a challenging exam that shouldn’t be taken lightly, even by those who consider themselves to be good test-takers. Buy a practice book and take a prep course. They can be a bit pricey but both are worth the investment. Your performance on your LSAT impacts your acceptances and even potential scholarship offers, so it is worth your while to take test prep seriously.
Q: Do you still think about history (books, professors, lectures, experiences)? Do you keep up with history in any way?
A: I stay current in the field of history by following the History Department’s blog and by reading biographies during school breaks. I recently completed William Manchester’s three-volume biography of Winston Churchill (The Last Lion) and have begun Robert Caro’s The Years of Lyndon Johnson. I enjoy finding time to indulge myself in the areas of history that I do not apply regularly in my coursework and career.